By any measure, South Carolina is more a barbecue state than a burger state, but eaters of Aiken County spend an inordinate amount of time debating where the best hamburgers are served. It was during one such discussion that Deirdre Stoker Vaillancourt directed me to Dave’s Grill & Grocery out in Couchton. Dave’s is an ethanol-free gas station convenience store that also happens to be a butcher shop and cafe.
Thank you, Deirdre! While they are in no way aristocratic, Dave Golding’s blue-collar burgers — hand-pattied from freshly-ground beef — are short-order paradigms: rugged-textured, juicy enough, full-flavored, and reaching five-dollar resplendence when fully dressed with mustard, mayo, lettuce, onion, and tomato.
French fries to accompany the worthy wimpies also are extraordinary. Hand-cut with plenty of skin still on and fried to honeytone pulchritude in clean oil, they are ideal companions for burgers, sausage burgers (sausage made here, of course), chicken sandwiches, pork chop sandwiches, hot dogs, or chopped BBQ with tangy-sweet mustard sauce.
Beyond burgers and BBQ, Dave’s offers breakfast sandwiches and a lunchtime meat-and-3 selection that usually includes crisp-fried pork chops along with collard greens, mac ‘n’ cheese, southern-style green beans, and intriguing hash on rice.
Much business is takeout, but a coterie of customers occupy bare tables that share floor space with shelves of packaged groceries, local produce, motor oil, Little Debbie snack cakes, and household goods. Place your order at the counter (where there’s a view of the meat & 3 selections), find a table and wait to be called back to pick it up. Most dine-in customers pay when they’re finished with the meal. According to one member of the staff, this method of service is known as “Eat your way in and pay your way out.”