Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Lee State Natural Area. Part VIII. Turbeville’s Chat ‘n Chew Restaurant

Click here for the first post in this series.

Lee County is a wonderful place to visit. But ubiquitous Wi-Fi isn’t one of its strongest features. Rangers at Lee State Park hearing I was going to Woods Bay suggested a visit to the new library in Olanta, South Carolina, for that essential service.

woods bay to olanta Olanta is a delightful little town less than four miles from the entrance to Woods Bay State Natural Area. With only about 700 fulltime residents it hardly seems the sort of place one would go for a robust Wi-Fi connection.

olanta library But just look at this new building! It’s as nice on the inside too. Though I resisted the temptation to take inside photos for fear of disturbing other patrons. Olanta’s library is brand new, dedicated in February of this year. Click here to read an article about the dedication from the Lake City News & Post.

At the ceremony, State Representative Phillip D. Lowe said: “A library is a great equalizer of people.” Now, that’s one of those “wish-I’d-said-that” statements! Worth thinking about.

Inside, Assistant Branch Manager Jessie Ellibee confirmed the presence of a robust Wi-Fi router, gave me permission to sign on, and described her Children’s Library. A great project.

An hour or so later, I asked Ms. Ellibee and her colleague for nearby restaurant suggestions. They had several. Folks in this part of South Carolina take food preparation and eating seriously! And we all benefit. So there were several establishments from which to choose.

Once they mentioned the “Chat ‘n Chew” in nearby Turbeville, though, I had to give it a try. I mean! The name alone was enough.

olanta to turbeville It takes only about ten minutes to drive from Olanta to Turbeville. A straight shot, as they say, along Route 301. Again, through beautiful fields on either side of the road. With rivers and wetlands here and there to break the monotony.

Turbeville, in Clarendon County, is another of those fascinating little towns that dot South Carolina’s landscape. Click here to access the Town’s ambitious website. Be sure to click on the website’s “History” link for a short but fascinating essay that covers Turbeville from its 1840s “Puddin’ Swamp” origins to present. Oh, and the current Mayor is named Ginie Turbeville. Apparently family still means something in this part of the country! I didn’t get to meet Her Honor. But I did meet Town Manager, Patrick G. Goodwin just after dinner. Turbeville’s lucky to have him.

I only had time this trip for a quick dinner in Turbeville. But it’s definitely on my list of “must-return” South Carolina towns. Again, be sure to check the website, and read that historical essay. You’ll understand why.

cnc 1 Speaking of dinner, you can’t miss the “Chat ‘n Chew” Restaurant. Right on Main Street. Where it’s been for at least 50 years. The restaurant, I learned, has had its ups and downs during the past five decades. But somehow it’s managed to remain an Institution.

cnc 2 Not only for folks from Turbeville. But for travelers on Routes 301 and 378. As well as many of the better informed travelers on I-95. No one is turned away!

cnc 3 Proprietor Bernie Blackman arrived in Turbeville from Myrtle Beach in the 1990s. He’d owned a motel there. And like most everyone else in the area he regularly stopped by the restaurant to – well … chat and chew! When I arrived, Mr. Blackman sat outside talking on a cell phone and smoking a cigarette. No smoking inside. Not even for him!

cnc 4 Mr. Blackman, or Bernie as he insisted on being called, told me he bought the landmark restaurant just a year or so ago. And has spent nearly every waking hour since remodeling, refurnishing, and repainting. Doing much of the work himself.

I asked Bernie why he decided to buy it. He replied, “Because it needed buying!”

For a moment I thought he was joking. But quickly realized he meant exactly that. The Chat ‘n Chew simply couldn’t be allowed to deteriorate. Even if it meant working daily from well before daylight until after dark. What we used to describe OverHome as “Cain’t see to Cain’t see.”

cnc 5 As inviting as the outside patio and garden are, the real draw is the Chat ‘n Chew’s food. Folks may pull off the highways here for the first time because of the unusual name. But, they’ll return for the food! This is serious cooking.

On the recommendation of the waitress, I had the pork chop dinner special. Which included two perfectly done pork chops, fresh green beans, okra and tomatoes, and a dish of potato salad. Plus, of course, iced tea, dessert, and a cup of coffee. Everything came to the table ready to eat. Home cooking from a commercial kitchen. In the best sense of that term.

Lots of restaurants serve excellent pork chops and fresh green beans. Okra and tomatoes, though, is a bit more risky. Everything has to be cooked at just the right temperature for just the right length of time, and seasoned just so. This dish was a perfect blend. I had to wonder how they were able to prepare it in restaurant quantities.

Were I you, I would avoid the sweet potato and coconut cream pies when you visit. They too are delicious. But the temptation is to eat more than one piece. I made the mistake of ordering a half-piece of each flavor, and ended up asking for a second serving of each. Oh my.

The real show-stopper at Chat ‘n Chew, however, was the potato salad. It was incredible. The second-best I’ve ever had. Anywhere! So good, in fact, that I asked Proprietor Bernie who made it. He said the same lady has been making Chat ‘n Chew’s potato salad for the past 30 years. She now only comes in a couple of times a week to make small batches. But it’s the same recipe. Incredible stuff. Be sure to ask if it’s available when you visit.

In spite of the upgraded look of the restaurant and its facilities, the Chat ‘n Chew has retained its traditional menu and recipes. They’ve also kept prices at a surprisingly low level. What a combination. I’d weigh 300 pounds in no time if I lived anywhere near Turbeville, South Carolina!

After dinner I chatted with Bernie, the wait staff, and town folks on the patio about the Chat ‘n Chew, about Turbeville, and about Clarendon County. Everyone had something useful to contribute.

Then all too soon, in the car and back on the road to Lee State Park. North on routes 58 and 341. Then east on I-20 to exit 123. Which is only a mile from the Park entrance. What a great day! Tomorrow I’m hoping to interview Lee State Park Manager Bryn Harmer. So stay tuned.

Click here for the next post in this series.

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  1. Bernie BlackmanMay 9, 2010 at 9:03 PM

    Thank you so much for stopping at the Chat 'n Chew. Your article was one of the best yet. We are pleased that you enjoyed the food and atmosphere. Please stop by again soon.
    Thanks again,
    Bernie and Willie

  2. Well, thanks Bernie. Glad you liked it. I fear I didn't do the food justice. That was some meal! Got to practice. The reviewing, that is. Plenty of practice eating.

    Turbeville and the Chat 'n Chew are both must-return spots. Hope to see you again soon.