Posted by The LunchMen Wednesday, January 5, 2011

It’s January, which means a few things here at the office – some people start using their lunch breaks to “hit the gym” and sweat off those holiday pounds (Tex), some people review their year end bonus and scream bloody murder (Tank), and still others look forward to another year of work and contemplate Jumping out of the window (Publican). For the Rabbit, January means one thing: my annual luncheon with East Bound and Down, my favorite snake-oil (READ: insurance) salesman. Once a year he buys me lunch and helps me ensure that Mrs. Rabbit will be taken care of should I unexpectedly head to that great salad bar in the sky.

This year, knowing I wouldn’t be paying, I opted for lunch-men favorite Blue Marlin, which has been mentioned on several blog lists for various items, but never properly reviewed here. However, arriving at 12:45 we were greeted with a 30 minute wait, so we pulled an audible** and walked across Gervais to Liberty Taproom and Grill.

Liberty Taproom is technically a chain in that it’s got a few locations in the Palmetto state, but it definitely doesn’t feel too corporate. Upon arrival we were told to seat ourselves anywhere in the bar area, and were quickly offered our choice of micro-brews. This being a “business lunch,” and me being a “total wimp,” I declined and instead opted for tea (remember I wasn’t paying, otherwise this would be water all the way).

After a few minutes of serious talk, our food arrived. East Bound, determined to keep his svelte figure intact, ordered the Ahi Tuna Salad, which features red peppers, snow peas, green onions, rice noodles with an Asian honey lime dressing. The tuna was, as all tuna should be, rare, and the salad looked awesome. East Bound could not have been happier with his selection. To sum it up, he ate a healthy meal, but it was so good it felt like an indulgence. In my opinion that is the ultimate goal of a salad.

I’m sure right now you’re expecting me to tell you I also went with a salad. However, since this was a review lunch, I felt that we had to explore other areas of the menu. Therefore, I tried to find something that would (1) satisfy my cravings for the vegetables I need and (2) fairly reflect Liberty’s cuisine. I spotted the Lunch Salmon item from the “Fish Board” section of the menu and knew I was in business. It’s a piece of salmon grilled and blackened (you can get it cooked a number of ways, but this is how I think its best), served with two sides. I went with collards and seasoned vegetables. The collards were among the best in town, and I actually found pieces of pork scattered among the greens. Normally, seasoned vegetables are treated by restaurants as an afterthought, and more time is spent on their calorie-intense counterparts like french fries or mac n’ cheese. Not so at Liberty. The veggies were fresh, sautéed perfectly, and seasoned with a little kick that made me stand up and take notice. I tried to take a picture, but unfortunately it didn’t turn out. Too bad, because the presentation was surprisingly sophisticated and really added to the experience.

So to sum up, East Bound got a little new business for his 2011 book, and I got a free meal that was one of my most pleasant surprises from a restaurant in a long time. All in all, a successful lunch. I know that Liberty is more commonly known for its happy hour, but if you are in the Vista, its worth the trip for lunch. You won’t regret it.


** - The Lunch time “Audible” is a very under discussed but nonetheless very important part of the lunching experience. Often a place will have a wait or not accept check cards, or our group will be too large, etc. such that we must, on a moment’s notice, break camp and find a new destination. This can be a maddening and disorienting experience for the diner who has been dreaming of a particular item for 2-plus hours, only to have those dreams dashed in an instant. So, what is a lunchman to do? Here are a few factors to consider when making the audible call that will make the transition as seamless as possible:

  1. Keep it close – No doubt you are famished by the time you walk in the restaurant, so your hunger is only going to grow exponentially as your stomach leaves empty. Therefore, if you can walk to your audible place quickly, all the better. This works particularly well in 5-points, downtown, or the Vista. But, if you are heading out to somewhere more remote, it may require prior research to confirm (1) you likely won’t need an audible because you are going at the right time with the right amount of people, and (2) if for some reason you do, there will be a place close by you can live with.

  1. Keep it similar – If you had your mind fixed on Mexican and were all pumped to set a new taco eating record at Casa Linda, then an audible to your local sushi bar probably won’t do. You need to keep the theme of the original lunch intact – where else can you get a taco, or a burrito nearby? Columbia is big enough that this should not be a problem.

  1. Keep it cheap – Don’t let a lunch audible bust your budget. If you went out expecting to pay $6 for a burger and fries, don’t let people talk you into spending twice that down the street. While the food may be worth the price, it will seem extra expensive since you were mentally prepared to fork over only half of what your bill actually is. I have learned this the hard way.

So remember, when forced to audible, keep it close, similar, and cheap, and you should be good to go.


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Rabbit, Tank, and The Publican are three dudes just trying to get through the work week here in Columbia. Rabbit is a Columbia native, Tank is from Charleston, and The Publican hails from Greenville. Rabbit's favorite lunch spot is the No Name Deli on Elmwood, where you may find him putting down a grilled chicken salad and a side of vinegar pasta. The Publican usually wants to find food to cure his all-too-common hangovers. Tank claims no favorite lunch spot - he lives for the thrill of the hunt.