Recent Posts

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Columbia Eats: Hunter Gatherer

If you go to USC, it's a requirement that you visit Hunter Gatherer. A lot. Columbia's only brewery, Hunter Gatherer not only dishes out fantastic microbrews but also carries a tremendous selection of bar food fit for any foodie.

While Hunter Gatherer has a nice, varied menu of appetizers, any first timer at HG has a mandatory requirement of ordering their specialty - the black bean dip. Not a grounded, refried thing that it may sound like, but rather a soulful appetizer that gets deeper with every bite. Between the beans, cheese, and dollop of sour cream is a beautifully warm dish that easily feeds a table of four on its own.

HG features both a list of daily rotating specials alongside a set list of comfort food gone trendy. The HG burger is a standout for people looking to get a bang for their buck. A thick, juicy slab of angus beef topped with your choice of cheese including options such as gouda and/or blue cheese. What else is there to say there?

Looking a bit deeper in the menu, we get more comfort picks kicked up a notch. The Port Royal Shrimp Sandwich fills anyone's seafood needs. If the red pepper remoulade and spicy seasoned shrimp wasn't enough, this special comes with hashbrowns, which for this foodie is easily a gamebreaker when it comes to decision time at HG. HG also features a list of personal gourmet pizzas, either done your way or theirs. Thin, crispy and chock full of quality ingredients, these personal pizzas tend to hit the spot for most. For all the good, there are some hit-and-misses, the mac and cheese being a disappointing one. Lacking a punch of flavor and a crumbling top that one would come to expect from a place like HG, it was one of the few disappoints to be found. Fortunately, they make up for it with a list of terrific beer, whether it is one of their three constantly rotating microbrews or deck full of import/domestic options. Between you and me though, definitely hit up HG's beer. Not only are they a nice low price, but they're pretty fantastic as well.

No Reservations, The Shakedown on Hunter Gatherer
Atmosphere: Despite its location in relation to USC, a surprisingly diverse clientele. Comforting and buzzing with activity at night.
Cost: A bit high for some of the college crowd, but still manageable.
$5-7 appetizers, $8+ main courses.

Try: The black bean dip and microbrews. A Cola requirement.

The Final Verdict
For those looking for a good drink, good food, and a laid-back environment to hang out for the evening or weekday lunch, look no further then Hunter Gatherer. The only real negative there is to say about HG is the parking situation, or lack their of during lunch hours. If you plan to go, either come late for dinner or pack some serious quarters.

Hunter-Gatherer Brewery & Ale on Urbanspoon

Columbia Eats: Shealy's BBQ

People coming into the Midlands looking for good barbecue will likely get plastered with a pretty hefty of options depending on who they ask. Unfortunately for Columbia, great barbecue can be surprisingly difficult to run into, nine times out of ten involving a bit of a drive for a good bite. Located in Batesburg-Leesville, Shealy's is one of those more involved drives, if not the most involved being a forty minute drive through the countryside.

Our expedition crew may our way over the Congaree River and invaded the small but inviting town of Batesburg. Shealy's is a modest building, but serves its purpose well with three large dining rooms. You'll likely find yourself sharing some space with the locals during the busiest of hours.

We quickly made our way in and hit the buffet line for lunch. A lot of the local favorites were on the list, such as collards and green beans, but there were also some alternative sides that were necessarily normal considering the other bbq places our crew has hit in the past year. Cream corn, lima beans, and pasta also made an appearance along with cheesed broccoli. Even more surprising was the crispy strips of fatback sitting on the side. Teeth-breaking, but utterly fascinating stuff. For the most part, the vegetables were fairly good, though there were a few hit-and-miss. The collards did not make me cry for seconds, and the pasta option was wet and runny. The green and lima beans, however, were flavorful along with the slaw and cream corn. Shealy's cornbread in particular may have been one of the bigger standouts. Not too greasy, the cornbread was nice and crisp on the outside and well-seasoned - a much better side then the average dinner roll.

On to more importance business, the barbecue. A few months ago, I argued that Columbia's Little Pigs had the best mustard barbecue in town. Well... they still do. Shealy's vinegar barbecue, however, easily stands tall over the competition. Less tangy then Little Pigs and slightly sweeter, its lean, clean bite convinced our table for a heaping round of seconds. Much ado has been made more about Shealy's fried chicken as well. Though flavorful and juicy on the inside, Little Pigs may just win out in this department due to their lighter breading. Shealy's gets a little thick with their coating, making for a less flavorful bite and some weariness after thigh or two.

Finally (after a second round of course) there was the desert bar, where Shealy's easily wins best banana pudding with their coconut rendition. Mildly sweet with a nice texture from the bits of coconut mixed in, it provided a nice finish to a heavy meal. Deserts don't stop there for Shealy's though. Various pies, chocolate delights, bread pudding, and of course peach cobbler also lined up the sizable desert section.

No Reservations, The Shakedown on Shealy's
Atmosphere: Southern dining with all the country trimmings.
Cost: Average for this kind of lunch, $8.
Try: The dynamite vinegar barbecue for sure.
Don't: Know where the mac and cheese was!?

The Final Verdict
No really, where was the mac and cheese? What the heck. Despite this glaring loss, Shealy's has a lot of interesting dishes going for it and a Southern atmosphere that you'll be hard-pressed to find in most of Columbia. From a personal standpoint, Little Pigs stands out for me as the better of the two in terms of food, but Shealy's is still well-worth the trip for some great traditional Southern home-cooking including a few unexpected bites not seen elsewhere in town.

Shealy's Bar-B-Que on Urbanspoon