We all have favorite dishes at national franchise restaurants. We frequent those places with family and friends both for the variety and for the consistent predictability. There is something for everyone, and there’s that one thing you always order whether you are in Seattle, Denver, or Charlotte. Here, however, are a few local choices when you need to break the chain.*
If you are even the least bit inclined to monitor your calories, there is no reason to eat at Rizzo’s Spaghetti House. Whatever guilt filter you have, leave it at home. The food is calorie-dense and tastes like it. In fact, you may need to bury your guilt filter in your yard for a few days because the portions are so large you will be taking some of your dinner home. Be sure to mark your leftovers as your own, and perhaps even hide them behind something in the fridge because, in my experience, they will disappear. Rizzo’s isn’t your sport coat and dress slacks sort of Italian restaurant. They know who they are and don’t pretend to be or aspire to be anything else, making no apologies for and totally embracing their rusticness. You certainly won’t find high school kids here on prom night. If you have ever been to Italy and enjoyed slow, indulgent meals in tucked away family restaurants, Rizzo’s will help you recapture that experience. That isn’t who they are trying to be; that’s who they are. Bring family or friends. Leave your watch and your guilt filter at home.
Eight years or so ago, there was a sign on the door that read, “No Guns. No Patches. No Colors.” Management has changed over a few times since then, and Brew’s Tavern on Hwy 521 is now the poster child for the neighborhood restaurant and bar — the kind of place Toby Keith sings about:
I love this bar.
It’s my kind of place
Just walkin’ through the front door
Puts a big smile on my face
It ain’t too far. Come as you are
Hmm, hmm, hmm — I love this bar.
I really thought the new Hickory Tavern across the street would kill Brew’s. Not a chance. The dirt and gravel parking lot is almost always full both on weeknights and weekends. Our age-restricted community is about a quarter mile south of Brew’s on 521. My neighbors have been plotting for years, trying to figure out how to get golf carts back and forth from Brew’s without inciting the wrath and attention of the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office. Seriously, I have been out with neighbors in my 4WD Jeep trying to find a path through the woods that could get a golf cart to Brew’s. Brew’s is just that fun. Brew’s is an old school neighborhood bar with cold beer and good food every night and live music if you catch it on the right night. You will still find very expensive American-made motorcycles out front, but more likely from the Sun City Carolina Lakes Motorcycle Club than from the South Carolina Chapter of HE double hockey sticks Angels. Enjoy the food. Take turns being the designated driver. But, regardless of whom they belong to, don’t even think about touching the motorcycles.
521 BBQ is the place everyone in the Lancaster County Panhandle knows about but few people will speak of above a whisper. Honestly, it’s like a secret fishing hole – you just don’t talk about it. The last thing we regulars want is to wait for a table. I actually feel a little guilty even writing about the place. They certainly don’t need the business, and my friends and I don’t want to be behind you in line. Recently, on a Saturday, my wife and I had visitors in town and I ordered three racks of ribs for carryout. I wanted to pick them up at 4:00 but was told I could either pick up ribs at 3:30 or 5:00 because they already had too many orders going out around that time. Not good!!! Yes, the food is that ridiculously good, which is good news, but the best news is it all travels well. By “travel” I mean that the ribs only get better warmed up. Just pour the extra sauce they give you with a big order over the top and put the oven on warm. And, for some reason that defies several laws of thermodynamics, the hushpuppies don’t get soggy or stale at all. They are just the same kind of good even two or three days later, which isn’t saying much because they seldom make it through the night. Ribs, pups, beans, and slaw are can’t miss football staples on our street. There are now two other locations in Tega Cay and Lancaster. Check the website for hours.
Tavern on the Lakes in Sun City Carolina Lakes is a public restaurant located in the Carolina Lakes Golf Course Club House. It is very casual most of the time except for scheduled or reserved formal events. The menu is limited because of the limited size of the staff, but everything on the menu is really good for reasonable prices. Because it is conveniently located in the heart of Sun City, residents can drop in for a beer, shrimp and grits, or trivia night. During the day, you will see golfers gathered after a round of golf as well as folks who are just there to eat and have never golfed in their life. But whether you are going there to eat dinner from on the Sun City campus or are from off campus, it’s always best to call ahead (803) 547-9688 just to be sure they don’t have an event going on.
*Non-chain restaurants can be like favorite fishing holes; you don’t talk about them because you don’t want other people to crowd up the place. However, if you have a favorite restaurant that we have not mentioned, and you want to share it, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Yes, we are grateful for the economy of scale that keeps prices down at the chains, but we also believe that supporting local family businesses, like non-chain restaurants, is crucial to the quality of life in every great community.
by Bob Poliquin, Managing Editor