Despite its mid-summer sauna reality, the fact is that Columbia is still the state's transportation hub. This means that travelers en route to Myrtle Beach and Charleston from Greenville, Atlanta and Charlotte must pass through the city. Indeed, many have and would be foolish to miss out on Columbia's best kept secret: Lizard's Thicket. While the Geico Gecko comes to mind this day in age, I have known for all these years that Cracker Barrel tastes like cardboard in comparison to this place. In fact, I was looking very forward to eating there again after a hiatus of about 15 years and was glad to see it was going very strong and the food was still delicious.
A cozy-looking Lizard's Thicket on St Andrews Road in Irmo.
Lizard's Thicket is true Southern cuisine with an enormous offering of vegetable dishes, meat dishes and the best sweet tea, all done traditional Southern style. Columbia concurs, and locations are plentiful around the city, but they also stay just in the city choosing not to expand into a watered down corporate mess with the food declining similarly. Nevertheless, finding this type of food in Atlanta, Nashville, Charlotte and other cities proves difficult, and tends to be far more expensive or far inferior. Oddly, the chain itself has existed since 1977, itself joining the first surge of retail chains in Columbia while responding to the issue of fast food replacing the family meal. Of course, Atlanta brought Columbia places like Moe's, but I think I'd rather have this any day than a Joey Bag of Donuts...sorry.
Another view of the St Andrews Lizard's Thicket.
Second, Rush's evolved in the 1960's from a Dairy Queen franchise into a major local chain across the city. Rush's is definitely not for the diet conscious, but it appears to be a merger of the concept of fast casual with fast food before it even existed, offering typical fast food fare in a better-prepared diner style. Essentially, it sounds like the forerunner of Five Guys with a more local flavor and more to choose from. In fact, Rush's offerings consist of pretty diverse offerings such as all-beef hot dogs, burgers, fried chicken and barbecue. This place I would probably be less likely to try, but it sounds good and definitely better than the criminally limited menu offerings presented at other local chains such as Alabama's Jack's Hamburgers. However, I really cannot vouch for how good it is since I have never tried it.
Rush's on Decker Blvd. between Columbia Place and Decker Mall. I also noticed one next to Columbiana Centre.
Last, Maurice's BBQ offers a taste of South Carolina's distinct mustard-based barbecue in a chain restaurant. While I have not seen them anywhere outside the state, they are all over Columbia and recently expanded to Augusta, GA. I have tasted Maurice's from the grocery store packages way in the past, and it is easily some of the best I have ever tried. I am really a sucker for mustard-based barbecue, and I like mustard in general. In fact, I tend to put mustard on top of barbecue sauce as a habit in the attempt to re-create that taste.
Maurice's sign and side of building located on Beltline Blvd.
Maurice's is not without controversy, though. They got significant press back in 2000 when several store chains including Wal-Mart decided to pull the product over owner Maurice Bessenger deliberately flying the Confederate flag over one of his locations in protest over state sovereignty...an issue that lives on in South Carolina, but also an issue that caused the owner to be fined by the City of Lexington. His beliefs, which erupted into his business practices, have gained him notoriety, but this apparently has definitely not hurt business for him. After all, South Carolina did not exactly cheerfully rejoin the Union in the 1860's, thus feelings remain strong there even today. Nevertheless, it erupted into a firestorm of controversy since his actions were considered offensive to many people. This likely would have not gotten so far out of hand if not for him also doing things like publishing a pamphlet entitled "The Biblical View of Slavery". In all, the owner's politics tend to leave a cloud over Maurice's. Nevertheless, it is possible to find Maurice's barbecue sauce at Piggly Wiggly locations in lieu of the drive to Columbia, and it is definitely worth a try.
Maurice's locations carry a very distinctive design that stands out far more than most fast-food places.
There you have one of the more neglected aspects of my site...chain restaurants. They are retail, too, and few things stir passion in people like good food. That is especially true on those who have deliberately deprived themselves of it on a diet, which would be required at places like Rush's. Of course, in the case of covering Lizard's Thicket I feel very hungry and deprived, so that has tended to be a more difficult topic to cover. This also wraps up my Columbia series until if or when some historical photos, current photos or additional information come my way. However, much more on Columbia can be found on the Columbia Closings site.