Nancy and I got off to an early start on our latest trip to Florida, so we breezed by Wilson, NC, before lunch time. As soon as we passed Wilson we started getting hungry, but we pushed on to Latta, SC and Shuler’s. We had dropped in there for a quick sandwich right after having stopped for lunch at McCabe’s in Manning, SC on our last trip north on I 95. My sandwich had been hot, fresh, and good, and I wanted to give Shuler’s another try.
Since I had a sandwich from the carry-out before, I hit the buffet this time. Buffets are notorious for serving tired, dried out food. I wanted to see how the Shuler’s buffet held up — especially since Doug Jacobson, the Kansas City Barbecue Maven, had stopped at Shuler’s and was less than impressed. Buffets also fairly cry out for gross overeating, and I sometimes … often … regularly … harken to that cry. This time, I exercised what I consider admirable restraint.
That’s a fried chicken thigh at 12 o’clock and, moving clockwise, a few pieces of fried okra, some sweet potato casserole, a roll, green beans, a taste of macaroni and cheese, and barbecue. Off to the side are some collard greens.
First and foremost, everything tasted perfectly fresh — and good. The pork was as tasty as it had been on the made-to-order sandwich, and it had just the right amount of a subtle mustard-vinegar sauce. Almost as good was the fried chicken which like the pork, was proof that God loves us. Very good green beans and good macaroni and cheese and okra. Their sweet potato casserole had a brown sugar crust, which just isn’t fair. You have to get it. The collard greens were a bit heavy on the stems, but the pot likker was just great with Nancy’s cornbread, which I had coopted. (I dunk rather than crumble, by the way, i.e., I use the Huey Long method, not the FDR method.)
Nancy stuck with a la carte, and ordered the pork with slaw and sweet potatoes.
That’s a big serving of pork — and of sweet potatoes and slaw. Happily for me, she ended up needing some help with the pork. Their slaw has that Carolina fine chop that I like but Nancy thinks is just okay.
I really, really wanted to go back for more pork and chicken, but restrained myself and just had No Thank You portions or banana pudding and peach cobbler from their dessert buffet (which also includes ice cream and other stuff).
The banana pudding tasted good, but it didn’t have that great pudding texture you want: too light. The peach cobbler was very good.
Another thing that endeared me to Shuler’s was one of their signs.
The best barbecue place ever, Ollie’s Barbecue of Blessed Memory, had a similar sign from the Psalm, urging “This is a day which the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” That was easy to do after a plate of Ollie’s barbecue with some great french fries and a slice of the Platonic ideal of coconut pie. Shuler’s food made me joyful, as did the sign.
So I love Shuler’s. But what of the unenthusiastic review by Doug Jacobson, the Kansas City Barbecue Maven, whose judgment I trust? Here’s my theory: Shuler’s is a pork place. I’m a pork guy. I was raised on it. Shuler’s doesn’t serve brisket. Doug lives for brisket and burnt ends, and he really likes Kansas City style sauces, preferring Arthur Bryant’s to Ollie’s. (In this, he’s the polar opposite of Nancy, who was anti-brisket throughout our stay in Texas — even at Snow’s!) For Doug, pork in a mustard-vinegar sauce … . As the cowboy philosopher at Snow’s BBQ in Lexington, Texas, told me, “It’s all in how you were raised.”
Shuler’s is just off I 95, and it has a nice deck overlooking a pond, and an old-fashioned style store next door. It’s a great place to stop for a break and a meal.
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