Many Americans are driving to Florida this winter. For those of us on the East Coast, that means a lot of time on I-95, a lot of stops for refreshment, and probably an overnight. You’re pretty much on your own for food recommendations if you’re coming from north of Washington, aside from Forno’s of Spain in Newark. I really would love to have your suggestions — send them in. But if you’re looking for places south of Washington, you’ve come to the right place.
When you’re headed south from Washington on I-95 to go to Florida, you usually are on a mission to get there. The idea of taking an hour or more to detour over to Ayden (just outside Greenville) for some truly sensational barbecue at the great Bum’s Restaurant or at the legendary Skylight Inn, or both, probably is the farthest thing from your mind — although it would be a good idea. The alternative is usually a fast food place. Now, I’ve eaten at many fast food places myself, and I’ve grabbed food to go and eaten it while driving, which is not a good idea from a safety standpoint, not to mention the havoc that an extra-sauce meatball sub from Subway can wreak on your clothes and your car.
As a public service, therefore, I offer up genuinely good local places to eat within easy reach of the interstate, and all have fast service.
The next question is, when do you want to eat? Let’s take the restaurants in order, from north to south. For a full review of each place, click on the link.
For those traveling through Washington from the north, here’s one just 15 minutes down US 1 from the point at which I-95 hits I-495, the infamous Beltway: 250 Texas BBQ. It has sensational brisket — really, I’m serious — and everything else is very good. The trick, for the moment, is that it is only open Sundays as it temporarily operates out of a pizza place (which is closed Sundays) while their permanent location gets all permits, etc. I’ll update when it opens full time. Now back to our regular programming.
First, a note: humorless Virginia State Troopers abound between DC and Richmond, and local law enforcement generates much revenue around Emporia.
Just a few miles off the interstate north of Richmond is Buz and Ned’s Real Barbecue. They cook exclusively with wood — 100% hickory — and Buz is very selective about the wood. The pork is great, as is the smoked sausage, and Buz is especially proud of his ribs: be beat Bobby Flay in a Throwdown. But with ribs you’ll need a lot of wipes before you get back in the car.
The next opportunity is in Petersburg, Virginia, which is just a couple of hours south of Washington with light traffic — and a bit off of 95 via I-85. If you’re already hungry, though, King’s Famous Bar-B-Cue is the place to stop. King’s is an old time place that knows how to cook pork — with wood in a brick pit — and has very good sides.
The next good opportunity is across the North Carolina line in Rocky Mount. The Hunter Hill Cafe has a lot of good food, and I know they use wood in cooking the barbecue. I cannot yet confirm that there is no gas or electricity involved. But they serve almost everything under the sun, with up to 18 entrees and 19 sides. You can hardly help finding something you like at Hunter Hill.
Back to the road. Not far south of Rocky Mount is Wilson, North Carolina, long a regular stop for us. We are long-time fans of Parker’s Barbecue.
Parker’s has wonderful, wonderful corn sticks and outstanding fried chicken; and their barbecue tastes very good, even though it isn’t cooked with wood any more. Parker’s has an excellent sauce that helps the pork a lot, and the sauce also really perks up the Brunswick Stew. The prices are shocking in a wonderful way: you won’t believe how little it costs. Even better, Parker’s makes you feel like home. That’s especially nice when you’re on I-95.
If you’re coming from New England or the traffic has been bad, Wilson might be a good place to stop for the night. You can have a great steak at the Beefmastor and enjoy the tailgating while you wait for a table, and in the morning have a memorable breakfast biscuit at Flo’s before you get back on the road.
Also in Wilson is Marty’s. My Wilson cousins are Marty’s enthusiasts, Marty being a scion of the Bill’s family, the once local rival to Parker’s. My friend Jim Oliver brought me some, and it definitely shows promise.
The next good place is Schuler’s Bar-B-Que, just across the South Carolina line. It’s a great place to stop for a meal and a break. Take exit 181A for Hwy 38/Latta and just past the old cotton press, you’ll notice a huge American flag. Turn in and look for a space. You can go through the buffet, on which the barbecue (with the best mustard based sauce I’ve ever tasted), fried chicken, and lots of other foods are kept fresh and hot. You can also order a la carte. The food is excellent.
Shuler’s has a nice deck overlooking a pond, where you can enjoy lunch if the weather is nice, and lots of indoor seating. There also is a separate store next door, and rocking chairs on the large porch.
If you pass Shuler’s, you can turn around and go back or go to McCabe’s Bar-B-Q in Manning. It, too, is a buffet and it, too, cooks pork over a pit and does it well. McCabe’s is family run, and a South Carolina favorite, with local specialities like hash and purlu.
After Manning, I haven’t tried many places near I-95: Shuler’s is the place for me. You can, however, stop at the South Carolina Welcome Center (always stop at welcome centers) and check my invaluable post cross referencing the map with the Campaign for Real Barbecue South Carolina list of places that cook only with wood and the South Carolina Barbecue Association list of places worth a 100 mile drive. (Note — The Florence cluster of barbecue places includes no 100 mile drive places, but my Senior Maine and South Carolina Correspondents, Knapp and Ella Davies Hudson, tell me that Roger’s Bar-B-Q House is the place to go in Forence.)
You may want to detour to Charleston, which is a wonderful place, or go there on a separate trip. Try Rodney Scott’s for great whole hog barbecue, Lewis for very good Texas brisket and sausage, and Home Team for a new-style place in an old-stye package. with very good food. Or you can eat at one of Charleston’s famous high-end places.
As you enter Georgia, you come to Savannah, another great spot to overnight. I was thinking that when you get to Savannah, you should head to B’s Cracklin’ BBQ, but I don’t see it on the Campaign for Real Barbecue Georgia page. That, however, is just because it hasn’t been checked to make sure there’s no gas or electric backup. Please let me know. There are, however, three places in Savannah that are already certified as cooking True ‘Cue, Randy’s Barbecue, Rusty Dog’s BBQ, and Smoky’s Bar-B-Q. If you try one of those, let me know what you think.
A reader, Chowhound commenter BBQME, suggested Southern Soul Barbecue on St. Simon’s Island. Anyone who reads Garden and Gun or Southern Living is familiar with Southern Soul. It’s only 20 or 30 minutes away. I think it’s worth the detour — I usually think good barbecue is worth the detour — and Brunswick/St.Simons could be a good place to stop for the evening.
Farther down the coast in Kingsland, right at Exit 3, is Malson’s, a shack with a big cooker outside and picnic seating, right next to McDonald’s. I’m not sure I’ve eaten there — I ate at a similar place years ago — but Dan Kenney of the Annual Beer Snob Pig Picking liked it, and that’s enough for me. And it’s close. You could just about hit it with a rock from the interstate. But don’t, please.
Once you hit Florida, well, by now you’re tired of driving and ready to spill Subway tomato sauce all over yourself if it will get you to your destination one minute sooner, and there’s a pretty big gap in my experience between Jacksonville and Palm Beach County. Once you get to the Palm Beach, area, there are two places you might try: Off Tha Bone in West Palm Beach and Troy’s in Boynton Beach. Or if you’re ready to transition to Cuban food, try Havana in West Palm Beach or Little Havana in Deerfield Beach. Otherwise, just keep driving — carefully — to your destination.
Then change into beach clothes, have a cold drink, and bask in the sun. And search “Florida” in the Blog — you’ll find lots of good places in Key West and the Upper Keys. And please, don’t forget to let me know of any good places to eat.
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