Owner Chip Morrison's restaurant first opened six years ago, but its rechristening last fall seems to have given the place new life. What was once the prim and healthy-sounding Veggies to Go is now Chip's Southern Cookin'. And considering the menu boasts such distinctly un-veg-like items as country-fried steak and meatloaf, the new name makes a lot more sense.
Nifty Fifties: Black-and-white checkered linoleum, oversized vinyl booths and diner-esque metal tables topped with shiny Formica all lend a throwback feel to Chip's. A takeout counter lists the day's meats and veggies on a big chalkboard -- it's a rotating inventory of Deep South favorites like collard greens, fried catfish and peach cobbler. A cooler stocked with soft drinks and juice occupies a nook by the front door, but let's be honest. Sweet tea is the only drink that's appropriate at a place like Chip's. Hanging above the booths is a "wall of fame" bulletin board, displaying Polaroids of guests who've managed to put away a meat, four vegetables, bread, a drink and dessert. They all look proud, if a bit dazed -- that's an awful lot of food.
Order Up: One thing that's conspicuously missing at Chip's is a cafeteria-style line. No chafing dishes, no hairnet-clad matrons scooping food onto plastic trays. Unlike at a lot of traditional meat-and-three joints, everything (well, everything fried, anyway) is made to order. My husband, a Lowcountry boy and country cooking junkie, actually griped about not getting to see his choices before deciding what he wanted. But the fact that they're cooking things to order rather than letting them languish under heat lamps seemed like a plus to me.
Who You Calling Country: A few modern twists hide among the meat-and-three classics on Chip's menu. A barbecue sandwich substitutes pulled white meat chicken for pork. Tender shreds of chicken, coated in tomato-based sauce, spill out the sides of the bun with every bite. Fried chicken fingers are a far cry from health food, but the skinless tenderloins are bound to be better for you than a drumstick. The crackly, golden-brown coating is so good, you won't miss the extra calories. Tasteless meatloaf, on the other hand, suffers from blandness and a too-sweet ketchup glaze. A couple of bites will bring you back to the dinner table when you were 6, when meatloaf felt like punishment. A thick slab of country-fried steak, with its crunchy coating and ladle of brown gravy, qualifies as a full-on indulgence.
Eat Your Vegetables: If you're from below the Mason-Dixon line, you'll recognize these veggies as a better version of the dishes your grandma always used to make. Macaroni and cheese is thick and creamy and not too congealed, with a satisfying bite from sharp cheddar. Collards, pungent and homey, are spiked with bits of pork. Tart fried green tomatoes, sliced thin and cornmeal-battered, are delightful in combination with a tangy remoulade. Lumpy, leaden sweet potato soufflé is the only real disappointment. The word "soufflé" conjures images of something fluffy and delicate, and this sweet potato dish is anything but. Squash casserole, on the other hand, is the real deal: squishy and thick with cheese, the rounds of summer squash cooked until practically melting. Fried okra is one of those foods you either love or you hate. It tastes like it's made from scratch here, cornmeal-battered and flash-fried, and it puts the frozen stuff to shame.
Most everything on the lineup at Chip's is down-home good. Even if your mama never whipped up a cobbler or fried up a batch of catfish, this stuff will have you waxing nostalgic.
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