In the fall, a football fan's mind turns to thoughts of games and tailgates ... and food.
For some, that means packing an array of pre- and postgame goodies in the vehicle for consumption within sight of a favorite stadium. But not all fans want to eat out of their car ... or, if they do before kickoff, prefer something different afterward.
Here's a lineup of favorite dining spots for loyal followers of South Carolina's college football teams. Whether you wind up there before or after your players hit the field, the results will be a winner, even if your team isn't.
If your food choice is based on the old real estate maxim - location, location, location - then for Gamecocks fans, the answer is simple and delicious: Bernie's Chicken, located a couple of Hail Mary passes from Williams-Brice Stadium on Bluff Road.
Bernie Shealy opened his restaurant in January 1980, just in time for George Rogers' Heisman Trophy-winning season, and the big tailback "was one of my first customers," Shealy says. Some fans pick up chicken and fixings to go, but "my regulars" - some of whom park on the restaurant property for games - come hours before kickoff to sit and dine, more so for 3:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. games than for noon starts, he says.
Typically, Bernie's sells 3,000-5,000 pieces of chicken on game day, and 5,000-6,000 chicken wings, spicy or dry recipe. The menu? Shealy laughs.
"If it ain't chicken," he says, "it ain't selling."
Three craft breweries - Conquest, River Rat and Swamp Cabbage - are within easy walking distance of the stadium, and River Rat has a food menu while the others host food trucks. After games, many fans gravitate to Five Points, where favorites include Yesterday's (family style cooking), Mr. Friendly's (New South cuisine) and upscale Saluda's.
Tailgating is huge at Memorial Stadium, but around and outside the small town are plenty of places to dine. One - Smoking Pig in Pendleton - has been ranked the nation's No. 7 college football dining destination by Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples in the magazine's preseason college football issue.
"Stop in and get a plate loaded with the pork, brisket and ribs," Staples writes. "Get the jalapeno cheese grits and Brunswick stew on the side. Then get a friend to wheel you out of the place."
Another homey favorite is Mac's Drive-In, where you're likely to see former Tigers players eating, says longtime athletic department aide Sanford Rogers. Local upscale choices include Rick Erwin's Grill and Pixie & Bill's, which is "known for their steaks," Rogers says.
Fans headed to Paladin Stadium often stop en route along Pleasantburg Drive and US 25 at Stax Omega Diner, which in years past hosted the Paladin coach's postgame show, and Tommy's Country Ham House, a regular hangout for football players and Upstate politicians.
"I used to go there, but my waist can't afford it now," says Paladins' fan Mike Cheatham. North of the campus in eclectic Travelers Rest, another Furman sponsor that's popular place for food is Shortfield's. Or head to downtown Greenville, where nearly 200 restaurants line Main Street.
Charleston is one of America's great "foodie" cities, and with Johnson Hagood Stadium located near the Ashley River, several riverside seafood spots are an easy drive away from campus. Assistant athletic director Andy Solomon says a favorite is California Dreaming, a chain restaurant but well-situated for postgame fans.
For those who love a meat-and-three experience, the place for Terriers fans and others is Wade's, where a regular customer when he's in town is former Wofford golfer (and PGA Tour winner) William McGirt.
For those seeking specialty burgers and also a full menu, the choice is Cribbs Kitchen, located next door to Spartanburg's hometown craft brewery, RJ Rocker's. "That's where a lot of our fans go," says Wofford sports information director Brent Williamson.
SOUTH CAROLINA STATE
Bill Hamilton, SC State's media relations director for more than 40 years, still loves to see the Bulldogs play - and to chow down at the Brown Derby, located at 1311 Belleville Road, a brisk walk from Oliver C. Dawson Bulldog Stadium. The unassuming, one-story brick structure is a favorite of students and their families, who feast on a wide selection of "soul food" staples: fried and baked chicken, barbecue, ribs plus an amazing spread of vegetables. Operated by three daughters of the original owner Mr. Brown (hence the name), the Derby is big with "even the young alumni, who want food that'll stick to their ribs," Hamilton says.
As in Charleston and Greenville, Myrtle Beach offers dining choices of all stripes and price ranges. "There's a ton of them," says Matt Hogue, CCU's athletic director, who often sends hungry fans to Murrells Inlet for seafood at Drunken Jack's and Nance's Creekfront Restaurant.
Seth Montgomery, the Buccaneers' sports information director, acknowledges that since CSU is a Southern Baptist school, there's no alcohol allowed at tailgating even though fans can arrive up to three hours early. Dining, though, is another matter. A couple of favorites near the North Charleston campus are Willie Jewels, an "old-school" barbecue joint, and the popular East Bay Deli.