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Jun 25, 2012 08:15 AM

Can really good food be found in rural South Carolina?

Ask that a year ago and I'd say doubtful. Having dropped out of the San Francisco hustle and opting for the peace, quiet and stress free life on a small hobby farm, I realized early on that any good tasting ,non- fried, fresh and healthy foods would have to come from my own kitchen. I love my small town but foodies, they ain't.

But two eateries have opened on Main Street, Chesterfield SC in the past year that may signal significant changes ahead. First let me tell you that Chesterfield is about 60 miles southeast of Charlotte, NC. Population 1,300 but Main Street is one block long. It's an old, charming and very friendly village. Most people drive right by it on Highway 9 on their way to Myrtle Beach and don't bother to take a small diversion on the business route though town. Too bad, because you're missing a lot.

Back to the food front. First to change to food scene is the Bank of Chesterfield Restaurant and Bar on Main Street at the corner of Park. Downstairs is a proper sit down restaurant complete with table cloths, real cutlery, glasses and fresh flowers on each table...something rather rare in these small rural towns. There's even a fireplace in the dining room for cozy evening during the winter.

Upstairs is a proper sports bar with more giant flat screen tvs than you can count so you'll never miss any game. This is clearly a hangout for the locals but they certainly welcome strangers and you'll be sure to make new friends. The windows upstairs overlook the old Courthouse building and a fully lit pecan tree in the adjacent town green, There's even a deck where you can wine, dine and enjoy a perfect sunset above the tree tops. Lovely indeed.

Both dining areas have full menus and full bar service. The food is wonderful and I recommend the steak (either rib eye or filet). Perfectly cooked and seasoned. Vegetable sides include roasted asparagus and garlic mashed potatoes that are cooked to perfection. My dining companion opted for the chicken pasta...such a misnomer because this dish tastes like it could do justice at any big city high priced place...depth and nuance of flavours. But the prices here are so reasonable you'll do a double take when you get the low bill. The menu also offers a variety of dinner salads which are outstanding.

All in all, this is a wonderful surprise to find when so many other places in rural South Carolina neglect the vegetables or care in preparation.

The only negatives...The Bank of Chesterfield is only open for dinners from Wed. through Saturday.

The second new food delight is Pig & Vittles...just a few doors down from The Bank on Main Street. This is a tiny place with five indoor tables and two sidewalk tables--- with a reliable menu including BBQ sandwiches and plates, gourmet hot dogs (try the Korean dog dressed with kimchi), pimento grilled cheese sandwiches (trust me, it's probably the best thing you've had in a long while). There are daily market salads (recently tomato and cucumber). Everything is local and seasoned with fresh locally grown herbs and prepared with thought and care which could give the vendors at SF Ferry Plaza Market a run for their money.

All this bodes well for foodies who don't want to have to rely only on urban or tourist areas for good food

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  1. Great, thanks for the info.

    1. The original comment has been removed
      1. One suggestion—check with the local Realtors. They will know those places that are Not on the main drag that are hard to find- like the great steak house off in the woods or the fresh fish place down by the pond or the B'n'B that does gourmet brunches.
        Some of the Meat&3 eaters are foodies, but they don't have the budget or desire to go to places that serve a single beautiful scallop with micro greens as a entree, so although they know and love Great Food, they may not be able to point you to all the hidden gems.

        1. your jets, kids. No need to get defensive. As the OP, my purpose was to commend to new restaurants in my small town not to disrespect anyone. I'm living in rural SC out of CHOICE. I wasn't told to move here by an employer nor was I born here and never had the gumption to get out. I do have Southern roots in Alabama so I understand Southern cuisine...So now that you have my CV, let me be clear that my criticism of the lack of attention to food preparation in the rural South still stands. It wasn't always like this. Years ago, country women still made scratch cakes, picked fruits from yard trees, brought in fresh eggs from yard chickens and had kitchen gardens filled with wonderful herbs and vegetables. You don't see that much anymore But I'm 67 and perhaps you don't recall those days. ....I offer as evidence the shocking lack of quality in the current church cookbooks....there's far too many recipes that call for opening a can or box from the Piggly Wiggly. My criticism isn't about country fare. But I do criticize the lack of care given. Too many restaurants rely on dumping canned products into water bath chafing dishes and calling it a buffet. Their biscuits are often a disgrace (I remember when places used to post the name of the particular lady making biscuits that day...the good ones had a faithful following. That's not Southern cooking. Consider the contributions of Edna Lewis or the Lee Brothers. They cook(ed) traditional Southern foods with care and love. Too many small towns only have Bojangles, Wendy's or Sonic as their restaurants. I don't live in Ashville-type places because they aren't small towns and as I said, I love my small town. I love locally sourced foods and embrace the farm to table movement. I just want it to come back to the rural South. So peace, love and understanding. (why do Chowhounds always get so snippy....I though I left that stuff behind in SF)

          11 Replies
          1. re: cfieldfoodie

            I really like the point you're making here - even at restaurants serving traditional southern foods that specialize in something that is done painstakingly from scratch (like Bridges BBQ Lodge's hickory-smoked bbq in Shelby, NC), their baked beans? from a can. Green beans? Monarch-brand (US Foods) straight from a can. French fries? Crinkle-cut frozen. So the sourcing and care ethos isn't even internally consistent. I wish places like Martha Lou's, SeeWee or Tomato Shed around Charleston, Farmer's Shed in Lexington, SC, Sgt. White's or Gullah Grub near Beaufort, SC, Bum's in Ayden, NC or Old Place in Bear Creek, NC, Jones Kitchen in Jesup, GA or The Market Diner in Thomasville, GA were the rule and not the exception for simple, made-from-scratch southern meats and sides. It's almost like you have to go closer or into the population centers these days to get simple, traditional food prepared the way it should be and used to be in every Southern town or around every family's Sunday table.

            1. re: cfieldfoodie

              Maybe you are just hanging out with the wrong crowd...I am 38 and I still clearly remember wringing and de feathering chickens out of the yard! I dont do that any more but i still fry up my chicken the way my granny taught me. Even though I am well off the farm these days I have at least 30 different herbs right off my patio. I baked a cake from scratch to take to the fire dept two days ago.This morning I rolled out biscuits for my eight year old for breakfast....AND yes I do work as well.

              1. re: cfieldfoodie

                I agree with all that. The current state of church picnics is depressing. I'm 47. When i was a kid, homecoming at church was a feast where you could enjoy all the ladies' best efforts. Now, it's 95% crap they picked up at BILO. Only a few ladies who cook remain, and they appear to be a dying breed. Things went to hell in little over a generation.

                But to amplify what I said above, most people's taste in restaurants is even more abysmal. I've mentioned this several times, sorry for the repeat, but I give as an example my own mother, who is one of the great southern cooks still left. She will eat at Red Lobster, she will eat at Fatz. She doesn't see a resataurant as some place to expect food better than her own. On the contrary, she has much lower standards for restaurants. Stuff she wouldn't serve at her own table on a bet doesn't seem to bother her in a restaurant. Go figure.

                1. re: danna

                  Could Food TV actually be a culprit?

                  We/they see stuff done that's impossible to do at home without $$$, training, and time. 

                  Classic Homecoming Mac'n'Cheese and the like is derided as too simple, too fat, too processed-- those noodles aren't homemade, the cheese isn't locally sourced, and your disposable plastic tray was made by Big Oil. 
                  And some CH or another will be happy to tell you that all that is beneath a true foodie. 
                  If someone does a classic dish, it's only to add Chiles or reduce fat or make it "indulgent."

                  Ladies Who Cook-my mother is nearing 70 and takes food to events. People in my set don't - we "respect" the allergies, food lifestyles, and political POV's. If you pick up a rotisserie chicken and a Stouffers casserole, no one questions the recipe and no one demands you try it. 

                  1. re: Kris in Beijing

                    Gosh, I feel so disagreeable...but I think I disagree with all that. Here's why:

                    I think it all went to hell PRIOR to Food TV, in fact, I think Food TV is somewhat in response to the fact that nobody learns how to cook from their Moms anymore.

                    My Mom is 75 and still carries food...disposable tray? No...she writes her name on the bottom and picks it up later....seriously old school. And me...if I show up...I take food too. I don't cater to people who imagine they have food allergies, nor do I give a crap about their food lifestyles or politcalPOVs. They can eat...or not.

                    1. re: danna

                      I'd have to agree with this. For some reason things really went the heck in the 90s (before Food TV). I wonder how much that has to do with both genders becoming working professionals and thus cutting corners when it comes to food out of necessity.

                      I just remember growing up in the South in the 80s, you could go to Morrison's Cafeteria and everything was made from scratch and even locally sourced. At our Tallahassee Morrisons, a lot of the seafood was sourced from Eastpoint and Apalachicola. The thought of a simple southern chain doing that nowadays seems laughable. It takes rare standouts like some of the places I mention above that still do things like I remember growing up not too long ago. At the buffet at B&J's in Darien, GA, the shrimp and other seafood still comes off the boats a couple of miles away.

                      1. re: mikeh

                        I blame the arrival of Walmart. It's suck the soul out of the south in ways we never dreamed.
                        LaLa...I'm not an "outsider" town isn't that closed minded...and besides, coming originally from Alabama, this is North to me.
                        Kris... I AM one of those elderly AME attenders so I'm not sure exactly what your point is.

                        1. re: cfieldfoodie

                          My point was that I rarely see a town in which the AME and 1st Baptist communities (there are other ways of dividing, but race and religion usually do it) are like a 3 Circle Venn diagram in terms of shared gossip and info, and the 3rd circle is the group that doesn't completely get encompassed by the other two.

                          1. re: cfieldfoodie

                            I'd like to vote for the perfect storm of women diving into the workplace in the 60's and 70's with the rise of convenience foods in the...what...late 50's? I've been told at one time it was considered chic to use a convenience food because it proved you could afford it.

                            Anyhow, to attempt to turn this thread back to the search for good food in rural SC, I offer The Thai and I, in Tigerville in northern Greenville county. Thai immigrants serve lunch counter food like hamburgers and tater tots to the majority of their customers, but also serve a few Thai items like fried rice, or steamed rice with lots of asian veggies. It's an interesting combo. Ask for the "sweet sauce". Don't wear clothes that have to be dry cleaned, because you will smell like grease when you leave.

                            1. re: danna

                              Danna you might just be right about the perfect storm. And I love to hear about Thai food coming to the South. The best argument for welcoming immigrants to these parts (aside from the fact that we are all immigrant stock save for indigenous peoples) is the wonderful variety of foods that come with them. I see a day when we celebrate and embrace Thai, Cuban, Oaxacan, etc. just like we do with Gullah cuisine. Thank you for returning the thread to it's rightful I have to put The Thai and I in my little book while I'm traveling the backroads.

                              1. re: cfieldfoodie

                                cfieldfoodie, not sure if you realize that this is already successfully taking place in other parts of the rural South. Perhaps the best Thai restaurant in the entire country is a little takeout joint near Colleen, VA smack dab in the middle of nowhere called Thai Siam Takeout, and she almost has too much business. Do a search on Chowhound for this. She doesn't even have to dumb down the flavors for safe palates. She goes all in using authentic recipes and the freshest ingredients that most Thai restaurants in even major cities won't dare to (or care to) do, and folks have embraced it wholeheartedly. Head up to those parts and watch the local folk coming in to do takeout, and you'll hear a surprising command of Thai pronunciation for the dishes they serve.

                2. Not totally rural, but I was part of the Harbison development team in 1976 when Harbison had exactly one house. I fondly recall a resto that served up catfish stew on Fridays, and it was on my regular rotation - good eatin' for this Connecticut Yankee.