This weekend I took the culinary-passport on the road to enjoy lunch with friends in West Columbia, SC. The McGehees have been with me for several blog lunches and this time we were going to try a Jamaican place they’d not been to before. Wait, you say, the title clearly says USA. And so it does. Our plans got derailed when we got to the Jamaican restaurant and it was closed. When we saw the neighborhood I don’t think any of us was that sad it was closed. I don’t feel like I’m being elitist or anything when I say this was a sketchy neighborhood because there were bars on all the windows and not the decorative wrought iron kind.
So we regrouped and decided since Jamaican wasn’t in the works and we were hungry, Jackson’s Southern Kitchen would provide the comfort food we’d need to console ourselves. I was also promised they had some of the best fried chicken ever and what decent Southerner would turn down great fried chicken.
Aside from the assurances of my friends this was a good place to eat the number of cars in the parking lot was another give away that the place was popular. Jackson’s is a buffet style restaurant with a salad bar (I saw maybe half a dozen people get something from it), a hot bar (where the good stuff is), and a dessert and bread bar (where more good stuff is). The restaurant is broken up into several large rooms with plenty of seating but Saturday afternoon at the buffet is a busy time which meant tables were at a premium. We got one in the room with the buffet bars so it was convenient but on the other hand there were so many people and it was loud. But when the eating started it didn’t really matter.
Most of the containers here are not the huge square ones that seem to be standard at most buffets but about half that size. The line goes down both sides so this along with the tray sizes means they are constantly bringing out fresh food and the popular items are always hot from the kitchen. For my first trip I decided the hyped fried chicken would be the primary meat item.
In addition to the chicken I got some BBQ, hash and rice, mashed potatoes and green beans. If you aren’t familiar with this part of South Carolina let me tell you they are a mustard based bar-b-cue sauce people and they also put mustard in their hash. It’s not my favorite of the regional sauces so I enjoyed the smoked meat plain just fine. The hash and rice was meh and the green beans we good. The two best items on this plate were the mashed potatoes and chicken. The mashed potatoes were made with red skin potatoes and were some of the best plain old mashed potatoes I’ve had at a restaurant. They had a good potato taste with just the right amount of salt and butter that you didn’t need to add anything. The chicken was as promised some of the best I’ve eaten from a restaurant. We had some discussion about whether your Mama’s or Grandmama’s chicken counted when judging the best chicken ever as they were likely default winners. We ended up with me stipulating that as purchased fried chicken went this was probably top two. What they have going for them is the chicken is always hot and cooked just right down to the bone. Not overcooked or undercooked but just like the baby bear’s porridge, it’s just right. The coating is fairly light and the seasoning is simple but very tasty. Plate 1 was a winner overall.
One reason I tend to avoid buffets nowadays is the almost mandatory second trip and I succumbed to that peer pressure from the hundreds of not skinny people around me. I did get only ribs plus a couple of sides to help calibrate Jackson’s against other buffets and oh yeah more potatoes. The baby limas were good and the mac & cheese was also very competently done but nothing to stretch a blog out over. The ribs though do deserve a line of appreciation. They weren’t fall off the bone tender like you get some places but what they were was meaty and smokey with a good sauce. The smoked flavor went beyond just the surface and permeated the meat entirely. The meat was tender and was easy to cut or tear from the bone depending on your caveperson proclivities. The sauce was a little sweeter than I would make it but still very good and as I said there was plenty of meat on each rib. Plate 2 was a winner as well.
The dessert bar was loaded down with staples of the southern buffet and each of us got something different. I went with the banana pudding and it was ok but I’d probably have been happier with something like the strawberry shortcake or some peach cobbler.
Final verdict is Jackson’s is a great place to go with friends and family to enjoy a mess of comfort food that on the whole is made by people who know what’s what in the kitchen. So while it’s too bad we didn’t get a chance to try something new we finished lunch more than satisfied with the backup plan. Thanks to the McGehees for sharing the meal and their company.