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New Restaurant Alert : Spotted Salamander Cafe in Downtown Columbia



liz gunnBy Liz Gunn || I try not to do back to back Lifestyle entries, but this one just couldn’t wait. I am dying to spread the word about this great new spot for lunch.

My all-time favorite caterer, Spotted Salamander, has branched out and opened a cafe – in addition to their regular catering gig. I’m not sure how Spotted Salamander classifies their “genre” of food, but I would call it sophisticated southern.

They manage to take classic southern dishes and put a modern twist on them, making them appropriate for a backyard barbecue or a seated dinner wedding reception. They do not make the mistake of overwhelming you with too many flavors, or losing the appeal of the dish they started with. It’s been my experience that some people who aim to improve upon classic dishes fail miserably by trying to get too cute or too creative.

For example, Spotted Salamander has daily deviled eggs on the cafe menu – that are both classic and sophisticated. How do you make a deviled egg sophisticated? By adding smoked salmon and a sprig of dill, of course. The ones I had yesterday had a tiny pinwheel of ham nestled into the center. Ham and eggs- classic flavor pairing, unique presentation.

They have quite the selection of salads, however not all of them scream healthy living. Like the “Crispy Pork Belly Salad” which includes arugula, warm pork belly, cured egg, tomato, sunflower seeds and (homemade) buttermilk ranch dressing. When I ate there yesterday, I opted for the “Spinach Quinoa Salad” which I am certain would convert any non-quinoa fans with just one bite. Like everything else they serve, all the salad dressings are made from scratch and borderline drinkable.

I also had a cup of the soup – which was “Chicken de Albequerque“, a southwestern-style chicken soup. I’m a soup addict. If there is a soup on the menu that sounds remotely edible, I’ll probably try it…even in the summer. Fortunately, this was beyond edible and I kind of wished I had ordered a bowl instead of just a cup.

They cover all the bases with their sandwich selections – chicken salad, pulled chicken, shrimp salad, brisket  and a “Sweet Tea Vodka BBQ Meatball Sub“. It feels like they went out of their way to make sure there was something for everyone on the menu.  From my catering experience with Spotted Salamander, I know that the meatballs are always a favorite. I have also tried their chicken and shrimp salads, on croissants, and for someone who is extremely particular about those two things – they are some of the best I’ve ever had.

At the counter, where you order before taking your seat, they were offering samples of their latest dessert creation – “Pumpkin Toffee Whoopie Pie“. I’m a little embarrassed to tell you that I may have revisited the counter more than once to “sample” them again. Have mercy.

The cafe itself is adorable. It reminds me of a place I ate on Magazine Street in New Orleans the last time I was there. They’re located at 1531 Richland Street in the historic building that was most recently home to Chocolate Nirvana.

Spotted Salamander is open for lunch during the week from 11:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., but the storefront is open for catering services and pick-up from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. They are taking orders now for Thanksgiving and Christmas. You can order a complete meal or pick and choose from  some really tasty sides dishes, pies and cakes. I won’t tell your mother-in-law if you don’t tell mine.


Liz Gunn is a wife, mom, travel enthusiast, food snob, daydreamer and lifelong Gamecock fan. A graduate of the University of South Carolina, she lives in Columbia, S.C. with her husband and daughter.