POLL RESULTS: Doc's Barbeque is #1

Posted by The LunchMen Friday, November 20, 2009 1 comments

Food does not get much more controversial than barbecue. There are places in the Carolinas where people will argue for hours over the merits of vinegar vs. mustard vs. tomato-based Q. However, Doc's Barbecue has clearly made an impact the past couple of years on Columbia pork-lovers. Doc's is good enough to impress our Secretary of State, Mrs. Hillary Rodham Clinton, and its good enough to persuade our readers that it is the best Q that Columbia has to offer. Second place, well, I was surprised to see that it wasn't even close. As we suspected, Palmetto Pig, Hudson's, Little Pigs, and Shealy's all had some support. However, at the end of the day, and perhaps due to good sidekicks like the catfish bites, the collards, and the tastiest (and probably most unhealthy) potato salad in Columbia, Doc's pulled pork has won the hearts of our readers - Congratulations Doc's, we'll be seeing you next Saturday as we load up for the Carolina/Clemson tailgate.

El Burrito - 934 Harden Street

Posted by The LunchMen Thursday, November 19, 2009 3 comments

I want to make something perfectly clear from the beginning of this article - If I was not duty-bound to reflect the opinions of my fellow Lunchmen in my posts, El Burrito would easily be the latest addition to the Boo List. I understand that many Columbia residents hold El Burrito in high esteem. For years, I have tried to give El Burrito chance after chance to win me over. I am finished with trying.

Many folks try to persuade me to like El Burrito by appealing to the fact that I like restaurants that use fresh, local ingredients in their fare. I'm told that El Burrito does this, and certainly I will not dispute how fresh the food has been on most of my trips - except for the terribly acidized salsa I have had on certain late afternoon occassions. However, lets not lose the forest for the trees, people. Ingredients are simply, well, just ingredients. It does not matter if the produce was hand-picked in the Garden of Eden if the restaurant churns out food that is neither satisfying or delicious. El Burrito fails to deliver on the final product.

At some point, I've tried about everything on El Burrito's menu - basically, it consists of burritos, tacos, nachos, and beans and rice. Pretty standard taco shop stuff. Being a huge fan of, yes, black beans, I ordered some beans and rice (with the works) and a beef taco for lunch. Perhaps due to the large hippie wrap on the head of the person taking my order, I was provided an order of beans and rice and a bean taco. But hey, like I said, I like black beans.

However, when I dove in, the beans had no flavor at all. Even with the green sauce and the gratuitous serving of broken down sour cream, the dish was bland and drab. I was shocked to later learn that the beans were fresh (allegedly) rather than canned. I tasted no freshness at all. With the intent of infusing a little flavor, I added some chopped pepper and hot sauce. All this did was make my beans and rice unpalatably hot. As it included the same ingredients (except the addition of too much lettuce), suffice it to say my taco was equally depressing. It was so poorly constructed that it had to be eaten with a fork - the result of El Burrito's use of undersized, inadequate tortillas. Boooo.

My fellow Lunchmen cry "foul," alleging that I simply ordered poorly. Alas, I do not make the menu at El Burrito. If they have drab, boring, underseasoned, and ill-constructed food on their menu, then I should not be blamed for ordering it. Rabbit claimed that his salad was delicious - so I used his dish as the picture for this entry. However, he readily admits that he had to spend $12 to custom build a salad to his liking. Similarly, the Publican, who is so quick to fly to the defense of El Burrito, had to customize a taco with both a hard and soft shell to add "structural integrity." El Burrito, take a trip to Charlotte, try Cabo Fish Taco, and beg them to teach you how to build a taco using proper tortillas!

To be fair, Tex and Kali were pretty satisfied with their tacos and bean salad, respectively. The only universal complaint from the Lunchmen is that the food is very overpriced for what you get from El Burrito. I can assure you that this home cook can soak and prepare some black beans, pan fry some rice, and throw the standard accoutrements together for less than $7 per serving. Moreover, my dishes would actually be properly seasoned, properly proportioned, and taste good. As far as this writer is concerned, El Burrito is an overpriced, underwhelming experience that will be avoided in the future.

- Tank

El Burrito on Urbanspoon


Posted by The LunchMen Wednesday, November 18, 2009 3 comments



This past Saturday, Tank, Rabbit and the crew suffered through yet another Gamecock loss on the gridiron. While we may leave the games starving for sustained success in football here in Columbia, one thing is for certain – we never leave the tailgate hungry. This Saturday was no different. Rabbit and Tank both came back from their respective tailgate spots amazed at the variety and quality of culinary treasures offered up by Carolina fans. Tank makes his home on game-days at the Touchdown Zone, a high-priced and exclusive tailgate experience complete with a covered pavilion and working restrooms. Rabbit, who does not yet have any in-laws off of which to mooch, tailgates in the (in)famous Morrison Memorial lot – a hotbed of debauchery for the post-college, pre-adult crowd. While the Touchdown Zone boasts shag music and family fun, Morrison is known more for loud party music, shot-gunning beers, and the occasional fight or trash can fire. As diametrically opposed as these two venues are, however, they do share one thing in common: Great tailgating food.

Tank is a self-described gourmet and treats his tailgating guests who are lucky enough to procure passes to his lot to such items as Hash brown casserole and Bacon Quiche muffins for morning tailgates, Beaufort Stew (shrimp, sausage, corn, and red potatoes) cooked at the tailgate over open propane flame for night games, and most recently Deep fried alligator and homemade hushpuppies for the Florida contest.

Rabbit himself does not cook, only eat. But, as for his locale, what Morrison Memorial lacks in ambience its patrons more than make up for with an abundance of victuals. Popular items include Chicken Wings a la Griffin, Brushcetta with tomato and basil, delicious stuffed pizza rolls, and anything whose main ingredient is sausage.

Inspired by Lunch Review rookies The “Teacher,” The “Cleaner” and the “Banker,” we are starting a new poll for our readers to determine what the best recipe food for tailgating in Columbia is. But, to do this poll properly, we need YOUR HELP. Please leave a comment with a description of your favorite game day delicacy (don’t need full recipe/ingredients) and the reason why it should be crowned #1.

We’ll accept entries until November 27, 2009, right before the Carolina Clemson showdown on the 28th, and then post the five finalists for which YOU can vote through December 6th, 2009. The winning submission will receive an ALL EXPENSES PAID DOWNTOWN “LUNCHMEN” EXPERIENCE complete with Rabbit, Tank, and various members of the lunch crew at your choice of any fine restaurant in the Capital City.

To make an entry, simply make a comment to this post, leave us a message or wall post on our Face Book page, or email us at lunchmen@gmail.com

Thanks so much and happy tailgating!


DiPrato's - 342 Pickens Street

Posted by The LunchMen Tuesday, November 17, 2009 0 comments

DiPrato's - just the name sounds pretty fancy for a Lunchmen destination. Generally, our crew is more comfortable with Italian names like Tony's and Dano's for lunch. However, each of us have had enough experience with DiPrato's to know that, even though they might take a dollar or two more out of your wallet than one of our usual lunch spots, DiPrato's has the ability to make that extra money go a long way towards the ultimate destination - deliciousness.

If you haven't been to DiPrato's, then let me tell you that you have been missing some of the best deli meats, pimento cheese, chicken salad, and vegetarian options in Columbia. As you stand in (the usually very long) line to place your order, DiPrato's will offer you up free, tasty offerings of their dips and pita chips for you to sample. Tex, Rabbit, Pizza the Hut, and I could not resist that siren's song on this trip, and it is a nice warm up for the goodness that is to come. DiPrato's pita chips are homemade, and they make an excellent snack to take home and use for house parties. I have been known to dive into a cold pile of those pita chips for a midnight snack once Mrs. Tank has gone to bed, but I digress....

I was a mere follower on this lunch trip, and I relied heavily on the opinions of my fellow Lunchmen (except Rabbit, of course) in making my meal selections. Tex persuaded me to try something truly outside of my usual lunch routine - a warm bowl of creamy tomato bisque that was finished with a dollop of tart goat cheese. Talk about a grand slam. It was on the special board, so I don't know if you can get it every time, but anyone who goes to DiPrato's and passes on this soup has cheated themselves out of lunch decadence.

My sandwich selection was the "Psst-Try-Me" sandwich on seedless rye. Pizza the Hut, in true gluttonous Hut-esque fashion, convinced me that a standard pastrami on rye would simply not provide me the true DiPrato's experience. Instead, he convinced me, like any good friend should, to do the sandwich "New York style" - in other words, more fatty, juicy, bacon-like goodness. The sandwich makers in the back of the deli could not contain all of the meaty goodness within two slices of bread. Pastrami poured out on the plate like a pool of artery-clogging delight. I assure you, no scraps were left behind. I checked out Pizza the Hut's plate, and he cleaned house pretty good as well.

Maybe it was because I had already feasted on free appetizers, a rich soup, and the most delicious pastrami sandwich south of Brooklyn, but by the time I decided to have a bite of my pasta salad, it seemed just...mediocre. I'm not saying absolutely don't get it, I'm just saying that if you are going to have soup and a pastrami sandwich at lunch, maybe tell them to hold the pasta salad, or pass it to someone like Rabbit who is elbow-deep in one of DiPrato's healthy salad options.

Will the Lunchmen keep going to DiPrato's every week now that we have been blown away by a delicious lunch outing? No, because $8 sandwiches are outside of our pay grade. However, with convenient parking and well above-average fare, DiPrato's will certainly be on our hearts and minds, and it will be a place we go to splurge on an excellent lunch.

- Tank

DI Prato's on Urbanspoon

The Other Store - 4130 Bethel Church Road

Posted by The LunchMen Friday, November 13, 2009 1 comments

Ah, Rabbit. Just when you think the guy is going to head down to the Farmer’s Market to consume an actual head of lettuce, he totally surprises you. Last week, in a unique marriage of bold and slick, Rabbit petitioned for The Other Store.

Needless to say, the call was met with bewilderment, mistrust and great skepticism by Other Store rookies Tank and Tex. Rabbit, as shrewd and manipulative as his soon-to-be wife, responded indignantly, saying “we don’t have to go there if y’all don’t want to.” I supported Rabbit, but certainly didn’t help the cause with my rundown of The Other Store: far away, slow service, and Apartheid Country Club soccer moms.

After failed attempts to explain The Other Store and several miles of pre-apologies to mitigate any disappointment (and, admittedly, some waffling by me), we arrived at the place to a chorus of boos from Tank and Tex. Little did they know, the Lunchmen were about to be treated to a delicious and sinful dining experience.

The Other Store is located in the back of an old gas station in Forest Acres on the corner of Atascadero and Bethel Church Road – at least a 10 minute drive from the Plaza of Greatness. Customers, met by a charmingly shoddy exterior, walk into a working convenience store complete with candy, beer, tobacco and lottery tickets. In the back, the convenience store opens up into a living room sized area, half of which is dedicated to food preparation and half dedicated to dining.

While ordering from the counter, you can watch a handful of employees laboring busily over sandwiches and salads. Without consulting the menu, I opted for The Other Store’s piece de resistance, the Greek Turkey. Rabbit, of course, had the Tedder salad; Tex the Jamaican Jerk Chicken Sandwich; and Tank the Giant club with an extra side of pasta salad.

We’ll return to the food in a moment. The Other Store offers three seating options: The porch, the main room, and a small alcove jutting out into the convenience store. We chose the alcove because it was chilly outside. Whatever you do, avoid the main room at all costs. The hustle and bustle of ordering, drink refills and food preparation lends itself to considerable stress during the 15-20 minutes you will have to wait.

9 times out of 10, you will run into a friend or acquaintance at The Other Store. We sat next to Tank and Rabbit’s favorite banker, Bambi, and her lunch companions. Bambi seemed delighted and intrigued but what transpired next. The Lottery. I hate the Lottery. It preys on poor people. It wastes my time at the gas station. But, for twenty glorious minutes we had more fun playing dollar scratch offs than the guys in The Hangover. Replete with drama, triumph and ultimately loss – four grown men playing the scratch off can have a helluva time.

Penniless and basking in the bittersweet afterglow of gambling, we were delighted when our lunch arrived. The Greek Turkey deserves its wide praise. Thinly sliced turkey, lettuce, black olives, feta cheese and an unbelievably tasty greek dressing are neatly apportioned between two slices of pita bread. The greek dressing is so delicious, one of Bambi’s companions appeared to be drinking it. Even paired with a lame looking bag of Lay’s potato chips, The Greek Turkey is an absolute can’t miss.

Rabbit’s Tedder salad, another famous Other Store staple, was covered with an invitingly seasoned chicken that was good all by itself. Tex’s Jamaican sandwich included the same or similar chicken with a little extra kick on a surprisingly good sub roll. Tank’s club was so large that we had to help him get up from the table after he downed it, the aforementioned pasta, and a cookie for good measure.

All in all, the Lunchmen were very satisfied with the trek to Forest Acres. Despite the shortcomings – décor, distance, wait time – the food is so simply delicious that it demands the Lunchmen’s respect. In short, while it wouldn’t work every week, The Other Store is a fantastic quarterly alternative to downtown.

Concluding today’s post, the Publican has an ax to grind. The Lunchmen receive a little criticism from time to time. Hard to believe, I know. Chief among those criticisms is that the Lunchmen are too forgiving of flaws, given to hyperbole, and prone to heap praise upon undeserving establishments.

In a previous post, Tank soft pedaled this point a little – but the time has come for the truth about lunch to ring out: a delicious sandwich is a delicious sandwich.

Anticlimactic? Maybe. True? Absolutely. Whether served in a downtown outparcel, a shiny, trendy cafe, or a smoky old hole in the wall, the Lunchmen value good service, fresh ingredients and delicious meals. Moreover, it doesn’t much matter whether it was prepared by a classically trained chef, a slightly smug hipster or a sweaty old guy in a wife beater. So for those of you waiting for bad reviews – keep waiting – because we try our damndest not to eat at nasty restaurants and so far we’ve been pretty good at it.

- The Publican

The Other Store on Urbanspoon

MoMo's Bistro has re-opened

Posted by The LunchMen Friday, November 6, 2009 0 comments

Much to the relief of the Lunchmen, MoMo's Bistro on Devine has re-opened the doors for business. MoMo's is Tank's favorite weekend dinner spot, and he feared that his beloved osso bucco was gone forever when MoMo's closed the doors in August. If you are looking for a delicious meal this weekend, head over to MoMo's and show its proprietors that they made the right decision in keeping this beacon of Columbia dining up and running for us.

Known simply as “Immac,” this downtown eatery next to the Nickelodeon Theatre and across from the statehouse has been feeding government employees, students, and university faculty breakfast and lunch for years. The staff, décor, and attitude of the place is, in a word, artsy, but don’t let the hipsters sipping coffee out front or the bearded professors reading the newspaper and eating cookies inside scare you off. This place has some seriously good food that is fresh and filling.

This trip the Lunchmen took along Kali and Tex, who are becoming such common elements to our excursions that they may have to be inducted as permanent “Lunchmen” – an honor not lightly bestowed, believe me. We hit the line just before noon, thereby avoiding the lunch rush and securing a good spot to sit. (This is probably the biggest complaint about Immac – the seating. There isn’t much to begin with, and the booths they do offer are roughly the size of the back seat of a Miata. Needless to say, Tank and the crew opted for a stand alone table). I went with my old standby – the Immaculate Salad, which is in my opinion the best lunch salad in town, (along with No Name Deli, of course). On the recommendation of the young lady taking our order, I eschewed my normal dressing choice for their homemade honey mustard. It proved to be the right call, as it complimented the ham, turkey, and roast beef on the salad perfectly. What made my meal memorable, though, was the audible-at-the-line selection I made by asking for a side of warm pita bread. It’s less than a dollar to add it, and it provided a good starch to complete the meal. No complaints from rabbit on this one.

Honestly, I’m a little surprised to be this far into the blog without having mentioned Immac’s pasta salad. It’s a masterpiece, to put it bluntly. The beauty of this stuff lies in its simplicity. It’s basically warm penne pasta drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled lightly with parmesan cheese and a few sliced black olives. It’s not the only option for a side item at Immac, just the only one worth trying. All three of my dining companions had it with their meals, and none of them had any left for me to try.

Though perhaps not worthy of their own paragraph like the salad and pasta, the sandwiches and soups at Immac are all solid, and everything there is fresh to a fault. Other popular items include the baked delicacies they offer every day – Tank and Tex both got giant cookies to go before (Tank) and after (Tex) their meal. The place is also known for its coffee, and there is even a separate line where you can speed past the lunch or breakfast crowd to grab a quick caffeine fix. Rabbit does not drink coffee, so if you want more information you’ll have to try this place for yourself.

Chances are if you’ve been in the Capital City for any amount of time, you know about and have been to Immac. Maybe this article will remind you to head back again. If you are knew here or for some reason haven’t given it a shot, it’s worth the trip and parking hassle, if for nothing else than to sample the pasta.


Immaculate Consumption on Urbanspoon

Hennessey's - 1649 Main Street

Posted by The LunchMen Monday, November 2, 2009 0 comments

Hennessey’s has been serving up fine dining in the Capital City for over 25 years. Long a standard for romantic-minded diners and business travelers, the Columbia landmark also offers a full lunch menu, hoping to parlay their reputation for a good night-time meal into a successful daytime enterprise. We had to ask, however, would the transition work? Can Hennessey’s master the long, multi-course dinner experience as well as the busy worker lunch market? The Lunchmen recently rounded up a posse of hungry workers to find out.

This trip was memorable if for nothing else than it marked the return of Tebow to the group. Tebow has been MIA for a while due to academic commitments, but rumor has it he has been making his eating prowess known at various haunts in the South Main area. In addition, Kali, the Publican, and first-time-diner, long-time-blog-admirer “Caveman” also joined us. On the way, the Publican noted that this large group would allow the entire menu to be on display, if Hennessey’s indeed had six items that sounded interesting enough to try. As it turns out, they had enough intriguing options to go around twice. We all enthusiastically ordered different things, eager to see what was in store.

The first thing that came out was bread. For anyone out there that owns a restaurant and would like a good review from this blog, here is a secret: The offering of fresh bread at the beginning of a meal can literally make or break your chances with Tank. He will automatically write off a place that should have it but doesn’t provide it, and will let other restaurants get away with culinary murder so long as there is ample mana and butter to witness the carnage. It’s like the clear plastic covers we all used to put on our book reports in grade school. Hennessey’s offered bread, so right then I knew Tank was going to give it high marks.

Therefore, in search of more objective thoughts, I turned to Caveman, who tried a black forest ham crossaint with egg salad, lettuce and tomato. This sounded so good I had almost ordered it myself, and it received positive reviews from its patron. Kali, never one to back down from a challenge, went for the meatloaf Panini, which was described as excellent, though would be too bold a move for this guy. Tebow, who can eat with the best of them, had the largest entrée, helping himself to a huge plate of southern grits with a large fried catfish filet on top. Pleased with himself, Tebow even drew comparisons to Mr. Friendly’s catfish and grits – which means Hennessey’s version had to be at least above average. As for myself, I gave the chef salad a try, and was impressed, though not overwhelmed. I probably got what I deserved for being unimaginative.

The most controversial thing on the menu here is without a doubt the house salad dressing. Hennessey’s is proud of it, and rightfully so – it is so popular that they have begun bottling it and selling it for people to take home. However, this stuff is like American Idol - either people either can’t stand it, or can’t get enough of it. After vigorous debate on the merits of the dressing, the group consensus was that the dressing is sort of like aerobic exercise – okay in moderation, but definitely not something you want to start doing habitually.

One more thing of note about Hennessey’s is the Godfather (parts I and II) style atmosphere that greets patrons. There is very little natural light, and the ceilings are abnormally low. The entire place seems to lend itself to hushed conversations. If someone dropped a plate or broke a glass, it is likely that the whole restaurant would know about it. Understand, this isn’t reported to be necessarily a bad thing. However, you should know it before you go in. In other words, small, loud children and NBA centers are probably not the best people to take to this place.

Other than that, however, the food was very good and just the change of pace our group needed. While not a quick affair, it you have a solid hour to kill next time you are at the state courthouse, give this place a try, and enjoy a more traditional, relaxed, “three martini” style lunch.

Hennessy's Restaurant & Lounge on Urbanspoon

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Rabbit, Tank, and The Publican are three dudes just trying to get through the work week here in Columbia. Rabbit is a Columbia native, Tank is from Charleston, and The Publican hails from Greenville. Rabbit's favorite lunch spot is the No Name Deli on Elmwood, where you may find him putting down a grilled chicken salad and a side of vinegar pasta. The Publican usually wants to find food to cure his all-too-common hangovers. Tank claims no favorite lunch spot - he lives for the thrill of the hunt.