By Roy Sherrid
If you happen to be in western South Carolina and you are looking for some great barbecue, then just point your car towards Leesville. That’s where you will find Shealy’s Bar-B-Que restaurant, famous not only for the food but also because President George W. Bush once ate there.
Shealy’s Bar-B-Que was established by Tom and Sara Shealy on Church Street in Leesville in 1969. Leesville is just over a half hour drive west of Columbia, South Carolina, and it is well worth the trip. Tom Shealy started barbecuing a couple of hogs a week back in the late 1950s to make some extra money. They sold their home and made barbecued pork from a stand until they took over a restaurant on Church Street in 1969 that had only been open for a year. It didn’t take long before Shealy’s Bar-B-Que became a local favorite. As time went on, Shealy’s reputation for great cooking at a reasonable price began to grow beyond the sleepy little farm town of Leesville — so much so that they have had their share of famous patrons, like the President of the United States, stopping by to sample their spread.
Shealy’s was started as a family business and was run by Tom and Sara for many years. After Tom passed away and Sara eventually retired, their son Tommy ran the restaurant. Now, 44 years later, Tommy’s daughter will soon be taking over the restaurant’s management. Another reason Shealy’s feels like a family place to eat is because the whole staff is extremely helpful and friendly — and, coincidentally, some of them have been with Shealy’s since their doors opened.
Now for the really important information — the food. The very first thing you notice when you step inside the door is the wonderful aroma of hot food awaiting you around the corner. Shealy’s is a buffet-style restaurant and there is a sign by the cashier when you enter that reads, “Pay before you eat — eat before you go.” And with that obvious country logic, you step into the main dining room where the buffet line begins. There are three large dining rooms that are set up with cloth-covered picnic tables for communal dining. You grab your plate and make your way down the line. Here is the hard part: the plate is definitely not big enough. But the good news is that since it is a buffet, you can go back for seconds (or even thirds). Don’t forget to leave room for the dessert buffet, though.
Not only do you have your choice of flavorful beef, chicken, or pork barbecue, but you have a whole spectrum of side dishes. The difficulty in moving down the buffet line is trying to choose what you want to occupy the limited real estate on your plate. Let’s see, do you go with the macaroni, the rice, or the potatoes? Green beans or lima beans? Absolutely everything is delicious, but there is one star on the buffet that you just have to leave room for, and that is the country-style southern fried chicken. What makes Shealy’s fried chicken different is the cut. They cut it so that the diner can have a plump and juicy “pully-bone,” otherwise known as a wishbone, just like grandma used to make.
Do yourself a favor and make a detour to Shealy’s.
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