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Lunch Break: Five Restaurants to Try in Clinton

Libby Wiersema Libby Wiersema
Libby Wiersema lived in California and Alabama before settling in South Carolina 30 years ago, where she's covered the state's best culinary offerings and tells the stories behind the food.
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Have both hands free—and plenty of room in your belly—for the Giant Cheeseburger at Whiteford’s Drive-in.

When tooling east or west through the Upstate on Interstate 26, you're sure to have noticed the signs for Clinton—exits 52 and 54. If you’ve never been tempted to veer off the well-traveled path to see what’s there, here are some reasons to reconsider, especially if you find yourself hankering for some lunch.

No need to wait until you reach Columbia or Greenville—there’s plenty here to not only satisfy your hunger, but please the palate, too.

Anchored by the picturesque campus of Presbyterian College and a charming downtown, Clinton is another gem in South Carolina’s historical crown. Originally nothing more than a railroad intersection called Five Points, the town grew into a hub of textile manufacturing and commerce in the early 1900s. Clinton’s glory days are still reflected through its architecture and at the Clinton Museum.

Clinton was also a key player in the Revolutionary War, a distinction that is commemorated at nearby Musgrove Mill State Historic Site. While you’re stretching your legs and letting lunch settle, take a little time for a deeper dive into the roots of this interesting and scenic town. 

But first, let’s lunch. Here are five solid choices for a stand-up midday meal.         

Main Street Bake Shoppe
A quick, simple lunch doesn’t get much better than made-to-order sandwiches. The house-made pimento cheese, egg salad and chicken salad are particularly worthy of being slathered on freshly baked bread for a dreamy sammie. There are salads, too—perfect for sweltering summer days. In cooler weather, soup hits the menu with hearty rotating offerings like potato-bacon, white chicken chili and chicken and dumpling. If you see cheeseburger-rice soup in the lineup, grab a bowl before it disappears. 

Patriots Kitchen   
Made-from-scratch dishes—it takes a little longer, but you could use the extra time to refresh and regroup for the remainder of your travels. With a name that gives a nod to Clinton’s Revolutionary War roots, this patriotically decorated cafe offers savory sustenance done right. The menu is pure Americana with offerings like the Freedom Steakburger topped with bacon and cheddar; the Liberty Crunch Burger featuring a thin, smashed patty grilled until slightly crusty; All-American Grilled Cheese layered with Wisconsin cheese; and Hebrew National hot dogs with homemade chili and slaw. A rotation of daily specials like pot roast, fish and chips and chicken fried steak are designed to deliciously comfort. If you hit Clinton on a Saturday, indulge in Patriots Kitchen’s awesome brunch featuring its famous blueberry pancakes. 

Steamers Restaurant   
Since 2003, this no-frills cafe has been serving up tasty, stick-to-your-ribs dishes for locals and those just passing through. Daily blue plate specials aim to please. The country fried steak is a draw as is the hamburger steak (called the Rathole) covered in cheese, chili and onions. Old-fashioned sides like mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, mac and cheese, okra, and marinated cucumbers will nicely fill out that blue plate. But it’s the burgers that are all the rage. Red’s Burgermasters opened in 1945, soon earning a reputation as a local hangout and purveyor of juicy, all-beef burgers. When the beloved eatery closed for good, Steamers resurrected the menu, added it to its own, and carries on the tradition while creating a few new ones.

Whiteford’s Drive-in
Speaking of tradition, this hotspot might have changed locations a time or two, but it has been consistently dishing up eats since 1957. That’s when locals got their first taste of the “Giant Burger.” It is what it is—a two-fisted sandwich with all the trimmings. If you’ve got a giant appetite, this one’s for you. The daily blue plate specials will get you to the hunger finish line, too. The fried chicken dinner is always a winner—crusty, perfectly seasoned and served with slaw and a roll. You might just want to take some for the road, too.       

Dempsey’s Pizza
How does an all-day pizza buffet grab you? Fans of the pie will love the variety here: taco pizza, cheeseburger pizza, BLT pizza, BBQ chicken pizza and Hawaiian pizza—there’s even a pimento cheese pizza to please the Southern palate. Don’t worry, pizza purists. All the usual suspects are on the menu, from pepperoni to mushrooms to anchovies, thin crust or pan-style, and pasta and salad, too. The buffet is laid-out with fresh-from-the-oven pizzas and moregreat choice for pizza lovers and anyone who needs a satisfying hot lunch on the quick.  

The Musgrove Street Mural makes a colorful appointment to downtown Clinton.

Other things to see and do:

Shopping
Downtown Clinton is home to an array of boutiques, antique and gift shops and more.

Musgrove Street Mural
Head to Musgrove Street and take in the sweeping mural by artist Janette Marvin that depicts the town’s parks and trails. 

Bronze Train Ticket Historical Walk
Take a scavenger hunt of sorts across town as you search for 15 hidden bronze tickets, each representing a piece of local railroad history. Visit the Explore Clinton website for details. 

Millers Fork Trail
Stretch your legs on this natural surface trail that follows the Millers Fork stream.  

Musgrove Mill State Historic Site
Gain insights on South Carolina’s crucial role in the Revolutionary War by visiting the site of the bloody battle of 1780. The story is told through interpretive exhibits at the on-site museum as well as through reenactments and living history programs scheduled throughout the year. 

Libby Wiersema
Libby Wiersema lived in California and Alabama before settling in South Carolina 30 years ago, where she's covered the state's best culinary offerings and tells the stories behind the food.