Restaurant Review: Hunter-Gatherer (Columbia, SC)

It dawns on me now that I should have taken some pictures…

For a long time I’ve been hearing nothing but good things about the Hunter-Gatherer. They have good food. It’s a cool place. They brew their own beer…and it’s good (and you can see the tanks behind the bar). It’s high praise in most cases. That said, in all the years that I’ve been in the Columbia area, I’ve never made it over there for one reason or another, until today.

Thanks to needing to take some time off from work, lest I lose it to the abyss of policy that is HR/payroll, I made it a point to head downtown to the Hunter-Gatherer. Since dining alone is generally not as fun as dining in company (or at least good company), I called a friend of mine who works in downtown Cola. and he was delighted to meet for midday grub (from here on out, I’ll call him Lando; this was also his first visit).

Like so many places downtown, finding parking is not for the squeamish. I got lucky and someone left a metered-spot right in front of it, but there aren’t a whole lot of options. This is fairly typical in downtown Columbia during the busy hours of the day (or night), and while it’s certainly no deal-breaker, it’s always good to know what you’re getting into (apparently this is nowhere near as big an issue in the PM).

From the outside, it really doesn’t look like much, but the interior is charming enough, if a bit eclectic (from African tribal shields to a photo gallery to something that looks like a malnourished, stuffed dingo). Taking a cue from a chalk-drawn sign, my friend and I seated ourselves in the upstairs/balcony area. Between the aged brick walls and dark wood tables, the place has a decidedly rustic, comfortable feel to it, which I liked a lot. Our server was quick to get us our drinks (Lando got sweet tea, I went with their ESB…beer was one of the reasons I was there) and take our order, once we decided what we wanted. Their menu isn’t the biggest in the world, but there is a nice variety there, with a lot of twists on otherwise familiar bar-food staples. They also have daily specials that change all the time (duck confit over grits was one of the notable ones on this day), so I could imagine the Gatherer providing a pretty fresh dining experience on a regular basis (this is definitely a place I’d like to make a regular stop).

When the dust had settled and the decisions had been made (no easy task), I went with their Horseradish Cheddar Cheeseburger, while Lando went with the Cawcaw Bratwurst with curry ketchup and onions. Both of us went with the hashbrowns over the pasta or garden salad options (got to go with the meat and potatoes when you’re drinking beer). The burger probably seems like a less than adventurous choice, but the way I see it, if a place can really nail a simple burger, they’ll nail most everything else on their menu.

The food made it back to us in short order, and the burger was cooked to near-perfection, medium-well with just a bit of pink in the middle. The addition of the horseradish to the cheddar is a great idea and is more of an accent really (it’s not an overpowering horseradish flavor). It was as good as it was simple, served with the usual lettuce, tomato, red onions and a side of ketchup (which I added only sparingly). The bun was also a step up from the usual, as it was kind of a crusty, sesame-seeded bun. The hashbrowns were good as well, although I wouldn’t have minded them being a tad crispier (Lando was a fan of them as they were). The Cawcaw Bratwurst looked good, served on a larger hogie-type roll. The curry ketchup was noticeable from where I was sitting and Lando seemed to enjoy it. I could definitely see myself order this in the future to accompany a few pints (although I’d take the kraut and mustard option).

Speaking of a few pints, I mentioned above that I started with the Hunter-Gatherer’s ESB, which I followed with their Wheat beer. Now, this isn’t a beer review, but both were very good and extremely drinkable. This is easily the best beer that I’ve tasted brewed in South Carolina and I will gladly try their other brews on future visits. The Hunter-Gatherer’s beer selection consists of their Pale Ale, Wheat Beer, ESB and IPA (the last being their current seasonal selection), which means that while there’s a limited selection, there’s still bound to be a style on-tap that you’re going to like. It’s very cool to see a place here in Columbia not only attempting to brew beer, but brewing some tasty ones.

All-in-all, I really, REALLY enjoyed my visit to the Hunter-Gatherer. The food was good, the service timely and the beer was going down particularly well on this day. It’s rare when a place that’s been hyped-up so much actually delivers, but the Hunter-Gather’s is well-deserved. This is the kind of place I’d like to make into a habit.

The Verdict? I’ll be back…

Hunter-Gatherer Brewery & Ale on UrbanspoonHunter-Gatherer
900 Main Street
Columbia, SC 29201
(803) 748-0540