Tag Archives: Discover Upcountry Carolina

Brick Street Cafe, Greenville, SC

“Even I don’t know the secret recipe for my sweet potato pie and sweet potato cake,” says ukulele-strumming restaurateur and baker Sara Wilson.

story & photos by Bakery Boy

Sara Wilson serenades a sweet potato pie at her Brick Street Cafe. Photos by Bakery Boy.

Some of the best sweet potato pie and sweet potato cake you’ll ever taste comes from Brick Street Café, an adventuresome restaurant with a bakery in its basement in Greenville, South Carolina. Just don’t ask owner Sara Wilson for the recipe, because it’s so secret even she doesn’t know it. “I know absolutely everything about everything else in my restaurant and my bakery,” Sara says firmly, adding as an aside that the two-level brick structure with squeaky wooden floors in the West End Historic District was originally a belt factory. “But I don’t know the secret mixture used in the two desserts we’re best known for.”

This historic-district building once held a belt factory.

Here’s why, a story that has become a running joke for family members and Brick Street Café employees alike. Sara tells it while lounging on a garden-like back porch that serves as a waiting area, a break room, and her de facto office as she strums a ukulele and smiles, carefree clues that she’s not particularly bothered by being left out of this well-guarded secret.

"The sweet potato cake has practically an entire sweet potato pie mixed into it," Sara says.

“My husband Jim, who is a cabinet builder, got a recipe for sweet potato pie filling from one of his aunts,” Sara explains. “He comes here about three times a week to whip up big batches of the basic mixture. I’ve tried and tried to get him to tell me what all’s in it, so I can make it myself. But he always says—tongue in cheek, I think—‘No way! If you had that, you wouldn’t need me around anymore!’ ” So keeping the mixture mysterious is a form of husband-job-security for Jim. “The funny thing is,” she says, “for 15 years I’ve been taking all the credit for our most popular desserts, even though I couldn’t make them without Jim and his aunt’s recipe.”

Try a slice of each, for good measure.

CAKE TOO She certainly knows how the cake version came into being, since that was her idea. “I make a coconut cake that I learned from my neighbor more than 30 years ago,” Sara says. “One day in the kitchen, Jim was making his sweet potato pie mixture over where I couldn’t watch very closely, and I started to wonder what would happen if I added some of it to the yellow cake batter I use for coconut cake and then put some cream cheese icing on it. I tried it, and the results turned out to be very popular with our clientele.”

A festive mishmash of styles brightens Brick Street Café.

OTHER TREATS Besides sweet potato pie ($18.95/whole pie, $3.95/slice) and sweet potato cake ($37.95/large, $29.95/medium, $21.95/small, $4.25/slice), Brick Street Café also makes pineapple cake, 4-layer German chocolate cake, carrot cake, peanut butter cake, and more—all sold in-house by the slice and most available to go in several sizes. Also worth trying: blueberry pie and no-sugar-added apple pie. Although the bakery at Brick Street Café fits the “life is short, eat dessert first” school of thought, traditionalists might want to eat lunch or dinner before rewarding themselves. The eclectic menu ranges from fresh fruit plates, fried green tomatoes, and grilled salmon on mixed greens salad with roasted corn salsa, to roasted turkey hero or oyster po’ boy sandwiches, filet mignon with crab cake, sautéed shrimp and Andouille sausage on creamy grits, or vegetarian lasagna featuring spinach, zucchini, mushrooms, cheese, and marinara sauce. Hungry yet?

MUSIC NEXT DOOR The latest venture for Sara and Jim Wilson is Stella’s Music Emporium, located adjacent to their bustling restaurant and bakery. “Stella’s focuses on vintage stringed instruments, something that attracts the musician in me and the woodworker in Jim,” Sara says, still strumming her ukulele. “We hold live music happening, offer music lessons, stock vintage clothing and jewelry, and sell artwork that involves musical instruments in one way or another.”

WHERE Brick Street Café, 315 Augusta Street, Greenville, SC 29615

WHEN 11 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 5:30 – 9:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday


Brick Street Café at www.brickstreetcafe.com or 864-421-0111

Stella’s Music Emporium at www.stellasme.com or 864-232-5221

Greenville Visitors Center at www.greenvillecvb.com or 864-233-0461 (for more about the city)

Discover Upcountry Carolina Association at www.theupcountry.com or 864-233-2690 or 800-849-4766 (for more about the northwest corner of South Carolina)

The Sweetery, Anderson, SC

Try the Uggly Cake. What it lacks in good looks it makes up for in great taste.

by Bakery Boy

Uggly Cake. Photos by Bakery Boy.

The name alone makes us curious. We want to see if something called an Uggly Cake really is ugly. So here’s one for your inspection, a genuine Uggly Cake (the extra “g” added for trademark purposes) from The Sweetery in Anderson, South Carolina.

“They’re not pretty, but we sell a whole lot of them,” says Ryan Jarahian, head baker and son of The Sweetery founder Jane Jarahian. “We put a layer of yellow cake batter with a hint of caramel on top of a cream cheesecake base and toss on a handful of pecans. It rises while baking and then sinks as it cools, leaving a funny-looking dip in the center that’s kind of ugly. But it tastes great. A couple of years ago it won a best dessert award at AmericasMart in Atlanta, and our orders took off.”

Ryan Jarahian with (clockwise from left) Mimosa Cake, Banana Split Cake, Peach Delight, and Uggly Cake.

“And he’s just talking about the regular Uggly.” Jane adds. “We also make Chocolate Uggly Cakes and Key Lime Uggly Cakes.” Price: $9.40 each.

BEYOND UGGLY The Sweetery is no one-trick pony of a bakery, though. Jane has been steadily building her business for 25 years, starting in a home kitchen not far from today’s retail location. A vigorous mail-order operation (you can get an Uggly Cake home-delivered for $26) helped the operation grow beyond her town in northwestern South Carolina. The extensive lineup boasts richly frosted layer cakes including carrot, coconut, German chocolate, Italian crème, red velvet, chocolate peanut butter, caramel, and more. The strawberry layer cake is the best selling item year ‘round. Among the pie selection, standouts include those with pecans from local groves. There are also pound cakes, cheesecakes, brownies, and at least two-dozen kinds of cookies in the showcase. The place goes way beyond Uggly.

Jane Jarahian started her bake shop at home 25 years ago. Photo courtesy of The Sweetery.

NO JOKE Did you hear the one about the biologist, the factory worker, and the potting soil dealer? That might sound like the start of a silly joke, but it describes the trio behind this family business. Jane worked in sales at a plastics factory before it closed. A self-taught baker with a passion for food, she started baking cakes at home and selling them to friends and restaurants, and when the orders outgrew the house, she moved first to a small shop nearby and then to a larger shop next door, adding staff as needed. Her son Ryan graduated in 1998 from The Citadel in Charleston, became a wildlife biologist, and worked at the Shark Reef Aquarium at the Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas while also conducting research on desert tortoises for the University of Nevada, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Geological Survey. He left all that to come home and bake cakes with his mom. Jane’s husband, Steve Jarahian, an an executive at Oldcastle (the potting soil company) as well as an expert cookie maker.

Ryan's Mimosa Cake tastes "like a drink that you eat."

"We all enjoy inventing new treats," Ryan says of his baking family between bites of Mimosa Cake.

INVENTIVE TYPES The reason Ryan left his wildlife biology career in Nevada to be a baker in South Carolina, besides the chance to come home, is similar to why his parents stay in it. “We all enjoy inventing new treats,” he says. “My contribution to the lineup is a Mimosa Cake, based on the drink. It has two layers of orange cake with champagne in the batter, it’s covered with butter cream frosting, and the top is sprinkled with clear sugar flakes. It has a light, sparkly character and looks and tastes kind of like a mimosa. So it’s like a drink that you eat. How fun is that?”

Sweetery croutons made of cake instead of bread find many uses. Photo by Linda Askey of lindaaskey.com.

COLLEGIATE CAKES The Jarahians had a little college-level help with another Sweetery innovation: Cake Croutons (click here to see separate article). “An intern from Clemson University was working here and overheard us talking about new product ideas for a trade show we were going to,” Ryan explains. “We were looking for something that might go over well with a younger audience. She took a few cakes with her to a culinary class, the students brainstormed, and what they came up with was the idea of croutons made of cake. We took it from there and ran with it.” Produced in five flavors—original, chocolate, butter pecan, cinnamon espresso, and southwestern—the toasted sweets can be used to garnish salads, top ice cream, rub meats for grilling, crush into pie crusts, drop into soups, and more.

ON A MISSION Jane is currently president of the South Carolina Specialty Food Association, an organization that promotes authentic foods and supports independent farmers, producers, retailers, and other small businesses. Working closely with the South Carolina Department of Agriculture, its nearly 140 members produce everything from cakes to chocolates, wines, flour, pet treats, barbecue sauces, pecans, peaches, honey, tea, crab cakes, sausages, dairy products, and more. “We’re all about eating real, fresh, local foods,” she says.

LOCATION The Sweetery, 1814 East Greenville Street, Anderson, SC 29621 (south of Clemson and Greenville, SC, about 120 miles northeast of Atlanta, GA)

HOURS Mon-Fri 8 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sat 9 a.m.-3 p.m.

INFO www.thesweetery.com; 864-224-8394 or toll-free 800-752-1188

AREA INFO Discover Upcountry Carolina Association; 864-233-2690 or toll-free 800-849-4766

SPECIAL THANKS Friend and garden writer/photographer extraordinaire Linda Askey (www.lindaaskey.com) contributed the photo of Cake Croutons on salad, on chili, and as snacks.