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July 21, 2019

In what was once the beating heart of the old Spartan Mills headquarters, John Robert Bandy and the team at Heirloom – A Milltown Eatery are working on perfecting a little kitchen chemistry.

Bandy, Heirloom’s executive chef, is putting his own nifty twists on classic Southern fare. “The idea is to take this mill town concept and things you might have once had for Sunday dinner and just run with it,” Bandy said with a grin. “And so far that’s been a lot of fun.”

Located at 805 Spartan Boulevard, the restaurant, which opened in February, is just north of WestGate Mall with easy access from Interstate 26.

Jason Price, Director of Operations for Pinnacle Hospitality, said the idea is to pay homage to what was once among the leaders of the nation’s thriving textile economy. Spartan Mills can trace its history back to the late 19th century and was at the center of the South’s textile boom. At one time it was one of Spartanburg County’s top employers.

From the beginning, Price said Heirloom was planned to be a social space. There’s room to move and mingle and an outdoor patio space complete with a fire pit.

The farm-to-table menu carries that theme as well, breaking down selections into “small plate” and “large plate” offerings. The idea? There’s plenty to share around the table with friends and family, Price said.

On the large plate side, the Steak 1881 features onion crusted beef tenderloins, red eye Colbert sauce and a roasted fingerling and Brussels sprouts mishmash. You’ll also find sauteed shrimp paired with Carolina stone ground grits, with red and yellow peppers, onions and smoked bacon cream. The “Too Broke for Buttermilk Fried Chicken,” is hand breaded and features a hot honey drizzle, sweet potato mash and collards.

Bandy said the restaurant features as many local or regional ingredients as possible and counts Little River Coffee, RJ Rockers and Bellew’s Market in Spartanburg among its suppliers, along with others such as Goodnight Brothers Ham from Boone, North Carolina, Six & Twenty Whiskey from Piedmont and Benton’s bacon from Madisonville, Tennessee. Other ingredients like fruit syrups and dill pickles are made in-house.

Born and raised in Spartanburg, Bandy said he got his start in the restaurant business washing dishes and making sandwiches at a local sub shop before graduating from Johnson & Wales University in Charleston in 2005.

While Southern staples form the core of Heirloom’s menu, he said there’s endless room for experimentation. And sometimes the biggest wins come from “failed” experiments.

“Just yesterday we were cooking some collard greens and we ended up with too much seasoning,” Bandy said. “We were able to blanch those off and put them in a sous-vide bag and the end result was something with a texture similar to nori with a huge amount of umami. So now we’ve got an interesting question. What do we do with this? Can we adapt a kind of Southern sushi? So it’s all about trying things.”

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