About Jeff Cruz

I am the Hungry dad. www.HungryDad.com

Ms. B’s Southern Kitchen – West Columbia, SC

This was a real unexpected find for us, but we are so thankful we stumbled upon it!

It was a pretty typical Sunday morning for us. We go to an early church service in Lexington, so we are usually driving around town looking for something new and exciting for lunch, but are not really even that hungry yet. Sometimes we will hit Walmart or a grocery to kill time till “lunchtime”… but last week we decided instead to enjoy the pretty day and just drive. We drove from Lexington, down 378 all the way into West Columbia and were honestly headed toward downtown, hoping to find something to eat, when we passed by the sign for Ms. B’s Southern Kitchen.
l The building was nothing special and we probably would have passed right by it, except for the sign, which has an image of an old mason jar on it, that caught our eye. Then we saw the term “southern kitchen” and really became intrigued. Being from Alabama, and living in the heart of Columbia, we LOVE real, honest-to-goodness southern food. There are a lot of restaurants around town that claim to be authentic but just serve meat and canned vegetables so they can call it southern, so we were skeptical. But then we saw the bottom of the sign where it said “the way it used to be”. My wife and I both grew up with down-home southern grandmothers (and aunts, and cousins, and friends) who knew their way around a kitchen so we know exactly what that phrase SHOULD mean, so we decided we at least had to try it out to see if they really meant it.

First thing we noticed when we came in was that the place was HUGE! Like the outside of the building, there was not a lot about the decor inside that made you think this was going to be the best food ever. Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 11.57.30 AM
*(it used was previously the longtime home of the Sunset Restaurant, as you can see from the still lingering impression on the roof shingles…) Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 11.58.16 AM
Several large dining rooms with lots of old tables and booths. (I say old tables, because the tables had ads printed directly on them. I sat down right where a large ad for a Pager company was printed… offering the latest in Motorola Pager technology and service!) It was fun though reading through the fun old ads while you ate, as well as enjoying their wonderful mix of 70s classics overhead. We got to introduce our kids to several new bands they were not familiar with in the process. like ABBA, The Commodores, and The Fortunes.

When we arrived (before noon on Sunday morning) it was not crowded at all, so we were a little bit concerned that this could just be a cool sign, hung on an old, mediocre restaurant. We were immediately greeted by a friendly, energetic host who told us about the food, specials, how to order (large chalkboard menu behind the counter) if we wanted or how to get the buffet. We looked at the wall a while and checked out the buffet (which looked great) but being that we were still not that hungry, we decided to order off the wall/menu.
l-5 l-4 l-3

The Fried chicken was delicious.  Tender, juicy and flavorful, but without being greasy. The Fried catfish was a little under seasoned compared to all the other food but was fresh, and tasted great. Fried chicken sandwich and seasoned fries were big hits with both my kids. As good as the meats were, the sides were really the stars of the meal. Collards are very popular around South Carolina, so we had high expectations. These were easily some of the best (if not the very best) collard greens we have eaten. Tender sweet and seasoned perfectly. I added a bit of pepper sauce to mine out of habit before tasting them and it did not really even need it. My wife said hers were perfect as they came out, not needing one bit of salt or pepper or anything.  I got the baked potato casserole which is exactly what it sounds like… potato, cheese, bacon and more baked and mixed together. Simple, but tasted amazing. The sweet potato casserole my wife got was different but tasty.  We had never had one like it before with hints of orange in it, and loaded with raisins. Very sweet and seemed almost more of a dessert, than a vegetable.  The cornbread was not at all what we were used to either, but was really good. Just a touch of sweetness and a very smooth, almost cupcake like consistency, different than the grainier cornmeal consistency of most cornbread, made it also seem like a sweet treat to go with the meal rather than just a corn muffin on the side.  And of course the drinks were served in their signature mason jars (pulling the picture on the sign into the meal nicely)

We will definitely go back, and have already started telling our local friends about it.  But we will do things differently next time.  While it worked well for us to get meals off the menu (which you can see here: MENU) since we were not that hungry, next time we will for sure get the buffet.  Normally we do not go in for the all-you-can-eat buffet concept, but there are so many different meats and veggies alone that we want to try from their menu that we need the buffet, simply so that we can try a little of everything. Plus, the buffet comes with a salad bar and desert bar as well if you do not commit like I will to fill up on the delectable southern cuisine!

In a short conversation with the manager as we left, I found out that Ms. B’s has been there about 2 years, and is owned by the same folks who own Doc’s BBQ and also Pawley’s Front Porch, which is one of our FAVORITE local restaurants, so it was no surprise that the food was great!  Oh, and a to the lack of a crowd in the huge restaurant when we arrived early on that Sunday morning… by the time we were done, the rooms were filled with hungry customers and the line was forming at the door to get in, with people who obviously had been there before and knew well what they would be getting!   It is a little cheaper for lunch during the week than on Sunday or at dinner (which is only on Thursday and Friday nights) but worth it no matter when you come.  But alas, they are closed on Saturday.


Visit them in person at 1213 Sunset Blvd, West Columbia, SC 29169
And be sure to “Like” them (and find out more) on Facebook


Tupelo Honey Cafe – Asheville, NC

Tupelo Honey
First let me say… there are SO MANY AMAZING restaurants in and around downtown Asheville, NC.  This is just the first of many that I will be checking out and sharing with you here… but it is a wonderful one to start with… The TUPELO HONEY CAFE.

One word of warning. Do not come here to eat if you are in a hurry, because you will almost certainly have to wait a good long while for a table. That is because it is so good, everyone wants to eat here! But DO WAIT! It really is worth it! Tomato Pie
A special the day we came that is not normally on their menu, a tomato pie was so tasty!

Grits Okra AsparagusCorn Green Beans and Salad
Veggie plates are always a fantastic choice here since so many choices are on the menu. The grits are smooth and succulent, and a perfect compliment to the asparagus and okra. The corn was super sweet and green beans were too! 
Red Shrimp and Grits
I think the biggest surprise was my Shrimp and Grits. I have ordered it in many different restaurants around the Carolinas, but it us usually with brown gravy and sausage.  This is the chef’s signature dish, called Brian’s Shrimp and Grits » Seven large delectable shrimp served over goat cheese grits with a spicy roasted red pepper sauce.
Different, yes. Delicious, ABSOLUTELY!

If you are ever in or near Asheville, NC and have only 1 meal there, make Tupelo Honey Cafe your pick.  You will not be sorry!  *(though more great options to be featured soon!)

Downtown Asheville
12 College Street
Asheville  North Carolina  28801

Cafe Strudel – West Columbia, SC

In Columbia if you are looking for a great breakfast, brunch or lunch, excellent coffee, cool casual vibe, and more… Look no further than the Cafe Strudel in West Columbia, just over the bridge from downtown. It is a wonderfully eclectic, kinda hippy little spot that I just love.
I have actually only ever eaten breakfast there, but the dozen or so times I have been there it has always been great.  I love to take new visitors to our fair city there for a nice relaxed meal which has never failed to impress.
Cafe Strudel

One unique thing about Cafe Strudel is that it is two stories with dining on both.  Local art of all kinds lines the walls in every room, so it is worth the walk to sit upstairs just for that fact.  Their coffee is self serve in these adorably cheesy old mugs (likely gathered from friends, family or local thrift stores) that have everything from penguins to I ❤ Mom!  I do recommend you fill your cup before you go find your table though, otherwise you will be headed back downstairs to get it.
TheHungryDad is now the SuperMom

Today I ventured away from my usual order of the “hangover hash browns” which is their signature dish, and tried their Sunrise Burrito!  It was great with scrambled eggs, fresh made salsa, black beans and sour cream in a tortilla. Totally filling without being too heavy.
Sunrise Burrito
Most of the rest of our group stayed safe for the most part with a Traditional egg breakfast and a hash brown with cheese & a bagel.
Traditional Breakfast  Hashbrowns with Cheese and a bagel
H Hoe  her

However, one of the members of our party did step up and get the famous Hangover Hashbrowns (which are famous because they were featured In Southern Living, Sept. 2006) have a generous portion of our golden hash browns with grilled onions, banana peppers, tomatoes, cheddar and two eggs cooked to order. It is decadent and YUMMY!
Famous Hangover Hashbrowns

Be sure and visit for lunch too. I hear it is fantastic then too… and Sunday Brunch is ALWAYS PACKED so come early and/or prepare to wait a while for a table… but it is worth it!


They are on Facebook too; HERE  
And on Twitter too! HERE

Bailey’s Range – St. Louis, MO

In the heart of downtown St. Louis there are lots of great restaurants and probably hundreds of places to get a burger.  However there is only one like this.  Bailey’s Range is a totally unique take on the “burger joint” concept.  SUPER fun atmosphere, dozens of gourmet burger options (and more…) as well as great ice cream & milkshakes!  This place gets it right!
Bailey's Range sign
I think what I liked about Bailey’s immediately is that it did not take itself too seriously.  The walls and floors are almost all natural or industrial, and the bathroom door made my friends laugh out loud!  The “wall” between the kitchen and the dining room is made up of dozens of old house windows, hung in rows by wires from the ceiling, making for a cool effect!
Inside Bailey's Range  GREAT bathroom sign

Another interesting way they keep the casual vibe is the fact there are NO water pitchers or waiters going around filling up your water.  Instead, they have very plain bottles (either old wine or whiskey looking bottles) with cold water on the tables. And mason jars for glasses so you can just pour your own whenever you would like and they replace the bottles when the are empty.
Side Salad and water

The food was fantastic.  (See their MENU)  We had a party there of at least 45 people and everyone was raving about it.  I decided to go in a different direction from a typical beef burger and try their special for the day, “On The Lamb 2.0” which looked and tasted like a great burger but with a little bit more “zesty” flavor to the meat.  Topped with fried onions, veggies and homemade ketchup, it was delicious!!
Lamb Burger description On The Lamb

I had a side salad with it instead of fries (so I could enjoy the burger without worrying about being too decadent) but others around me got huge bowls of fries and washed it all down with one of the hundreds of gourmet sodas they have or with their famous milkshakes and 100% HOMEMADE Ice Cream!

TOTALLY a must if you are in downtown St. Louis with friends and want a truly unique meal, without the white table cloth!  Like them on Facebook too if you want…  🙂

Sunrise Cafe – Chesterfield, MO (suburban St Louis)

I love breakfast. It IS the most important meal of the day, right?

I remember as a little kids getting to go out to eat on trips to have breakfast and what an amazing difference it was having breakfast in a restaurant instead of at home.  Cracker Barrel, Waffle House, Denny’s and IHOP were the choices I remember growing up, as well as the occasional McDonald’s Egg McMuffin, but now there are so many other great places to nosh at breakfast time, so I look for them.

Last week I was in St. Louis for a conference and found a little place just south of town and  it was wonderful.  They even are so proud of the fact they are an “independent restauranteur” that they print that fact right on the front of their menu!
Sunrise Cafe

They so focus on the food, they do not even have a website… but there are lots of places that list reviews or suggestions for it and most are great.  Here is YELP‘s take.
I did manage to find that they do have a Facebook page.

My omelet was called the Spanish Dawn. It was big, fluffy and felt like there was 6 eggs in it… though I am assured it was just 3.  The best part was the spicy chorizo sausage. Gave the omelet the kick it needed! The sour cream and guacamole helped cool that spice down and worked so well with the eggs.  Plus the salsa and guac were made fresh and tasted great.
Southwest Omelet

My friend got a southwest omelet which looked equally as savory with its pepper jack cheese on top!

Service was great and the coffee was fantastic. Most local breakfast places like this do not ever seem to have good coffee. Theirs was very robust.  They have good food, great service and hearty coffee which helps keep themselves going – even though 3 doors down is a “St. Louis Bread Company” chain store (like a Panera).

One advantage they have over folks like Panera, is that they serve a full breakfast menu, not just bagels and eggs.  Everything from oatmeal to omelets, from pancakes/waffles to biscuits/gravy, from corned beef hash to steak & eggs.  All you would want. (Even Cream of Wheat!)  Another advantage they have over the competition is that they do not just serve breakfast, though with the name SUNRISE CAFE that may not be as obvious. They have a great selection of lunch & dinner options (sandwiches, soups, salads, burgers, fish, BBQ, ribs, steaks, etc) and even do appetizers and sinful deserts!

Another great example of why we need to “break the chains”… eat LOCAL.  It is just better.


Blue Marlin – Columbia, SC

Wow. No surprise that once again, we had an amazing meal.  Like the history of this great restaurant (being located in Columbia’s old downtown train station) the food here has a long storied tradition of being fantastic.  Steaks, Seafood, Pasta and more, are all highly recommended at this classy restaurant in The Vista district.

Thankfully we were able to get a table on short notice with 6 people (thanks Open Table!). It is a bit loud in there at times when it is crowded, so it is not really ideal for an intimate quiet dinner, and even a business meeting could be tough on a crowded night, but the food is so good you will not be talking anyway!

For an appetizer we tried their Fried Green Tomatoes. They were perfect. Tart, but sweet, with a spicy sauce. (and it counts as a green vegetable!)
Fried Green Tomatoes

For dinner I usually get shrimp and grits (their speciality) or the salmon steak, but this time got Tilapia Charleston, which is pan seared and covered in a shrimp and crabmeat cream sauce, laid over a bed of amazing creamy Adluh grits with green beans. (my mouth is watering as I type… it was that tasty!)
Tilapia Charleston

My wife got Flounder which was also excellent, though was far too much food for her to eat, so she brought about half of it home.
Flounder Dinner

If you are interested in trying their world famous, award winning Shrimp & Grits, but do not want to commit to a meal, there is a small single size portion on the appetizer menu. That is a perfect way to experience it without too much risk. (but rest assured you will love it!)
Shrimp and Grits

I am always so happy to get to eat there and so far, it has never failed to be fantastic!


*Tip for first timers… if you want to try it without breaking the bank, LUNCH or even Sunday Brunch has the same exact food, at a much less expensive price. Try that then once you know you love it, come back for a night out!

Beacon Drive-In – Spartanburg, SC

When we first moved to Columbia, SC from the big city of Orlando, FL, I was disappointed the there were not as many big chain stores I was used to having nearby. Like the fact there is no Apple Store (Greenville or Charlotte are not close enough for me).  However we were thrilled that were SO MANY great local restaurants, because in Orlando all we really seemed to have were chains.

Watching a PBS special about great places to eat in South Carolina, they mentioned the Beacon Drive-In located in Spartanburg.  Then a few months later we met a women from Spartanburg who told stories of going there as a teenager with her husband (then her boyfriend) and made it sound SO GOOD!  So on our next trip toward Asheville, we stopped by!
Beacon Drive-In
The iconic sign still stands and directs you back in time. Then you go inside to order. It is like stepping back in time when you walk in. Opened in 1946, and the man at the front (J.C. Strobel) has been there helping call in the orders for all the customers since the very beginning!  In fact, they even say you gotta “CALL IT” when you step up.  Be ready and know what you are getting, otherwise they will move you out of the way so others can order!  The line moves FAST!  *(see what it is like on this video link).

That is him, standing off to the left of my kids….
When you get to the Beacon, you gotta "Call It"

We managed to order and get down the line only to find they do not take debit or credit cards (they will take checks which we were thankful for…) and get ready to chow down!|
I got (and loved) the cheeseburger and I had to get it “a plenty”.  That is what they call their “meal” deal there and means it come with fries AND onion rings! It is something that started back in the days after the depression and when times were hard, but you could get a meal there for just a little money but the meal was “a plenty”.  *(if you get your meal “a plenty” just know you can share your fries and rings with a friend… no need for both of you to go “a plenty” or you will NEVER eat it all!   And in case you are like my daughter and you do not like burgers or hotdogs, do not worry. They have tons of other options!  She got chicken soup and ate every drop!

Check it out if you are ever anywhere near Spartanburg.  It is good old-fashion fun!
*(and be sure and get some ice cream too before you leave!)


Metro Burger – Greenville, SC

Couple of weeks ago, Tina and I were in Greenville, SC and before we headed to a movie, we wanted to find a bite to eat.  We had resigned to the fact we would be eating typical chain, fast-food, but thankfully we stumbled upon a local place that sounded interesting instead.

Metro Burger is a locally owned gourmet burger shop at 1102 Woodruff Rd, in the old Jack In The Box location, right across from the movie theater.  On the Metro Burger website, they list it as a chain (and have info about franchise options) but this is currently the only location.  I would LOVE to get one of these in Columbia!  It is so much better than a Five Guys or any other burger joint I have been into a while.

They have lots of great signature burgers on the menu, but also have a build-it-yourself option too, so you can create almost any possible combination.   Tina built a wonderful turkey burger with lots of great toppings (regretfully I did not get a picture of it…).  I had one of their signature items called a Carolina Slawster Burger!  Angus beef burger, blue cheese slaw, tomato and one onion ring!  It was delicious! And I was pleasantly surprised to see they serve Duke’s mayo with it! (my favorite!)

The Carolina Slawster Burger!

If you are looking to save money, and get a cheap, super-quick burger that is ready the moment you order it, head to MickeyD’s or something… but if you have a few minutes to wait, and can spend a little more, this is the place to get a burger in Greenville.


***(And I will promise to frequent the location if someone in Columbia wants to open one up!  Just let me know!  🙂

Kovachi’s – Lexington, SC

On South Lake Drive, just south of Main Street in downtown Lexington, there is some great Greek and Italian food being cooked up at KOVACHI’S.


We literally just found it by accident, as we drove around on a Sunday night looking for a good place to eat.  We had been running around town all day and were starving, but seemed like every place we tried was closed!  (Sunday night in a small town)  When we arrived we were a little concerned because there was almost no one there… but we had nothing to worry about. The food was great, and the portions were huge!  The kids meals were as big as adult meals at some places… And BONUS, we found out that it Sunday nights, kids eat FREE!  🙂

My wife was daring and got Spanakopita (cheese & spinach layered between phyllo dough), which was delicious.


My daughter got the KIDS portion of Fettucini Alfredo and a salad (and had so much left over she had more than enough for lunch the next day).Fettucini

My son loved the Kids portion Pizza, which was big and thick on a hand tossed crust. (he added his favorite topping, onions, from his sister’s salad!)Pizza

My Gyro platter (Lamb) was really good and spiced just right. And with all the fries and hot, fresh pita great too, it was a lot of food.  Lunch the next day was not quite as satisfying since microwave-reheated lamb is not as good as it was right out of the oven, but still better than most of my lunches.

Gyro Platter

Casual atmosphere, with inside and outside dining.  Family friendly but not run over with kids either.

Kovachi's Outside

I made my wife very happy when I got her a desert to go… fresh baklava.  🙂  Baklava

Suffice to say I would highly recommend Kovachi’s for anyone looking for good authentic Greek or Italian.  Next time I want to try their “Taste of Greece” or “Taste of Italy” platters (which are big enough to split with a friend) and get a sampling of several more of their different specialties!  🙂