"She ate 17 crab legs," my friend said as she gazed on her 8-year-old daughter, beaming. "She didn't even touch the hush puppies they brought to the table. I am just so proud." Her daughter grinned from ear to ear.
There are many great culinary traditions in South Carolina, from Lowcountry oyster roasts to mustard-based barbecue in the Midlands and from the burgeoning haute cuisine of Charleston to hot boiled peanuts from a roadside stand.
But the most unsung, possibly the most fun, and certainly the kitschiest is the proud tradition of trying to beat the buffet at the dozens of all-you-can-eat seafood places that line the Grand Strand, down US 17 from Myrtle Beach and all the way to Charleston.
With names like "Crabby Mike's" and "The Giant Crab," you can probably guess the big draw for many patrons - crab legs, and as many as they can stuff down their gullets without the other patrons pointing and staring. And actually, none of the other patrons would probably even notice - they're doing the same thing.
But the buffets also have huge selections of other fish and shellfish, as well as vegetables, soups, salads, meats and desserts. Some also feature Italian specialties, while others offer traditional Southern favorites.
The fun, nautical-inspired decorations, which usually spill outside, too, make waiting for a table fun. Once you're seated, though, you'll be up again just as soon as a waiter brings dishes to the table. It's time to tackle the buffet.
I suggest doing a walk-through first, scoping out all your options and only then starting to pile your plate high. When most buffets have over 100 items (and many have over 150!), it pays to take a few minutes to plan your dinner. You don't want to waste your appetite on something that isn't completely awesome.
That said, the real fun of going to one of these buffets is the chance to try so many different types of food at once, without worrying that you might choose badly. Always wanted to try mahi-mahi? Go for it! Curious about grits? Get a spoonful. Dying to try fried oysters, but never had the courage? Now's your chance. Don't know what in the world that thing is? Who cares? Try some - you might love it.
Theories range on how to get the best bang for your buck at a buffet, because they aren't cheap. One mother I know feeds her kids only cheese and yogurt for breakfast, skips lunch altogether and hits the buffet at 3 in the afternoon, when many open. The protein in the dairy keeps the hunger at bay but doesn't fill them up.
Another requests that the waiters not bring bread, hush puppies or water to the table until the family has gone through the buffet lines. No point in filling up on carbs and liquid when there are 12 types of shrimp to be sampled.
With just a little forethought, your family, too, could beat the buffet and leave Myrtle Beach triumphant!