Travel Review: Shealy’s Bar-B-Que in Batesburg-Leesville, SC

the-signBased on yesterday’s announcement that I should attempt to be better at expressing my love for products and businesses, especially those that might be able to gain some use out of a little additional exposure, I realized that there’s one thing in my life that is rather dear to me that I almost never talk about on here…food.

I love food.  When traveling around the world, as me and my family tends to try to do as often as possible, one of the first things we work on trying to figure out is where we’re going to eat while we’re traveling.  Food is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to get to learn about a culture, as well as one of the most consistently enjoyable.

So it seems even more fitting that the first place I choose to talk about with this newest addition to conversation topics on the blog is a place known for it’s culturally iconic status, as well as its amazing food, and also just so happens to be one of my childhood favorites.  Shealy’s Bar-B-Que in the off-the-beaten path location of Bateburg-Leesville (their official address is in Leesville, but for some reason it seems that part of the charm of this spot is the convergence of these two rather small and backwoods-y towns).

IMG_7650Located over an hour from my childhood home in Lexington, SC, it was always a treat when the family would decide to take a trip out to the world famous All You Can Eat Buffet.  Very few guests from out of town would be able to escape the experience that occurs within the walls of this old establishment.  Even fewer would leave the occasion unsatisfied.

From the moment you walk in the front door, you realize you’re in for a unique experience, from the pictures on the walls showing the humble beginnings of this source of southern pride to the sink that’s located right within the turnstiles to get to where you pay.  Okay, maybe they’re not turnstiles, but there is a rather theme-park-esque line set up to get to the cashier, pay, and ultimately begin stacking your plate high with piles of delicious country cookin’ (can’t have no extra g’s when talking about Shealy’s).

I hate lines, have always hated lines, but I remember sitting in this line as a kid and only finding myself getting more and more excited as the anticipation would build regarding the oncoming meal, as opposed to the boredom that could come upon me quickly when waiting in line for a roller coaster or water slide.  Yes, I’m saying I would get more excited about this meal than I would waiting for a thrill ride (and although I’m using the past tense here to make me seem a little less childish at present…I still get that excited).

buffet line
image from seriouseats.com

But the real moment of realization doesn’t actually occur until you walk through the doorway into the restaurant-proper.  All at once you are greeted to the experience through almost every sense your body has at its disposal. Your eyes, of course, dart everywhere as you drool over the steam rising off the buffet tables that are lined so thick on each side that you can barely see the food, but you can’t help but also need to see all  the people sitting at the picnic-tableclothed-tables around the room.  People watching at this establishment is yet another important part of the whole because this is where all classes of the South Carolina lifestyle converge.  If you don’t see something happening around you that makes you smile, you’re grumpier than Ebenezer at Christmas.

But then you pick up your plate and the moment you’ve been waiting for is finally about to be realized.  Unfortunately, this is the moment where you also begin to understand  that not all is perfect in the land of BBQ.  As you get your first glance down the valley of buffet items, you realize that there is absolutely no way you can fit all of the necessary food items onto your plate.  Homestyle Macaroni and Cheese, Fried Chicken, Chicken Gizzards, Mashed Potatoes, Lima Beans, Corn, Fried Fish, Country Fried Steak, Ribs, Hash, Giblet Gravy, Pork Rings, Corn Bread, and much much more lie between you and the ultimate goal at the end of the line…the Shealy’s Carolina Gold Pulled Pork Barbeque.  Just smelling that mustard-based barbecue sauce causes the world to melt away as I enter a childlike state of absolute need.

20101008-shealys-bar-b-que-mustard-sauce-barbecue-batesburg-leeville-sc
image from seriouseats.com

Ultimately, you choose what you can fit, making a minor amount of space available for the non-meat food items, but mostly covering your plate in chicken and pig.  That’s when you and your family finally get down to the table, seated right in the middle of the people-watching action (because this is a family-style seating restaurant, folks) and dig in.

This is where my mind usually goes blank, kids.  I get so intimately involved in the feast, that I sometimes lost absolute awareness of what’s going on around me.  The only thing that I’m aware of for the next 30 minutes or so is the fireworks going off in my mouth.  Added to it all is the liquidy refreshment that is a giant glass of Sweet Tea, and you know you’ve made it somewhere special.

By the time you’re done with your first plate, you begin to feel disappointed.  Not in the food, however.  No, you’re disappointed that you’re already beginning to feel full and are coming to the understanding that this experience may have to end soon.  And, you’ve also having to make yet another tough decision.  Should you get seconds and risk filling up completely, or should you hit the dessert table…

My answer is always BOTH.  And that’s true for one simple reason…Banana Pudding.  If you aren’t from the South, you haven’t had banana pudding, and since this experience is all about the South, you need to have that vanilla wafer and banana-chunk filled dessert.  It’s simply a must.  Of course, there’s also the soft-serve ice cream dispenser that offered no end of happiness for me as a child…  Decisions, decisions.

image from seriouseats.com
image from seriouseats.com

As  you can see, the only thing wrong with this place is the fact that you simply do not have a stomach large enough to fit everything required into it.  Even as a teenager who could not stop eating, I just never felt as though I had conquered this restaurant.  It’s an experience that leaves you wishing you could have more, while also clutching at your sides because you have officially reached the title of glutton.

Quite simply put, if you want to experience all that is the culture of South Carolina and only have an hour to do so, Shealy’s Bar-B-Que is the place to go.  Sure, you may not learn as much as you do when visiting Fort Sumter or the Capitol building, but, in a nut shell, this is it folks, polo shirts and all.

And as you drive home, uncomfortably shifting in your seat as you wonder whether it really was necessary to have both the Banana Pudding AND the bowl of ice cream, you can rest easy knowing that everyone else at that table with you is thinking the exact thing and coming up with the answer that, “Yes, most definitely, it was necessary.”

Now, just as a little additional note, I want to add that I’m well aware that buffets are not traditionally the foodie dream.  I, myself, immediately go to visions of slimy food that has been sitting on a line for way too long, when thinking about the method of food delivery.  However, this is not the case here, as I have never seen this place without a crowd of folks surrounding the food line, ensuring that the food is being taken off the line almost as quickly as it is placed out there.  Food quality is one thing I can assure you should never be an issue at this amazing location.

And…of course…now I’ve just made myself hungry for some Shealy’s.  Guess it’s a good thing I’ll be heading south in a month.

Hope you enjoyed the review, folks.  I’m outta here.

Have fun out there!

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2 Replies to “Travel Review: Shealy’s Bar-B-Que in Batesburg-Leesville, SC”

  1. I’ve never been to Shealy’s (though I’m quite certain there’s some sauce in the fridge), but Little Pig’s on Alpine Rd is quite the same experience. I love their vinegar based sauce and the mustard, plus the epic hushpuppies and the chipped ice in the tea. Best ice EVER. Now I want BBQ. If you’re going to be in town, we should have coffee or something. Its been a long time.

  2. Haven’t been to Little Pigs, although I found many pictures of it when looking for good photos for Shealy’s. Perhaps I’ll have to check that one out sometime.

    As far as coffee…check your inbox.

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