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Down-Home Dining: No-Frills Foodie Favorites

Libby Wiersema Libby Wiersema
Libby Wiersema lived in California and Alabama before settling in South Carolina 38 years ago, where she's covered the state's best culinary offerings and tells the stories behind the food.
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Informal. Unpretentious. Simply delicious. Rooted in rural culinary culture, down-home dining is a way of life for Southerners, and foodie adventures often orbit around the search for exceptional eats served up in locally revered, laid-back digs.

For a farm-fresh start to your day, head down to Cahill’s Market & Chicken Kitchen in Bluffton. The red-checked tablecloths set the mood for country goodness like their famous fried chicken served up on a hot, buttery waffle or go all-in with the iconic “Love Handle”—a fist-sized homemade biscuit crowned with a buttermilk-marinated, battered and fried chicken breast smothered with sausage gravy.

Southern breakfast fare and lunches also define the Early Bird Diner in Charleston. The combo of fried chicken breasts and crispy, cinnamon-spiked waffles landed them a spot on Guy Fieri’s Food Network TV show Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.

In Travelers Rest, The Hungry Drover is a historic cafe named for the drovers of old who once traversed the area. Everything is made from scratch, including personal sized tomato pies that are flaky, cheesy and served piping hot.A honey mustard-maple syrup drizzle gives them a patron approved twist.

Since 1981, Mr. Bunky’s Market in Eastover has catered to locals with a spread of faves like fried chicken, stewed tomatoes, blackeye peas and such. Mornings draw the catfish crowd who file in for a fresh catch plated up with grits and eggs.

Eclectic farm-to-table fare issues from the kitchen of Belton’s Grits and Groceries, cited by the likes of The New York Times. If you’re hooked on the praline bacon here, blame co-owner Heidi Trull, a 2015 South Carolina Chef Ambassador. Imagine roasted thick-sliced bacon coated with brown sugar and pecans—this is one craving you’ll want to satisfy.

When lunchtime calls, step back in time at Joe's Grill, a meat-and-three joint that has been serving Darlington since the 1950s. Savor what most all Darlingtonians say is the best fried chicken on the planet. The burgers and hand-cut fries aren't too shabby, either.

Tommy’s Self Service, a former gas station in Hartsville, is smoking— literally—churning out slabs of saucy, meaty, tender ribs throughout the week. Tuesdays are particularly tempting, however, when the hearty Pee Dee delicacy, chicken bog, is the daily special.

Featured on Anthony Bourdain's TV show Parts Unknown, Scott’s BBQ in Hemingway is the rustic convenience store where James Beard Award-winning pitmaster Rodney Scott honed his barbecue chops. Order the legendary pulled pork as a deconstructed sandwich with white bread and sauce on the side. Go full-on local by padding that sammie with cracklin’ pork skins.

The classic Cooper’s Country Store in Salters is famous for salt-cured smoked hams and pit-cooked meats. On Wednesdays, however, the fried quail flies out the door. Get yours with peas, rice and gravy for a filling country lunch.

In Pawleys Island, visit the ramshackle Pawleys Island Tavern, recognized in Southern Living magazine and beloved for its “classically shabby” digs, cold beverages, live music and an over-the-top Psychoburger: a half-pound beef burger topped with pimento cheese, chili, sautéed onions, bacon, jalapeños, slaw, an over easy egg and hot sauce. Crazy delicious.

Come dinnertime, Seewee Restaurant in Awendaw really gets you in the feels with its rustic vibe, checked tablecloths and dishes brimming with local ingredients. The hearty fish stew, a spicy, tomato-based concoction studded with fresh fish, potatoes and celery, is swimming with regional flavor.

Freeport Marina’s lively Old Daufuskie Crab Company is the headquarters for an island tradition: Ernestine Smith’s spicy, baked deviled crab. Made from a time-honored Gullah recipe, this dish defines Daufuskie Island dining. Getting there requires a boat, but that’s part of the charm.

Harold’s Restaurant in Gaffney has been operating since 1932. It found fame with its Sloppy Joe-style chili burgers, but the all-you-can-eat pintos on Wednesdays are delish, too. Spiked with ham, they come with an array of homestyle accompaniments: cornbread, fatback, onions and house made chow-chow.

And throughout the day, satisfy your sweet tooth at a roadside farm market. Nobody tooling down Highway 151 can resist the allure of McLeod Farms in McBee, where the peach enchiladas are all the rage. Snag a rocker on the porch while you down one for the ultimate dessert experience.

Libby Wiersema
Libby Wiersema lived in California and Alabama before settling in South Carolina 38 years ago, where she's covered the state's best culinary offerings and tells the stories behind the food.