Butch Rives’ intention last spring was to open up a “little barbecue joint” in Cherry Grove to help pass the days during retirement.
“When I opened it was supposed to be a hobby,” said the Statesville, N.C., native, who sold three Charlotte-area restaurants before coming to the Grand Strand to retire. “I would have been happy if the place did well enough that I could pay the bills.”
Old South BBQ Company didn’t turn out like Rives had hoped – it turned out better.
The tiny, glass-walled restaurant, located at 1020 Sea Mountain Highway, quickly attracted a mix of local customers and vacationing families with its old-style barbecue flavors and down-home prices.
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Customers dine inside at six tables and a counter or seven red-and-yellow picnic tables sitting outside under large shade trees. Many others grab takeout or have their events catered.
Rives hasn’t needed the liquor license he originally intended to get, though it is still part of his plans.
“Last summer, I made more money in a week than I projected for a month,” Rives said. “We get families, golfers, bikers, people who come for the weekend.”
Highly rated by several food websites, Old South has become known most for its wood-flavored chopped pork and its home-made sides, including hand-cut fries and tangy, pork-sprinkled barbecue beans.
Rives uses a dry run on all meat, allowing customers to choose their own special flavor from among his five sauces, including vinegar, mustard and traditional reds. The meat cooks overnight on a smoker fueled by wood and gas.
Charlotte-area diners might find the flavors familiar. One of Rives’ former restaurants was the Kickin’ Pig in Rock Hill. Rives said recipes are the same. Kickin’ Pig general manager Tony “Duck” Drumm made the move to run Old South. While Rives usually can be found outside near the smoker, Drumm runs the inside operation.
The menu is simple. Chopped pork, baby back ribs and hot dogs and hamburgers, also from the smoker. No chicken plates, only wings and fingers. The sides are fresh and/or made from scratch, including corn on the cob, onion rings, hushpuppies, potato salad, cole slaw and barbecued slaw.
I had baby back ribs with fries and barbecue beans on my first visit. The ribs were thickly cut and tasty, intentionally cooked not to fall off the bone. I went with the spicy red sauce, which had good flavor and a nice kick to it.
The fresh-cut fries were fantastic, the barbecue beans exceptional. A large piece of sesame seed bread that comes with barbecue plates was an unexpected treat. All drinks except tea come in 20-ounce bottles.
On my next trip I tried the highly touted chopped pork and wasn’t disappointed. The chopped method allows the pork to take on more of wood flavoring from the smoker. The vinegar sauce would be at home in barbecue-hotbed Lexington, N.C. The mustard sauce was spicy with a much stronger kick than others I’ve eaten.
Old South prices are lower across-the-board than at several area barbecue restaurants. Chopped pork plates with two generous sides sell for $7.99 and $8.99. Ribs with two sides are $12.99 for half a rack and $21.99 for a full rack. Service was quick and attentive inside and outside, taking less than 10 minutes either trip.
Starters include smoked chicken wings, as well as fried pickles and barbecue versions of quesadillas, nachos and spring rolls. Kids’ meals with fries are $4.99. Ironically, desserts aren’t offered at the former ice cream stand, which looks like a 1960s-era Dairy Queen.
Old South offers various to-go packages and also caters. The restaurant is open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
“We’re priced for locals,” Rives said. “You serve good food at a fair price and keep it consistent that’s all you have to do.”