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ROAD TRIP: JUMPIN' J'S, Florence, SC

Posted by The LunchMen Wednesday, August 25, 2010


I happened to find myself in my hometown last week, God’s country more commonly known as Florence. They don’t call it the Pearl of the Pee Dee for nothing. I couldn’t be prouder to call Florence my hometown, with its dilapidated and vacant downtown:



1950’s-era Communist Russia-looking municipal building:



and suburban sprawl by Magnolia Mall. Folks from Greenville, with its charming downtown, or Charleston, with its historical significance, have nothing on Flotown. After all, you can tell Florence is so great because it is the hip destination for all the residents of Hartsville, Darlington, Mullins, Cheraw, Dillon, and Marion who come in to Florence on Saturday nights to spend their paychecks at the Swamp Fox Cinemaplex or the Florence Motor Speedway:




In any event, I was in Florence during the lunch hour. Faced with a plethora of delicious lunch choices, I invited Papa Frodo to lunch (my treat, since he paid for my college). He immediately suggested Jumpin’ J’s, a Florence landmark, and a place I frequented when I was in high school. 

This place is quintessential Florence. A former McDonald’s, it consists of bad wallpaper (even though I’m sure the owners think the wallpaper is classy), Waffle House-style tables and chairs that are kept meticulously clean by the staff, and cash register clerks with fake tans, tattoos, and poor grammar. However, if you want to get your grease fix on, I am convinced there is no better place in the Pee Dee, and probably South Carolina. Like any fine greasy spoon restaurant, the menu is extensive, with a variety of offerings. Everything from a Greek salad (light on the lettuce, but heavy on the feta, chicken, and dressing) to a fried popcorn shrimp platter (like any good popcorn shrimp platter, the weight of the popcorn shrimp is more than 75% made up by the fried breading), to a steak sandwich (literally, they grill up a rib eye, cover it with lettuce, tomato, and mayo, and put it between two toasted and buttered buns), to a cheeseburger platter.



Papa Frodo went with the steak sandwich, and I went with the cheeseburger platter with onion rings. As a 10+ year long resident of Columbia, I forget how much I miss good onion rings. Those who grew up in Columbia wouldn’t know a good onion ring if it landed on their face and broke wind. The best I have been able to find in Columbia are at the Fat Boy on US 1 heading to Lexington, or Maurice’s Piggy Park. The Fat Boy is quite a bit out of my way, and I don’t too much care for Maurice’s politics, so I try to stay away from his establishments.  The rings at Jumpin’ J’s are the way God intended them to be prepared: fresh cut, salted, breaded, salted again, breaded again, and then deep fried.  When you bite into a Jumpin’ J’s ring, you actually hear the crunch, taste the warm, salty, fried breading, and then taste the firm onion.  The rings truly are taste bliss.  I had to take a five minute break to catch my breath after writing about them.  The burger also was good, except I found the bun to be a little big.  I like the bun on a burger to be there, but only there as an afterthought, but this bun was standing front and center.  It wasn’t terrible or anything, namely because it was slathered with butter and toasted, but I would have preferred a smaller (slathered) buttered and toasted bun.  In addition to the aforementioned burger and rings, the cheeseburger platter also came with a side salad.  Again, if you are not from Florence and have never spent significant time visiting that fair city, let me translate what a side salad is, Florence style. It is three nickel sized shredded pieces of iceberg lettuce, one cucumber slice, and one half of a Roma tomato, covered in eight fluid ounces, or approximately one cup, of Thousand Island dressing. You don’t so much eat the salad as you slurp it. Having grown up on side salads from Jumpin’ J’s, I kid you not when I say that I didn’t know what spinach, arugula, or romaine was until somewhere in my 2nd semester of college at USC. The cheeseburger platter was so big, Papa Frodo just went with the steak sandwich, didn’t order rings or fries of his own, and had some of my rings, and it was a gracious plenty for us both.



As good as the food is at Jumpin’ J’s, the best thing they have going for them is their iced tea, and more particularly, their ice. I am pretty sure they get their ice from some Swiss fairy maiden that collects it from the peaks of the Swiss Alps and delivers it, crushed, or more aptly, shaved, each morning. That, or they get it from the Lynches River near Effingham. In any event, think “ice” in terms of Hawaiian shaved ice. In fact, that is really what you are getting when you order a sweet tea at Jumpin’ J’s, a sweet tea flavored Hawaiian ice. The ice is so finely shaved that it melts in your mouth and just makes you happy to be alive. I have had good ice before (Groucho’s in Columbia, Tanner’s Big Orange in Greenville), but no ice compares with Jumpin’ J’s ice. And the best part of all is that the friendly cash register workers, after they get back from their smoke break, will gladly refill your cup with ice for you to take it with you.


-Frodo

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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.

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