The city of Aiken is surrounded by three traditional all-you-can-eat pig-pickin buffets: Dukes, Bobby’s Barbecue, and Carolina BBQ. Of the three, Carolina is the most humble: a fairly small place, more meditative than boisterous. But there is nothing humble about the array of food available. It’s a grand selection, a true taste of the Central Savannah River area.
The first time I tried to eat here, I had driven straight through from Connecticut, arriving early one Wednesday evening, ravening for BBQ. But I had forgotten that traditional South Carolina barbecue parlors are weekend-only affairs. I returned the next day (the weekend in this place starts on Thursday) for what proved to be a memorable feast.
The pork is a gorgeous, hacked-up mess of smoky pig that ranges from velvet soft mouthfuls to long, chewy shreds to crisp and crunchy bark. It’s sauceless as presented in the buffet; tables are set with sweet red sauce that is fine if that’s what you like and hot-sweet mustard sauce that is just right for this meat. You’ll also want hash on rice, the hash being a hearty stew that is comfort-food supreme and a de rigueur BBQ companion in the CSRA (Central Savannah River Area).
Among not-to-be-missed side dishes are sweet ‘tater tots rolled in sugar, buttery discs of fried squash, fried chicken skin, corn nuggets, onion-sweet hushpuppies, wonderfully ragged macaroni and cheese, extremely candied yams, and three different kinds of pickles.
Dessert is an afterthought. There are serve-yourself soft ice cream and a trio of soft sweet things including dense banana pudding, ultrasweet peach cobbler, and some sort of chocolate creamy swirl. I recommend skipping dessert in favor of a return trip through the exemplary buffet line.