Stella's Southern Bistro - Simpsonville, SC

Before I start to write this review, I have to get a few things off my chest. Reason # 139 why any blogger who accepts a free meal in return for a review should NOT and I repeat NOT be taken seriously. There has to be a reason why they are reaching out to you in the first place. With that said, I was contacted a few months ago (I get contacted often by local restaurants offering freebies in return for reviews) by a consultant of Stella's to enjoy a complementary dinner for two in return for a review on this very site. I regretfully turned down his offer due to the fact that no "honest" or "legitimate" review could ever possibly be written on a free outing.

With the above disclaimer over and off my chest, we have wanted to try Stella's ever since we have moved to this area, but never found ourselves ever trying it for several reasons. I have three small kids that are with us almost every time we dine out. Not knowing Stella's, no existence of a kids menu can be located anywhere, thus causing us to believe that this is not a kid friendly restaurant (up until about a month ago did I learn they indeed do have a kids menu from Facebook, but still do not know what they offer). And the biggest reason why we have never tried them is simply put, after looking at the online menu probably 50 some times in the past year, it is simply boring on paper (or in this case on screen). They are your stereotypical "Southern" menu downsized. They offer one option in all of your basic categories, Chicken, Steak, Pork, Fish, Crab, small game and your traditional overpriced Shrimp and Grits. Now I will say that they do offer some pretty amazing sounding and looking specials, but unless you follow them on Facebook, you will never know this. This brings up another point that irritates me about this place, who in the hell makes dinner plans at 6:30 on a week night? This is your average time that they mention dinner specials for that night. But I also learned after this experience that you shouldn't worry about missing it that night, it will still be on the menu the next day and possibly the next as they run specials, and soups until they run out (per our server).

Sorry, this is going to get long real quick, but onto our awkward night out with no kids in sight:

I'm not one who typically makes reservations, but this being the wife's birthday dinner and all plus we managed to pawn our kids off for the night, I figured I had better since this was the wife's direct request for dinner location. Upon arriving 5 minutes early to our reservations, we were quickly seated and that is where it all went downhill. I don't expect the best seat in the house just for making reservations, but I certainly do not expect the absolute worst possible seat imaginable. With nearly half the tables in the house still open at 7:10, I wasn't too thrilled in the least. Work with me here, imagine three tops for two, a shared bench on one side and those three tables spaced about 5"-6" apart (the wife had to physically move the table next to us with two people seated in order to get back to the bench). We both were so close to the other two tables on both sides of us that is was miserably uncomfortable. Oh, it gets better, when our waitress needs to get to the table in the corner, either I have to move about 3 feet in one direction or I get the top of my bald head rubbed like I did the day I turned 21 at the local gentleman's club. Before our drinks even arrived, I was already over this place and could not escape soon enough.
Onto the soups, Wife was excited to have the Low Country Shrimp Bisque, Old Bay spiced shrimp, scallions as described on the menu for $5.50 and I tried the soup of the day (and the next and the next days until it runs out) which was a German potato veggie soup. The shrimp bisque could have just been sent back to the kitchen as far as I was concerned as it was not a bisque at all, but the wife didn't mind it although was not satisfied by how it was more broth based rather than a creamy based traditional bisque. My soup however was the highlight of the entire evening. The veggie pure used to make this a cream soup was perfect with a very high level of acidity/citrus balance to cleanse the palette right before the main course arrived.
 One cool thing (well so I though) was how they cleverly marketed after dinner drinks (deserts would also be another great option) in place of the typical doilies under the soup cup until the wife showed me hers, last night's dinner specials! I guess they are just trying to use up old menus as a means of recycling.
Onto the real downer of the evening, the main course. Tonight's dinner special was a pan roasted Carolina flounder with a Sea Island red pea fritter, hominy, kohlrabi, sweet pepper and scallion saute and basil crab butter. The other dinner special also happened to be last night's dinner special, pan roasted duck breast and duck confit. The wife went with the Flounder special, even after my repeatedly discouragement. What sold her was our waitress offering up that "per the Chef, they are in the Prime of the season for taste". OK, if you say so, really. I left my dinner selection up to our server to choose and ended up with the grilled hanger steak and braised short ribs described on the menu as, root vegetable puree, Parson's Produce rappini, butter roasted mustard crumbs, red wine jus.

After already being disturbed by the seating situation along with the noise level in the very echo ridden room, this had better be the best damn tasting food I have ever experienced in my life. It wasn't! The wife's Flounder was good, but certainly not worth the price tag for the 4-5oz portion that she received especially since everything else served with it was almost non-eatable in her opinion. The fish was extremely crispy on the outside, but was slightly overcooked on this inside.  The fritter was cold and bland, defiantly not cooked to order and the veggie mix was lacking almost everything.  

As for my meal, I was just confused. Hanger steak, absolutely my all-time favorite cut of beef when prepared properly (and that is hard to screw up). When you think hanger steak, you think of a very nice long, thin(er) cut of meat just waiting to be cut into, not a 4oz serving for $24 that looks like a broiled sirloin that is pitch black. Known as the "Butchers" cut, this one was one that the butcher happily threw out. Go ahead and guess, take a look above and tell me which one is the steak and which one are the ribs? You can't, I didn't even know until I cut into them. As for presentation of this dish, FAIL. For the short ribs, this was a first for me. Never in my life have I ever needed a steak knife to cut through them. The flavor of everything was overall decent, just completely an under-whelming meal for the price. One suggestion I'd like to offer, please do not try to cover up how old the meat is (IE: short ribs) with an over abundance of some sort of coarsely ground salt. I would prefer to salt and pepper my own meat, thanks.
Now onto desert, I was excited to see carrot cake as the desert special, but it was just a tiny portion accompanied by a sweet potato souffle and that ruined it for me, so I opted for the New Orleans Butter Pecan Bread Pudding described as, vanilla ice cream, bourbon brown sugar caramel (pictured above) and the wife went with the highly recommended Dark Chocolate and Creamy Peanut Butter Pie described as, caramel sauce, salted and roasted peanuts (pictured below). After the 25 minute wait, one fire truck, one ambulance and the most annoying experience anyone could have ever gone through in their life, they finally arrived. Very irritated by this time, desert didn't even appeal to me any longer. That "most annoying" experience mentioned above, image one of the water boys replacing the paper table topper and folding and creasing all 4 sides, wrinkling and folding and repeatedly over and over again like nails on a chalkboard, and I'm not exaggerating this, for 12 minutes, my ears were bleeding by this time.  The pie was simply amazing according to the wife (although much smaller than previous portions brought out to both tables we shared dinner with) and I would agree with her based on the tiny portion my lovely wife was so gracious to share with me, but the bread pudding, not doing it for me. It was like one large sponge cake sitting in a very flavorful caramel sauce that was completely dissolved and gone by the time the sponge cake was only a quarter gone. And for the Pecans, I enjoyed the five slivers that were present. These both were later comped by our server at no request of ours due to the time it took to arrive and the poor waitress was the most apologetic about it.
Bottom-line: I will repeat myself, the experience of dining out is more important than the food itself. Let's face it, if you own a restaurant, you obviously can cook or know what you should be doing in that department, but you need to bring the experience and this is where Stella's is simply lacking. Don't get me wrong, the food was all simple and taste wise, acceptable, but the circus of wait staff running nonstop through the black curtain over and over again, and the water boy asking my wife 20 times if she wanted a refill when she hadn't even touched it in the first place, was simply too much. The front of the house could use an overhaul in Management style as it is just complete out of control and very noticeable to the customers.  I cannot state this for fact, but if you cannot operate a banquet room and a front house out of one small kitchen, don't do it! Do not let your front house guests be deprived and neglected due to a few extra dollars running a small banquet room. For two cocktails each, two cups of soup and one entree each, (remember our deserts were comped) our total bill was still over $90. Now I get the whole Farm to Table and local produce and farmer's thing and I fully support these types of establishments and am willing to pay a premium, but it is really pushed way too much at Stella's on the menu and throughout the restaurant while under achieving the goal. For $90, I can think of much nicer places to spend this kind of money and be guaranteed a fantastic meal and even more memorable experience and not be dining in a tiny strip mall on Fairview RD in Simpsonville. However, they did end up packing the house so maybe I'm just the odd man out in my thoughts and feeling on this place and my experience.

Although this review sounds very negative, (as it mostly is) don't take it the wrong way. Everyone is different in what they are looking for in a restaurant and if you want average food with fancy names and ingredient lists that most people have no clue about or to impress someone with how much money you pay, Stella's will deliver that for most people. I was mostly just pissed off with the world after so much went wrong prior to even placing my order to be able to enjoy anything thrown at me. With all this said, ("said" someone will say I am being a Dick or am a Dick) I plan to be back myself, but not for dinner, ever. Rather, I will be checking out the Tuesday lunch special as Kentucky Hot Brown happens to be one of my all-time favorite meals after spending so much time in Louisville (no sure how this fits with the whole "Southern cuisine", but hey, I'll be back just for it). I just hope they haven't screwed this one up too much by adding personal (culinary "FANCY") flair to it.
Stella's Southern Bistro on Urbanspoon


  1. So when are you reviewing Roost? From what I've seen, folks either love it or hate it, and they do fresh, local cuisine similar to Stella's. W've been, but I'm curious to hear your take on it...

  2. Funny you should ask that Liene, Roost was my first choice on this particular dining experience, but it was the wife's B-Day and all so she got to pick. Her reaction to Roost's menu was the exact same as mine of Stella's, boring and overdone. I still hope to get there eventually now that the weather "should" be turning nice and we will venture downtown more often ans see what all the hype is about!

  3. In defense....