In Florence County, residents embrace new and old restaurants, especially locally owned. Around here, a meal isn’t just to nourish the body; it’s to enjoy the company we’re with, as well as our roots. So grab your family or friends to try out these local favorites:
Check out the Pee Dee State Farmers Market for some produce or the biannual plant and flower festivals, and while there, enjoy lunch at Julia Belle’s. This family-run restaurant has some terrific home-cooked meals. From country-fried steak to Daufuskie chowder-shrimp soup to the baked-goods items, the Snells have hit the Southern sweet spot. Should you try an appetizer — go for the barbecue egg rolls.
While you’re out on U.S. 52, stop by Young Plantations outlet store to sample a variety of scrumptious pecans. The shop also carries a full line of South Carolina food products, including scuppernong cider, locally grown fruit preserves and mixes for shrimp and grits. And while you’re sampling pecans, try Blenheim Ginger Ale from the earliest, smallest and some say finest independent soda bottling company in the country. The company is located on the grounds of the massive South of the Border tourist attraction in Hamer. First bottled in 1903, there are the “Hot” and “Not as Hot” formulas to choose from.
Just down Interstate 95 at exit 160A is the hospitality district. Among some great well-known chain restaurants, there are also some local eateries worth trying out:
1720 Burger Bar. Try the South Cackalacky Quesadilla. It’s stuffed with some of our home-state favorites: fried chicken, okra, thick-cut bacon, pimento cheese, blended cheese and tomatoes. Located on Woody Jones Boulevard.
San Jose: Tacos and Tequila. It’s the place to go for — well — tacos and tequila, but the favorite truly is the guacamole made tableside with your specifications. Located on West Radio Drive.
Percy and Willie’s Food and Spirits: Fall-off-the-bone ribs? Yes, please. And there’s also the Salmon BLT that’s a hit. This restaurant, named after the owner’s grandparents, specializes in steaks, housemade dressings and dishes. Don’t forget to try the croissants. Located on Dunbarton Drive.
Just down the road enjoy Southern hospitality at Red Bone Alley Restaurant and Bar, where you’ll feel like you’re dining outside in Charleston. The kitchen uses local ingredients — try the risotto using Darlington’s Carolina Plantation Rice or the Sweet N’ Spicy Shrimp Salad featuring local vegetables. One dish to try before leaving town: the shrimp and grits. Located on West Palmetto Street.
Across the street, one of the many Greek-owned restaurants is also a local favorite: Starfire Grill and Restaurant. It features American and Mediterranean cuisine. Go for the salads, soups, pastas, burgers or gyros and stay for the delicious desserts.
Continuing west on Palmetto, there’s one of Florence’s first brew pubs. Locally owned and operated, Southern Hops Brewing Company’s focus in the kitchen is using local products and offering hand-crafted beer with great food. Nothing on the menu is fried; everything is baked. To top it off, the owners promote local bands, kids’ night, trivia night and provide the venue for Grateful Dog, a fundraiser for three local humane societies.
Continue on to Celebration Boulevard, where a new addition to the Toniolo family opened recently. The Toniolo family has been preparing Italian fare for more than 20 years in Florence, and Cibo’s is the casual extension of Stefano’s on South Irby Street. At Cibo’s, try the Eggplant Parmesan. At Stefano’s, the pizza is a favorite as well as the veal piccata.
Got a craving for something sweet? Sweet Café and Bakery Shoppe on Celebration Boulevard inside Cibo’s will hit the spot.
And just down the road, Mi Tierra is well-received at its new location. Their flavorful dishes are matched with their hospitable service.
Moving on to Second Loop Road, visit Freeman’s Bakery, Florence’s own old-fashioned scratch bakery in its 52nd year. It’s wonderful to have an authentic from scratch bakery in town. Freeman’s Bakery is a full-line bakery, meaning everything from wedding cakes, custom birthday cakes to cupcakes, cookies, assorted cookies, pies and all kinds of pastries are available. You can pick up doughnuts, Danishes, sweet breads or ham biscuits to take to the office or order wedding cakes and other items for a dessert bar at weddings.
Looking for an authentic Neopolitan-style wood-fired brick oven pizza that defies the ordinary? Look no further than Rebel Pie Wood-Fired Pizza, which garnered attention as “favorite local slice in South Carolina” from Zagat. Owner and chef Alan Cooke has made a pizza-haven for those who crave amazing pizza. What’s more, the dough is handmade daily using all-natural ingredients and no added sugar. Cooke and his team use a slow-rise method that brings out the natural flavor of the grain. All pies are fired in the 800-degree wood-burning oven for 90 seconds. And if you’re eating heart healthy, let them know your dietary restrictions, and they’ll work with you. Rebel Pie also serves Seminar Brewing beers.
Three friends took “a leap of faith” to start a seafood restaurant after hitting it off with a pop-up fish market. Tubb’s Shrimp & Fish Co. has become a top-rated restaurant in the county. They started out selling fresh fish caught from Sunset Beach, North Carolina, out of a cooler on the side of the road in Florence. A few months later after the success of the pop-up market, the guys decided to quit their “grown up” jobs to open a fresh seafood restaurant. Their idea was to have the best quality food while giving customers a pleasurable experience, and they pledge to keep sustainability of the coast at the forefront of the operation.
From burgers to hot dogs to Jamaican Dishes, Locals Grill is a great getaway for the worker or traveler. The specialty sandwiches as well as the fried pickles are a hit with the locals.
Vallarta Mexican Restaurant. Go for the carnitas. Stay for the attentive wait staff and atmosphere. Located on South Irby Street.