By Vanessa Infanzon
At first glance, The Yolk Café doesn’t inspire confidence: it’s the last storefront in a shopping center strip mall in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Step inside and instantly the sights, sounds and smells instill a comfort that makes you want to stay awhile.
Chef Greg Collier and his wife Subrina Collier, both from Tennessee, opened The Yolk Café in its current location four years ago. Chef Greg had a vision for the type of restaurant he wanted to operate. “I was trying to figure out a few things: How do I elevate food in the minds of people who grew up like I grew up, eating the same things over and over?” he said. “How do I still be seasonal and work with local products? How do I still push myself as a chef? How are people going to be OK with that?”
Chef Greg found a way. He deliberately created a menu with classic breakfast selections such as waffles, pancakes and potatoes with the intention of gaining customers’ trust. He hoped to entice them to try something new – break from tradition and try menu items or specials with his unique touch.
“They know they can still get classic items,” Subrina says, “They can get their grits and their bacon and pancakes, but if they have a more adventurous palate and want to try different things, people have those options in the specials Greg does.”
Sweet or savory specials are featured on Saturdays and Sundays. They are truly one-of-a-kind creations – Chef Greg has only repeated Tiramisu Pancakes once, and that was at the request of his wife. “It forces you to be creative,” Subrina says. “It forces you to not recycle the same old specials.”
Specials like the Elvis Presley Waffles with a peanut butter waffle topped with a meringue, a graham cracker pancake with Guinness whip cream or the sweet potato pancakes with bacon granola, apple caramel and pumpkin spice cream make The Yolk Café a destination for weekend breakfast.
Just about everything is made from scratch - sauces, quiche dough, pancakes, hollandaise sauce, caramel and apple cider vinegar. Produce, eggs (more than 3,000 a week) and chickens are sourced locally from The Pennell Barn, Watson Farms and Rock River Farms. Chef Greg’s relationship with the farmers has made it possible for him to request specific vegetables to be grown for his use.
Twists in a Classic Menu
It’s about ego and it’s about being different from other chefs, Chef Greg concedes. “We’re all pulling from the same ingredients, for the most part,” Chef Greg says. “Each of us (chefs) have to figure out how we are going to make these things ours without doing the same thing everyone else is doing.”
A southern diner is expected to have biscuits on the menu and The Yolk delivers. For Chef Greg, his BBB Biscuits had to be unique. He found a way by infusing brown butter into the buttermilk biscuits. “You get that same fluffy look with an almost nutty flavor. Brown butter isn’t something exceptional, but I’d never seen it done in a biscuit at that time.”
Other traditional southern dishes with a twist are also on the menu. In There’s Fire, a biscuit and gravy dish, Chef Greg swapped out the traditional sausage gravy with a smoked chicken gravy. His Shrimp & Grits includes smoked gouda, sautéed shrimp in a jerk marinade and a scallion pesto. Chef Greg knows that great grits make this dish and uses course ground grits in a ham hock stock, an homage to his granny. He also seasons them from the very beginning.
Chef Greg’s take on the classic corn beef hash is the Mojo Hash. “We are trying to figure out a way to make the absolute best of a classic or we’re trying to figure out how to take the idea of a classic and make it our own,” says Chef Greg. “I think the Mojo Hash is one of the dishes that bridges everything I know.” The base is flank steak with a chili, coffee (MoJo is Morning Joe) and paprika rub. He adds color with sweet potatoes cooked with a four-mushroom, roasted garlic oil. He tops it with an over easy egg and a scallion pesto.
Early in Chef Greg’s career, before he attended culinary school in Scottsdale, Arizona, he worked at Ching’s Hot Wings restaurant in Memphis. It was there he grew to appreciate the use of seasonings. His TN fries are Yukon potatoes with the house seasoning – a favorite among new and old customers. He uses this same seasoning on his chicken.
A Contemporary Country Vibe
It was important to Subrina that the café have an intimate setting. The space seats 50 to 60 people in booths, tables and one long community table in the center of the restaurant. The walls and furniture are pale grays and blues to create a contemporary country look. She painted farm doors to be used as tables. “I wanted it to have the feel of being in someone’s house – like a big dining room table,” Subrina says.
Subrina inserted record album covers under the tables’ glass. A variety of artists such as Jimmy Hendrix, Prince, Aretha Franklin and Outcast serve as conversation starters. When she found a magazine with their last name, Collier, she scoured thrift stores to find more and added these to the tables too.
The Collier’s partnership – Subrina working the front of the house and Chef Greg handling the kitchen – works. They’ve found a balance between offering a delicious breakfast in a cozy and calm setting and challenging folks to venture into unknown culinary territory just 30 minutes south of Charlotte.
The Yolk Café
1912 Mt. Gallant Road | Rock Hill