Do you know the Chat N' Chew in Turbeville? Chances are you've passed this South Carolina institution dozens of times, but I do hope you've stopped recently. The food is great, and it's one of the best deals around.
The restaurant opened in 1952, and is known to many because its location on U.S. 378 and U.S. 301 means people from the Midlands or the Upstate have passed it on their way to the beach. Before Interstate 95 was built, it was a main route between New York and Florida.
No wonder owner Bernard Blackmon has met people all over the country who know of the Chat N' Chew.
Blackmon and his wife, Willodene, or Willie, bought the Chat N' Chew four years ago when it looked as if the restaurant might close.
After the long-time owner had sold it, the quality of the restaurant had gone downhill.
"It's one of the few roadside diners left in existence," said Blackmon, who had moved to Turbeville in 1999 from Myrtle Beach where he'd owned a motel. "I didn't feel easy about it closing."
He was especially concerned that if the Chat N' Chew ever closed, it would have to be torn down and rebuilt because so many regulations had changed and the restaurant had been grandfathered in.
Now, Blackmon said: "If I'd known how much work it was, I would have bulldozed it myself." But you know he doesn't mean it.
Inside, the restaurant is bright and clean. Outside, there are flowers growing, and on the afternoon I visited, a group of five to seven men sat at an outside table, drinking coffee and visiting. They're afternoon regulars, Blackmon said. They are so regular that the waitresses fix their coffee, just the way they like it, when they pull into the parking lot.
If visiting this slice of Americana isn't enticing enough, how about this deal? For $7.50, you get your choice of meat and three vegetables - and your drink and a slice of pie. Or for $6, get the same but with only two vegetables.
I had chicken and dumplings, collard greens, field peas, corn bread and a slice of coconut pie. It was all delicious. My husband had pork and rice, field peas and cole slaw. Great food at an amazing price.
My husband remembers stops at the Chat N' Chew when he was a boy during the 1960s, when his family drove from Columbia to North Myrtle Beach. I remember passing it once every few months when my family drove from Columbia to visit an older brother in Florence. That name just sticks with you.
It's also likely been the site of a lot of business deals over the years. In 1960, representatives of Coastal Carolina Junior College, which had been founded in 1954, and representatives of the University of South Carolina met at the Chat N' Chew to work out details of Coastal becoming a branch campus of USC. Coastal Carolina University became an independent institution in 1993.
You should plan a visit to Turbeville soon. You can't miss the Chat N' Chew right on Main Street.