Autumn always seems to trigger my craving for those hearty, home-cooked dishes that are often synonymous with the South. With my family’s harried schedule these days, my dinner menus are largely quick, utilitarian affairs. So, when we need a good dose of slow-cooked comfort food, I let someone else make it.
There’s certainly no shortage of excellent restaurants in the Carolinas to choose from. I’ve narrowed down the list a bit, and here are a few you should check out.
Elmo’s Diner, Durham
Named after Timothy Hutton’s character in the 80s movie Made in Heaven, Elmo’s Diner certainly embodies the “every man” concept depicted in the movie. Family friendly, casual and community minded are all accurate adjectives for this popular Durham spot that opened in 1997. Instead of setting aside a marketing budget for the restaurant, they opted to create the First Tuesday Program where each first Tuesday of the month, 10 percent of their sales goes to the PTA of a Durham area school.
Soda counter stools, roomy booths and retro style tables fill the spacious dining area — which is often teeming with happy customers. Weekly specials for breakfast, weekend brunch, lunch and dinner include scratch made standouts like sweet potato pancakes, cheesy baked spaghetti, biscuits and gravy, and specialty sandwiches and burgers.
The Dish, Charlotte
Lucky for me, this restaurant isn’t far from my office. Located in the Plaza Midwood neighborhood of Charlotte, The Dish has been a hot spot for southern comfort food for nearly 15 years. Guy Fieri even gave it his seal of approval in an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.
The atmosphere is casual and funky, and the generous serving sizes are reminiscent of the plates my grandmother would dole out to “try and put some meat on those bones” (mission accomplished, Mawmaw!).
Their deviled eggs are made fresh every day (and are the bomb). The menu also features fried green tomatoes, country fried steak, chicken and dumplings, and Cajun meatloaf and mashed potatoes. If you prefer veggies over meat, they have you covered! You can opt for the Cajun veggie loaf, roasted garlic and red pepper hummus, or the veggie burger. Plus, all their vegetables are vegetarian prepared, so the veggie plate is a great option for vegans.
Blue Rooster Southern Grill, Clyde
Located in a modest strip mall on Paragon Parkway, this local favorite has garnered rave reviews since it opened in 2010. And it’s no wonder. Their extensive menu of local and regional southern cuisine combined with a strong focus on family and community are real lures.
Order from comfort food standouts like skillet-fried chicken, grits and greens, fried green tomatoes, BBQ pork platter, and their popular 12-hour pot roast. You don’t want to miss their twist on a Cuban sandwich which features Virginia ham, pulled pork, salami, sliced dill pickles and provolone cheese served on Cuban bread with Mojo Sauce.
They’re closed weekends, so make sure to plan your visit Monday through Friday.
Big Bull’s Bang’n BBQ & Southern Comfort Food, Columbia
The restaurant’s name pretty much sums it up, yes? Big Bull’s may specialize in slow smoked chicken and wood smoked pork and turkey, but everything on the menu is on point. Choose from collard greens, smoked chicken egg rolls, chicken and waffles, beef oxtails and fried okra. You can also top your meats with one of their signature sauces like Bull’s White Sauce, Bang’n Sauce or 7 Seconds.
In addition, many vegetable sides like cabbage, green beans, collard greens and lima beans are made without pork flavoring which makes this a good spot for veggie lovers.
They’re open Wednesdays through Sundays. You can eat in, pick up or make use of their catering services.
Eva’s on Main, Summerville
Open since 1944, Eva’s is a hot spot for residents and visitors alike. Locals fondly remember often seeing Mrs. Eva peeling potatoes or snapping green beans in her rocking chair in the kitchen, and her own scratch made recipes still make up the bulk of the menu.
You can order breakfast all day — choose from biscuits and gravy, chicken and biscuits, or build your own biscuit with ham, bacon or sausage. Lunch options like okra gumbo, southern fried chicken, collards and hamburger steak with onions are popular, too. Oh, and don’t miss the macaroni and cheese.
Wade’s Restaurant, Spartanburg
Founded by Wade and Betty Lindsey in 1947, Wade’s began as a small grocery store and lunch counter on South Pine Street. Their location made them a popular lunch spot for Duke Power and Draper Corporation employees, where they could order hotdogs, soups or sandwiches. Requests for a hot, home cooked meal were soon granted, and a daily “meat and vegetable” plate was added to the menu.
Today you definitely have more than one plate of home-style goodness to choose from. Their daily and weekly menus are extensive, offering just about everything you can think of — from salad to dessert.
Savor the fried flounder and hushpuppies, fried chicken and country style steak. The vegetable plate is a great option, too. Green beans, turnip greens, sweet potato soufflé, pickled beets, rice with gravy, creamed corn, macaroni and cheese — it might difficult to choose only four.
Top off your meal with one of their fresh made desserts like banana pudding, peanut butter pie or the pecan pie (which is Betty Lindsey’s own recipe).