story & 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.”
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.
“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.”
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.”
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