What To Eat in South Carolina
A land of majestic barbecue and fascinating diverse sauces, including a unique mustard-powered sauce in the center of the state, South Carolina also boasts shrimp, flounder, and oysters that are second to none (shrimp and grits should be the official state dish). Oyster roasts are big all along the coast, as is the festive sausage-shrimp-corn-potato gallimaufry known as Frogmore stew or Low Country boil. South Carolina also produces more peaches than nearby Georgia, so its peach cobbler, peach ice cream, peach ham glaze, and peach cake all are pretty swell. The South’s beloved pimento cheese is big in every county; and do note that the state capital, Columbia, is where the pimento cheeseburger was invented (and where the best one is served).
South Carolinians take grits seriously, using stone-ground cornmeal, butter, and milk or cream to create a slow-cooked warm cereal that is delicious alone but better as the bed for a school of vividly-spiced shrimp – a duet of spice and comfort that is good to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
The pimento cheeseburger was invented in Columbia, South Carolina in the 1960s at a long-gone restaurant called the Dairy Bar. The inspired pairing of carnivorous succulence and cheddar luxury, with a soupcon of spice, has become popular throughout the state and much of the Southland, but you still find the beefiest and cheesiest ones in and around Columbia.
Whole hog barbecue is an arduous, time-honored ritual that few modern restaurants continue to employ. The process commences late in the afternoon, when the pitmaster starts burning oak and hickory logs until they turn to charcoal. The coals are pushed from the chimney where they burnt into an adjoining pit, where halved hogs are arrayed on a grate above the heat. At midnight, then again at dawn, more coals are moved to the pit. In South Carolina, whole hog restaurants are open only on weekends, and it is advised to get there early, before the skin runs out. Skin's a delicacy that is meltingly fatty and infused with the briny smack of basting juices.
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Cahill's is a boisterous Bluffton farm-market restaurant with a menu beyond fried chicken, including local oysters and shrimp and a dozen different vegetables.
On the Abbeville, South Carolina, town square, Rough House is a vintage cafe and pool hall serving oinky hot dogs and zesty pork/beef hash. Ice cream, too.
Located in a grand old Main Street bank building, the Blue Canoe is a cheerful town cafe with good coffee an' pastries and locally-sourced meats & veggies.
A locals' favorite for all manner of fresh seafood and fine accompaniments, Aiken Fish House & Oyster Bar is a nice, clean place to dine.
Big-city sophisticated but small-city hospitable, Prime Steakhouse is first-class all the way, featuring the best beef for miles around.
Jamrock Caribana is a happy, hospitable, out-of-the-way roadside cafe serving such Jamaican favorites as jerk chicken, oxtails, and akee & saltfish.
A forthright diner surrounded by South Carolina industrial parks, Airport Grill is a favorite for hearty breakfast, well-dressed burgers & take-out meals.
Portions are huge, service is old-style hospitable at the Variety, a favorite of South Carolina square-meals eaters who know good steaks and fresh seafood.
Oysters on the Half Shell
Hash Brown Potatoes
Hand-crafted donuts make Sheila's Baking Co. a beloved destination just across the river from Augusta, Georgia. Come early. Donut supplies sell out fast.