I've just returned from a few days in the sunny south. Here are some places chowhounds might enjoy, from south to north (I know some are in FL, but to get the full effect you need to see them all together):
Padrino's, Hallandale Beach FL: Good Cuban food. Lunch buffet is a steal at $5.95. The spread is heavy on the protein, which is the sign of good buffet value. The day I was there they had marinated beef, a ground beef dish, a chicken dish, excellent fried plantains, rice and black beans, etc. Also very good bread (as a great man once said, "good restaurants can have bad bread, but bad restaurants will not have good bread."
My friend, a native south Floridian, eats here at least once a week.
Calypso, Pompano Beach FL: Caribbean-style seafood. I had conch fritters and conch salad. Think conch is tough and chewy? Try this salad; it's marinated for 24 hours. We have also had great mussels here.
Elwood's Barbecue, Delray Beach FL: Best known for ribs. I had a pulled pork sandwich, which was decent. The side dishes were laughably small. The place has a very good reputation in what has become a barbecue-crazy area, and it's a great place to people watch on Atlantic Blvd., so I would give it a try. Next time I'll try the ribs.
Georgia Pig, Brunswick GA: Barbecue. Becoming a very well known stop for travelers, as it is right off I-95. This time I found the pork a bit dry, and the sauce a tad sweet, but that is the Georgia style. (I think I have been spoiled by years of NC barbecue.) Portion was very generous. Sweet tea was good.
Thomas Bessinger's Barbecue, Charleston SC: I was still stuffed when I got to Charleston, so instead of gorging expensively at one of Charleston's many high-end spots, I decided on more barbecue. This place had been recommended by my friend in Columbia SC. When I visited him last year he took me to Maurice's Piggie Park, one of the best known BBQ joints in the country. I found the mustard-based sauce too sweet. My friend told me that Thomas (one of Maurice's brothers) serves better 'cue.
I agree! Thomas Bessinger's pork was juicy and not drenched in sauce. It's a very similar sauce, but applied with a gentler touch. The hash was pretty good. If you have more time in Charleston, you can also try the offerings at two other Bessinger brothers' joints, Melvin's and Robert's.
See Wee Restaurant, Awendaw SC: This was my first try of a restaurant in Don O'briant's book, Backroad Buffets and Country Cafes. Score one for O'briant! This place is on Hwy 17 north of Charleston. I had a greaseless fried softshell crab, with mac & cheese and some excellent fried green tomatoes. For dessert: some cherries off a tree I parked next to. Now, that is chowhounding!
Jackson's Big Oak Barbecue, Wilmington SC: Dependable Eastern NC barbecue. Very good corn sticks, hush puppies, stew, fried okra, and collards. More good tea. Autographed pictures of Sonny Jurgensen and Roman Gabriel, among others.
Parker's, Wilson NC: Just a quick stop for some of the best fried chicken around. Crisp, light coating, juicy meat. Corn sticks have been better; hush puppies were good. This is one place to avoid the sweet tea; it's closer to sugar water. But the chicken and 'cue have always been first-rate.
Nunnery-Freeman, Henderson NC: Now here is a real find. I learned of this place from an article by a Charlotte Observer writer (you can find it online), who declared it his favorite BBQ joint in the state. I have seen it mentioned nowhere else.
As I was trying to find it (it's actually very easy to find, right off I-85) I came across the Nunnery-Freeman Mfg. Co, "Makers of the Kook-Rite Kooker." That seemed like a good omen.
And it was. I got a large tray of 'cue. A "tray" means just barbecue and slaw, with hush puppies on the side. Sweet tea of course. The barbecue is very good; it's a little browner than classic eastern style. The puppies were nice and hot. The slaw was white, not yellow, and a bit sweet for me. Here's what makes this place so good: The sauce. It's found in bottles on the table. It's a thin vinegar/pepper sauce, like Parker's, etc, but this sauce is a deep, gorgeous red, and when you apply it to your 'cue, it stays red. It's really peppery. I could not stop pouring it on. If I was alone I would have started drinking it from the bottle. This is a unique sauce; a kind of border crossing between Eastern and Western (AKA Piedmont or Lexington) styles.
This was the perfect way to end my eating tour!
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