1602 Savannah Highway
Charleston, South Carolina
Ate at Bessinger's the other day with my wife and son--a place that's only a few miles from my house but I haven't been to in a year or so, primarily because I've been purposely trying to eat at as many different barbecue joints as I can and it seems like cheating to just head around the corner. But, this last visit reminded me how good it is and I imagine I'll be ducking in a lot more regularly over the upcoming months.
Bessinger's is a Charleston restaurant, but it provides a taste of the genuine Midlands South Carolina mustard-based barbecue (the kind with the yellow sauce). To my taste buds, at least, it is virtually identical to the barbecue served at Maurice's and Melvin's--separate restaurant chains that are all owned by the various Bessinger brothers, but all with essentially the same menu. This Bessinger's is brother Thomas's (now run by his sons Tommy and Michael) and is a few miles south of the city on Savannah Highway (a.k.a US 17).
The place has been around since 1960 when, under the name "Piggy Park", it was more of a drive-in with the standard hamburger and hot-dog menu along with barbecue. The hamburgers and hotdogs are still on the menu, but over the years the barbecue has moved more into the foreground, and somewhere along the line the old drive-in building was replaced with a new building that is two restaurants in one. On the left side is the country buffet, which apparently is one of those all-you-can-eat things with barbecue plus a whole bunch of other southern cooking. I've never actually ventured onto the left side because I always head to the right into the sandwich shop, where you can get barbecue sandwich baskets as well as pork or rib platters.
The new building is done up in a rather hokey, sanitized farm look that bears more than a passing resemblance to the set of Hee-Haw. But, the Big Joe Basket is excellent--a large sandwich with fries, slaw, and a big ole onion ring. The meat has good smoky flavor and comes topped with that sweet yellow mustard-based sauce--not enough to drown the barbecue flavor but enough to give it a zip. One thing I like in particular are the pictures on the wall of the restaurant dating back to the old drive-in days.
If you want a taste of classic South Carolina mustard barbecue, I would highly recommend stopping into one of the Bessinger brothers' places.
Thursday, June 30, 2005
Posted at 7:04 PM