Southern cooking has a few trademark dishes, and Mr. Friendly's, under the same ownership as Solstice and Gervais & Vine, excels with a more upscale, occasionally innovative version of the classics. Crab cakes are pecan-crusted and served with fried dill pickles and sherry-cayenne mayo, a grilled filet mignon is wrapped in bacon and topped with pimiento cheese, and blackened chicken comes with either tasso ham sauce or Creole andouille sauce. Waits attest to the popularity of the place, but never fear – a microbrew or glass of wine from the award-winning list will help pass the time.
Columbia's best for seafood, Blue Marlin serves fresh Lowcountry favorites in a refined but comfortable atmosphere. Shrimp and grits, crab cakes, fried green tomatoes, she crab soup, Tilapia Charleston (pan-seared tilapia with shrimp and crab cream sauce) are standouts, but New Orleans style dishes are winners, too. Salmon Pontchartrain, with blackened shrimp and scallops in a creamy mornay sauce, is particularly satisfying. Steaks and fried seafood platters round out the menu. Save room for Key Lime pie or peach-praline cobbler!
People were concerned when this place was sold, but the new owner hasn't changed much – it's all still good! Foxfire Grill used to be owned by the same folks who run Blue Marlin, so there are a few crossover dishes such as Charleston crab cakes and salmon Pontchartrain. Otherwise, there's a full menu of Southern favorites, from fried green tomatoes and she crab soup to meatloaf and fried chicken. The parmesan-crusted grouper is a winner as well.
The traditional Southern meat 'n three meal has been a standby for decades, and this family-owned, Columbia-area chain does it very well. Select one of about ten meats (beef stew, fried chicken or catfish, ham, and so forth), and then choose three sides, from collards and blackeyed peas to fried okra and squash casserole. Daily specials might be meatloaf, liver and onions or pot roast. And no meat 'n three would be complete without a classic Southern dessert like banana pudding or peach cobbler.
This one's well outside of town, about a 30-minute drive away in Leesville, but if you're a barbecue fan, don't let that deter you. It's a no-frills spot, as all great barbecue joints should be, but Shealy's does things a tad different. They have a buffet, fully loaded with all manner of sides and lots of pulled pork and BBQ chicken. There's also a different special everyday (ribs, fried fish, quail). The mustard sauce is the standout here.
Housed in a carefully renovated historic VFW officers club, augmented with an 1800s mahogany bar and a gorgeous 1915 Schomacker grand piano, Saluda's is elegant and sophisticated. The chefs focus on Southern and Continental dishes, frequently tweaking favorites for a more modern presentation. Try oysters Rockefeller bruschetta, fried green tomatoes with goat cheese and a balsamic reduction, seared scallops with tomato-saffron sauce and white truffle risotto, or blackened chicken with SC peach and honey marmalade. Perfect for a swanky Sunday brunch, too.
Here's the drill. You order up a plate of slow-smoked pulled pork, and then eat it naked, or choose one of three sauces: Western-style has a sweet tang, Gold has a bite-y mustard base, and Ultimate has a spicy, vinegar-y kick. Alternatively, you could opt for beef brisket, ribs, chicken or catfish (or a plate of all of the above). Sure, there are sides (cole slaw, squash casserole, mac and cheese, collards, fried okra, and the like), but with all this beautiful barbecued meat, do you really need sides?
Upscale and stylish, with exposed brick and a warm color palette, Terra has developed a following among local foodies who appreciate the cooking and the setting. Chef Mike Davis takes a seasonal approach to New Southern cooking, creating notable dishes such as roasted South Carolina quail stuffed with apple and foie gras, crawfish orecchiette, shrimp remoulade, seared scallops with succotash, BBQ lamb-stuffed mac and cheese gratin, plus a handful of gorgeous and unusual little wood-fired pizzas. Wine Spectator's Award of Excellence.