Sunday, February 7, 2010

Lizard's Thicket and More: Columbia's Local Restaurant Chains

One thing that makes Columbia truly special is that it has managed to maintain a certain sense of local culture that is rather unique across the sprawling sunbelt.  Despite its suburban surface, South Carolina's capitol city still maintains its own identity.  This is likely due to the fact that it has seen far slower growth and a less transient population than Greenville, Spartanburg, Myrtle Beach and Charleston.  Columbia, unlike Greenville and Charleston, sports very hot and humid summers and less access to scenic and recreational opportunities than its more heavily hyped neighbors.  While Mississippi comes readily to mind in that description, such is why places like Lizard's Thicket, Rush's and Maurice's BBQ are allowed to flourish.

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 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.


  1. I'd try Lizard's Thicket and Rush's, but Maurice's insistence on rhetoric with his food offerings would make me eat elsewhere.

  2. Maurices has nothing on the Palmetto Pig near USC.

  3. I'll remember that next time I'm there...Maurice's is too corporate anyway. Anywhere else really good there?

  4. Lizard's Thicket was a favorite in college, when apartment living and ramen noodles only last so long!

    While I dislike Maurice's rhetoric, I do love his BBQ, but I limit myself to occasional visits. In fact, in the office, we all refer to it as "racist barbecue."

  5. It would be nice if Lizard's Thicket expanded beyond the Midlands, but the quirky name may turn off too many patrons. Plus, as you said, expansion tends to lower the quality standards.

    Rush's is in a crowded field, so the likelihood of success further from Cola is limited, though it could become something of a statwide chain with locations on the periphery of neighboring states, Savannah and Augusta in GA and Wilmington, in NC.

    South Carolina is demographically a blend of Georigia and North Carolina, it's too more populous and more economically developed neighbors, but stubbornly clinging to its own identity and heritage. This can make for some unusual juxtapositions in the state, but South Carolina's southern pride hasn't hampered the state as much as it has for Alabama and Mississippi, and most Americans see SC in a more positive light than the aforementioned states. Heck, it's often shown in a more positive light than Georgia.

  6. Rush's is well worth a visit - they had some of the best fast-food-ish-style burgers I've ever had. And dittos to Lizard's Thicket, as well. My partner and I lived near Sesquicentennial Park from 2006 until 2007, and both chains had locations near us on Two Notch. Locations which got a LOT of business from us!

    Maurice's, on the other hand, was a place we never stepped into, not even once. They now fly HUUUUUGE versions of the Confederate Stars-and-Bars flag over *each* location.

    Plus, there was a nummy place called "Three Pigs Bar-B-Que" at Alpine and Percival, very close to the I-77/I-20 interchange, that we thought was HEAVEN. They have a variety of sauces, both ketchup- and mustard-based. Mmmmmm, to be able to find good BBQ up here (we now live just north of Toronto).

  7. I need a three-day trip to Columbia just for the freaking food, DAMN. And btw, that sounds like serious culture (and thermal) shock moving from Columbia to Toronto...and just the other day Columbia got five inches of snow. Gotta love those El Nino years.

  8. Ack. That's "Little Pigs Barbecue". Ugh, that's what happens when you're middle-aged and haven't lived somewhere in over 2 years...

  9. Hehehe. This is our second winter up here in the Great White North, and it's definitely been a Learning Experience. A couple of weeks ago we got up to temps hovering around -17C/0F, and I mercilessly teased my hubby about him making me - someone who grew up in Florida 3 hours from Disney World - move to a place this cold.

    But, yeah - our closest Cracker Barrel is on the southeast side of Buffalo, the closest Waffle House is in Toledo, and the closest Chick-Fil-A is in Erie. Not that I've checked out the closest locations of all three of 'em, mind you.

  10. I read a committ about Maurice's bbq being refered to as "racist bbq". I want to set soemthin straight, Maurice is only displayin his heritage and if you read a history book and find out the real reason the war was fought and not a fact that came to play after the war was started. Next, Maurices's is one of my favorite bbq places but you have to try Shealy's bbq too. Lizard's Thicket is by far my favorite restraunt back home. I use to eat there all the time and til this day the waitress still know what I order when I make it home. These places are a by far have to try.