By Brad Wright, produced in cooperation with the HubCity Writers Project.
I’ve always heard that 9 out of 10 restaurants fail in their first year. It stands to reason, then, that any restaurant that survives into its sophomore year and beyond must offer superior food, atmosphere and service. It would take me more space than I’ve been allotted to extol the many wonderful eateries here in Spartanburg. Rather, I’m here to tell you about some of the most cherished establishments in town.
These are places that have thrived for at least five decades, often under the same family ownership. They are Spartanburg through and through. Each of these restaurants has legions of loyal customers, and gains fans with each passing generation. Because while it speaks volumes when a restaurant succeeds for several years, it is something altogether different when it becomes part of the fabric of the town itself.
If you’re looking for that classic, All-American drive-in cheeseburger, this town has you covered. Arguably Spartanburg’s most famous eatery, the Beacon Drive-In (located at 255 John B. White Blvd.) has been serving up its chili-cheese a-plenty since 1946. If you’re from out of town and the name sounds familiar, you might have seen some of their World Famous Iced Tea at your local supermarket. Many a Spartan can tell you about the thrill of walking up to the counter and having the legendary JC Stroble and tell you to “call it!” You’d tell him what you want and he’d yell something you didn’t understand to the back and then your food would magically appear as you walked down the line to get your tea. At the end of the line you’d be greeted by John B. White, the owner himself, who worked the register for decades. Sadly, both Mr. White and JC have passed on, but traditions of the Beacon continue and show no signs of stopping
Just a few miles down the road you can find Sugar-n-Spice at 212 South Pine St., another classic drive-in with more than 50 years of service in Spartanburg. With tea as sweet as the girls at the register, “the Spice”, as it’s affectionately known, has been filling bellies since 1961. Stop in early on a Friday afternoon in the fall and you will find half of Spartan High there, eagerly anticipating the night’s football game. A model of quality and consistency, the Spice has in the same family since its inception. In addition to the slice of Americana it offers, you can also see the family’s Greek roots reflected in their amazing souvlaki and baklava.
I’ve long believed that there’s an inverse relationship between the edifice of a restaurant and the quality of its food. More often than not, if the building is unassuming, the food is amazing. Especially when that establishment has called the same building home for the last 75 years. You could drive past the Nu-Way Restaurant and Lounge (373 East Kennedy St.) a dozen times without having any idea you’re missing one of the best burgers in all of South Carolina. The Redneck Burger has received nationwide praise, and I will defer to a writer of far greater skill than myself to describe what makes the Nu Way so special. (Click here for George Singleton’s review in Garden & Gun Magazine) Just look for the Pabst Blue Ribbon sign on East Kennedy Street and settle in for one hell of a dining experience.
A bit further from downtown, but no less celebrated is Ike’s Korner Grille (104 Archer Rd.). Since 1957 it’s been serving up hand-made burgers and fresh cut fries that are truly tough to beat. If you’re looking for great food at a great price it’s the spot for you, just make sure you know that if you order a burger “all the way” it’s going to be served ALL THE WAY. The regulars at Ike’s could be the most fiercely passionate food partisans in town, and you might want to do yourself a favor and get to lunch a little bit early, because it fills up fast!
Finally, what would any southern town be without a traditional meat and three? It wouldn’t be Spartanburg, that’s for sure. For almost 70 years Wade’s Family Restaurant (1000 North Pine St.) has been serving up heaping helpings of down home Southern goodness. Still owned by the Lindsey family, Wade’s is the perfect spot for taking the whole family out for a great meal. Just drive around town for a little while and you’re sure to see one of their many comical billboards promoting their excellent vegetable dishes.
In addition to a regular daily menu, each weekday features a weekly special. Personally, I recommend the turkey and dressing on Thursdays, but you definitely want to get there early because the line is typically out the door!
This is just a small sample of the many excellent places to eat in this humble little town. But these five restaurants speak to the pride and community spirit of Spartanburg more than any others. Spartanburg isn’t a place to just pass through, it’s a place to call home, and their decades of service reflect those values. And if you want to understand what makes this place so special, just spend an afternoon at any of these iconic locations. You’ll be greeted with a smile, a cup of sweet tea, and good eats a-plenty!
Sugar N Spice https://www.facebook.com/pages/Sugar-n-Spice/334245899932639
Nu Way https://www.facebook.com/TheNuWay
Brad Wright, Produced in cooperation with the HubCity Writers Project.
Brad Wright is a Spartanburg native and works as a resource development officer for the United Way of the Piedmont. When he’s not entertaining his lab Rex Banner you can find him at most Hub City Bookshop events or jogging along the Mary Black Rail Trail. He loves to discuss pop culture ephemera, the Appalachian Trail and his recent appearance on Jeopardy!