Motor Supply Company Bistro

After several hours at the EdVenture Children’s Museum in Columbia, SC, we were hungry. (A side note, not relevant to food, but does an Ernst Hemingway-themed Cuban Cigar night seem like the fund-raised you’d choose for a children’s museum? Me either.) We’d played on a toddler-sized boat, gone down a slide in a giant person, played in Africa and India, milked a plastic cow, slid down a slide in the bubble-snow room, and played a keyboard and musical hopscotch. What we didn’t do was eat lunch. No wonder, around 2:00 pm, it wasn’t just the 15-month-old ready to melt down.

Because we were in two cars (Jamie’s mom went with us to the museum), and because we were ravenous, we didn’t want to go too far; we drove up Gervais Street about five minutes and then parked. There were a couple seedy-looking diners right by us, but we decided to walk up Gervais instead. There had to be something, we figured.

We passed far fewer restaurants than we expected, and the one that looked promising was closed for a private event. We went in when we hit Mellow Mushroom Pizza Bakers, but our appetites precluded the wait, so we crossed the street and walked down the other side.

We were resigned to seedy diner food (or maybe Chick Fil-A) when we passed a menu on a placard just off the sidewalk. The menu looked handwritten and was for the Motor Supply Company Bistro. The food looked pretty good, so we went in.

Four stars for service this place does not get. Nobody came to greet or seat us, so we had to fetch a guy who looked like he was working. He told us that the kitchen closed in 15 minutes, then proceeded to not seat us. When we did get a table, nobody came to take our order. (Although, in the restaurant’s defense, it looked like the wait staff was just turning over, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense since the restaurant closed at 2:30 and dinner didn’t start until 6:00. Still, when our waitress finally appeared, she was very good and very friendly.)

The food, though. I’m always nervous about Southern restaurants; every time I order fried fish, I remember that I don’t like fried food. But the food was remarkable. I had a salad with a grilled Tilapia fillet topped with a spicy cilantro sauce. Oh, and edamame. Jane loved the fish and edamame, and even ate some of the salad greens. (I ate what she didn’t which, of course, was most of the salad.) Jamie had her crab cake; the bite I stole was very good. I believe Jo had pasta of some sort, and I similarly believe I enjoyed the bite or two I took, but for two reasons, I’m not sure. One is that I’m writing this three weeks after eating there (life got in the way for a little while). The other is that I can’t consult the menu. The menu changes every day, depending on the available ingredients and, I assume, the whims of the chef.

Tom Peters, the executive chef, has been at Motor Supply Company Bistro for about 18 months. The restaurant is about 15 years old. I don’t know how it was before Mr. Peters, but he has taken it in a good direction. Next time I’m in Columbia, I’m going to take time to play in the EdVenture Children’s Museum and eat at Motor Supply Company Bistro.

Although if I had it to do over, I’d probably go more than 15 minutes before the kitchen closed.

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