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HEAD-TO-HEAD: Columbia Meat & Threes (Part 3 of 3)

Posted by The LunchMen Monday, September 13, 2010

In this final installation of our Columbia Meat and Threes Head-to-Head, we are going to reveal the winner of our popular Columbia meat & three challenge.  I must admit, if you had asked me before this challenge if I would have anything nice to say about the Thicket, I would have said, "yes, they have crispy bacon."  That's it.  I have been an outspoken critic on Lizard's Thicket for a couple of years after bad experiences at the Knox Abbott and Beltline locations.  However, my criticisms will be muted moving forward after a surprising lunch at the Elmwood location.

LIZARD'S THICKET - 818 Elmwood


Lizard's Thicket is all over the place around Columbia.  In my estimation, that always places the restaurant at a disadvantage, as quality control usually goes down, organizational overhead is often up, menus are less apt to change when necessary, etc.  When I first moved to Columbia, several people recommend that I go to Lizard's Thicket for a good Southern meal.  Let's be clear: if you want a really good Southern meal, don't go to the Thicket.  That is an unfair burden to place on a restaurant empire like the Thicket - one that is designed to do high-volume at a lower price.  Inevitably, the bottom line for a restaurant like the Thicket requires compromises that will lower the quality of the food.  Therefore, it is important that the Thicket is not compared to lofty standards, even lofty meat & three standards, but rather the Thicket should be judged in the context of its competitors in terms of offerings and price.  In that context, the Thicket can shine.

Compared to Compton's and Nathan's, the Thicket on Elmwood - which I have decided is the best Thicket for either breakfast or lunch - really impressed our group.  Let me jump right into my biggest surprise:  the Thicket's country fried steak dominated the offerings of its competitors.  It was not even a competition, really, folks.  The gravy, if canned/jarred, was able to fool me into not obsessing on that fact.  The steak itself was properly cooked - still tender inside, a crispy crust, and adequate seasoning.  I felt like I was eating country-fried steak, not a sponge or shoe leather.  Although the service size was a tad massive for lunch, I'm not going to complain about that too much - lunch is quite often my only meal of the day.




The sides at the Thicket were also a nice surprise for us.  My green beans had some nice flavor added to them (a distinct pork flavor, probably ham) despite the fact that they were not fresh, local pickings.   My macaroni & cheese was creamy and cheesy.  As for the squash casserole, it might have been the single best side that I tried throughout this challenge.

Several in our group went after the Thicket's famous fried chicken.  The Publican was very happy with his selection, and in our future fried chicken poll, the Thicket has earned a spot on the list.  The Thicket's fried chicken, although it appeared deep fried rather than pan fried, was reportedly not over-cooked or too greasy.  The final result was a proper nod to the traditional Southern fried chicken, perhaps as much as can be expected to a restaurant doing the kind of volume the Thicket on Elmwood does during lunch.  On that point, take warning: this place was so packed, we were only able to find one parking spot in the lot at 12:10.  Nearly every table had someone enjoying the home-style cooking. 




Butter beans, stewed tomatoes & okra, mashed potatoes & gravy - each side was relatively well received by the Lunchmen that ordered it.  Kali opted for one of the popular salad options and a bowl of vegetable soup.  My photo does not do either justice since Kali had already set in on his meal, but take my word for it - the Thicket's soup is hearty, winter fare.  I'll be going back in the late fall for a bowl of that soup and a cornbread muffin, I promise you.  Rabbit, as you would expect, grabbed an entree salad; no complaints from our resident lettuce critic. His regular order at the Thicket is a salad with baked chicken, quartered tomatoes, carrots, and radicchio.  They also offer a  fried version for those wanting a little Southern flare without all of the guilt.


Overall, the price at the Thicket is about $2 more than Nathan's and $1 more than Compton's.  Its atmosphere is busier and less relaxed as well.  However, the quality of the food lifted the Lizard's Thicket over its competitors, and therefore we believe the Thicket - at least the Elmwood location - is best in class in this inaugural head-to-head challenge highlighting popular downtown meat & threes.  The Thicket proves that quality can be controlled even in a volume operation with the right employees and the right fixin's.  If you are looking for "real country cooking" without paying for top-end ingredients, the Thicket delivers on its promise.


Final Results:     Proteins           Sides & Veggies         Atmosphere        Price
1st                        Thicket               Compton's                    Compton's            Nathan's   
2nd                       Nathan's             Thicket                         Nathan's               Compton's
3rd                       Compton's          Nathan's                       Thicket                 Thicket

- Tank


2 comments

  1. Bach Pham Says:
  2. Just to clarify, is Lizard's Thicket actually a Columbia-only chain? I always thought it was a Southern chain since there are more, or at least as many, Waffle Houses, Starbucks, etc. around town, but now that I'm in NC I realize I haven't really seen one anywhere else. If it is a Columbia-only chain, then I'll have some work to do it seems!

     
  3. The Publican Says:
  4. All of the Lizard's Thicket restaurants are at home in the midlands. There was a location in Greenville, but it was short lived.

    Check out the powers of the internets:

    http://lizardsthicket.com/locations

    http://lizardsthicket.com/history

    - The Publican

     

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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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