Shealy’s partitioned crockery plates are pretty big, but still, there is no way to take some of everything that looks good on one pass through the buffet. Of course, you want the renowned BBQ – hacked-up pork in either a vinegar or mustard emulsion (with more sauce available to add at your pleasure) – but fried chicken is necessary, too. All parts, including pulley bones, come in a vividly-seasoned crust. The meat within is ridiculously moist, except, of course, for gizzards, which are wildly chewy. (Pulley bones as well as wings are not on the buffet, but you can get some by asking a waitress.)
Sides are cornucopic, highlights among them being thick and dairy-rich mac ‘n’ cheese, potent collard greens, supersweet creamed corn, mustardy hash on rice, and crisp-fried strips of porky fatback.
Once you’ve been through the buffet line enough times, there is a whole other area featuring desserts (and, oh, yes, salads, too). The peach cobbler is slick and smoky; rice pudding is an interesting striated dish of egg custard on top and sweet rice below.
Shealy’s is a huge and happy place with a reputation that draws crowds from throughout the Midlands and beyond.
Apparently my youth in South Carolina was at least partially squandered, for I’d never heard of Shealy’s. Thanks to our Roadfood comrades Nancypalooza and Julie, we now know that Shealy’s is the premier bar-b-que house in central South Carolina—possibly in the entire state—and has been since 1969. Buffet style is their modus operandi, which means you stand in a lengthy but fast-moving queue of hungry folks, wash your hands (you meet a sink before reaching the register), pay one price, grab a plate, and feast on just about every Southern specialty you can shake a stick at.
Now comes the hard part: what do you choose for your first plate? There are two types of BBQ: a tangy mustard-sauced style that’s indigenous to the Palmetto State, and a piquant vinegar-sauced style that’s more frequently attributed to North Carolina (bottles of both sauces are for sale). Then there’s Shealy’s famous fried chicken, carved turkey, fried fish, and a huge compendium of sides: cheese grits, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, milk and giblet gravies, green beans, lima beans, creamed corn, collards, fatback, chicken livers, gizzards, hushpuppies, BBQ hash, white rice, and the list goes on.
After finding seats, our server came by, took our drink order, and asked how many pulley bones we wanted. A regional delicacy, the pulley bone is the fist-sized mass of white-meat chicken that surrounds the wishbone, and you can order as many as you want. There are only long tables at Shealy’s, and we sat next to a large local family with three generations represented. All the food was excellent and cooked perfectly, and our favorites were both BBQs, green beans, limas, chicken livers, sweet potatoes, and those wonderful pulley bones.
If you still have room for dessert, there’s a separate buffet with two cobblers, banana and chocolate puddings, cakes, and pies. Unlimited sweet tea, sodas, and coffee flow freely, and the service is with a smile and an unmistakable Southern drawl. As outstanding as the food is, Shealy’s is the place for local color and hospitality, and you’d be hard pressed not to see grandparents, mothers and fathers, teenagers, toddlers, and high-chaired babies at every long table, eating their fill and enjoying each other’s company.