This favorite keeps folks coming back for the food and the great atmosphere.
By Jackie Perrone
Photos by Sally Taylor
“Just one more reason to come across the bridge.”
Mike Davis of Terra sums it up succinctly. The owner-chef of one of the Midlands’ prime restaurants thinks he found the perfect spot for his fine-dining venture, at the corner of State Street and Meeting Street in West Columbia. The Gervais street bridge leads his customers straight to his door, which overlooks the city scene and riverfront. Coming soon: new shopping and housing development adding to the mix nearby. Terra is sitting pretty.
“It’s what I’ve always wanted,” says Davis. “Things have just come together so we can offer the specialties we’ve been working on for a long time.”
Mike Davis grew up in Dothan, AL, and earned a degree in Business Management at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. But South Carolina was calling to him. His college job as a restaurant cook sparked his interest in the food service industry, and he headed for Johnson and Wales Culinary School, which was located in Charleston SC at the time. There, working at Magnolia’s sealed his fate. A restaurant career was under way.
He spent some time in another gourmet city, New Orleans, where he met his wife, a native of Columbia SC. By the time the chance to buy into the Terra property came along, they were seasoned veterans of the restaurant scene. Mike’s wife, Taje, keeps the books, and handles taxes, payroll, and more. “She keeps us legal,” he says.
Terra has enjoyed success ever since they took it over, although the economic slowdown of 2008-2009 did create some temporary slowdown. They weathered that slump, and have continued to build on their strengths.
“We are not Italian or French or Mediterranean,” says Davis. “We think of our menu as a combination of Southern and European. We know what people around here like, and we like to feature other delicacies they may not have tried before.”
Another principle which has paid off for Terra is developing relationships with their suppliers. Mike Davis says, “It’s trendy now to say oh yes, we feature locally-grown produce. We have always done that. We prefer to call it an ever-changing seasonal menu. Yes, we use many local and regional products, and whatever is in season finds its way into our kitchen.” Does the name Terra give you a hint? It’s Latin for Earth. This dining place relies on home-grown edibles.
Terra’s suppliers include City Roots, known as Columbia’s in-town, sustainable farm for greens and vegetables; Caw Caw Creek Farm, Emile DeFelice’s farm in Calhoun County; EcoFriendly Foods, where fresh meats are prepared for distribution; Freshly Grown Farms, just outside of Columbia, providing hydroponic greens and produce; All-Local Farmer’s Market in Columbia; heirloom grains and legumes from Anson Mills in Columbia; honey from Bell Honey in Rembert; the well-known Manchester Farms for quail; and other neighboring agrarians.
The seafood comes from Mark Marhefka’s Abundant Seafood of Charleston; country ham and bacon is bought from Allan Benton’s near Madisonville, TN. Split Creek Farm in Anderson provides goat cheese; grass-fed Tunis heritage lamb is a Terra springtime favorite from Red Fern Farm in Gray Court. Wil-Moore Farms, family-owned in Lugoff, provides eggs, poultry, beef and other items. Happy Cow Creamery, out of Greenville, is a supplier as well.
According to Chef Davis, “Beef is king. Steak Frites is always on the menu, and always in demand.” But oh, how to choose from the many other options available? “Domestic Shrimp Remoulade” – do we detect the New Orleans flavor here? “Smoked Pork Taquitos” – includes black bean sauce and tomatillo salsa, a definite Spanish twist.
If Italy is your bent, a wood-oven pizza provides aroma along with Tuscan accent. “Quack Madame,” duck confit with toasted brioche, could only derive from France. Ooh la la!
Some recent reviews back up Chef Mike’s claims:
“They know how to prepare fish! The cheese tray was wonderfully fresh. Wreckfish Rillete worth fighting over. Morel mushrooms a Must Try.”
“Chef Mike is a true master of the ‘slow food’ movement.”
“Wow! This place is amazing!”
“When noted out-of-town chefs and celebrities come to the Columbia area, this is where they dine. The Columbia area’s very best.”
Terra offers private dining space which may be reserved for special occasions, and is booked up at just about 100 percent for the holiday season. Proximity to the South Carolina State House means that legislators and other government officials visit Terra often. Chef-Owner Davis says that they are just about maxed out on the available space in their prime location, but he is giving no thought (for now) to expanding. “I have young children whom I don’t see nearly enough of,” he points out. “Maybe later, we might want to open other locations, but not now.”
West Columbia, SC 29169
OPEN Tues-Sat at 5pm