We had this feeling it was going to be difficult finding a restaurant in Myrtle Beach that met our standards. Between giant hotel restaurants and coastal tourist traps around every corner, finding a small locally-owned restaurant selling a fantastic & unique product—yeah—that's like finding a needle in a haystack. Facebook to the rescue! One of our followers had our back, and knew of just the place for us, Big Mike’s Soul Food. A beacon of culinary delight in the heart of Myrtle Beach, tucked away from the rowdy waterfront. With a destination set, we were ready to hop on our Blog Bus and bring Good Bites & Glass Pints to Big Mike’s door.
Big Mike’s Soul Food is a diner-style restaurant offering table service as well as take out. This little diner had room for about 50, with a mix of booths, tables, two high tops, a small counter, plus a couple of umbrella’d picnic tables outside. We arrived around noon on a Wednesday, to a mostly full dining room. The first thing I recognized when we stepped in was this indescribable sense of family. Right away, the service was so friendly & genuine, as if we’d been coming in every day for years. When we were asked how we were today, it didn't seem forced, like our server was just repeating the same line to everyone that came in. It felt like they were truly curious, like they were eager to catch up with an old friend. Even when we revealed we weren’t regulars, the staff was excited to hear they were going to be adding someone new into their family. We headed to the six-seat counter and took a seat, basking in the positive energy that was emanating from the staff, the diners, and most importantly, the true, delicious, soul food being served.
When we arrived the dining room was mostly empty, they’d only been open for a half-hour at that point. Twenty minutes later, the place was packed! There was a line out the door for takeout, and we were basically elbow to elbow at the counter. I guess the secrets out! But I’m not surprised that everyone flocks to this place, the atmosphere is so incredibly welcoming, just like the big man himself. As we were looking at our menus, Big Mike was there behind the counter, running out take out orders, answering the phone, talking to guests making sure everyone was happy, and he did it all so effortlessly with a huge smile on his face.
As it turns out Mike is a seasoned veteran of the food world, having started working in Myrtle Beach restaurants since he was 12! He worked his way through the ranks of the kitchen, eventually becoming the general manager. He even attended culinary school to master his craft, but ultimately he preferred the traditional styled cooking he learned from his mother, and thus Big Mike’s Soul Food was born. And just like with how he learned it, the restaurant is a family affair with both his wife and children playing major roles in its operation. Not satisfied with just feeding the community, Big Mike has done his part to serve it as well, whether it means being a real estate agent, church deacon, or even a city councilman! If he showed this kind of care & dedication to his community, I could only imagine how he treats his diners.
Now, I never had soul food—at least not like this. Up north, there are plenty of places serving ‘southern’ or ‘country-style’ cuisine, which—I know—is not the same. We’ve actually asked around, trying to figure out where the line between soul food & southern food is drawn. Between a lot of racial, historical and socioeconomic issues, what we’ve heard over & over is that soul food, was not just a method of cooking born from necessity & scarcity, in a time of desperation. But a means to strengthen & feed the soul, to come together as a family, and share food across time & generations. You can say that all soul food is southern food, but not all southern food is soul food. But when I felt the vibe of the hexagon tiled floor, gingham checkered tablecloths, and our cheerful server welcoming us into this soul food shrine-like family, well let’s just say I put my seat belt on and was ready for the ride.
Big Mike’s menu seems quite modest at first. Some classic appetizers, some salads, a good selection of sandwiches, as well as your classic fried food baskets. But a little blue square at the bottom of the menu is where you’ll find the real magic: the Blue Plate Special. Right in front of the counter, there is a huge chalkboard that breaks it down for you. First, you’ll pick your meat from one of their classics, or from two of the daily offering that change each day of the week. Next, you choose three traditional southern sides, rice & gravy, yams, green beans, collards, field peas, coleslaw, etc. And don’t worry, cornbread comes standard. After getting the same breakdown from our server, we were sold. We got the Blue Plate Special with fried chicken, potato salad, mac & cheese, fried okra, and of course cornbread. For the fried chicken, we were given choice between white or dark meat, not that there was a choice. Dark meat all the way! Me & Chris always prefer dark meat, it’s juicer, always more succulent, and plus, it’s a helluva lot cheaper at the store. Once the plate arrived, the waterworks started, and I’m not talked about tears. No, once that plate was in front of me, I was practically drooling with anticipation. I’ve never taken pictures so fast in my life. We get this fabulous bird, a leg & thigh, fried to perfection. Big Mike’s chicken had a nice crispy & well-seasoned skin with the moistest interior that pulled from the bone with an ease like no other. I didn’t even need my lemonade, the juice from the chicken was all I needed. Even mac & cheese was thirst-quenching, incredibly creamy, it just absolutely melted in your mouth. You can get mac & cheese just about anywhere nowadays, but Big Mike’s is where it’s at. I even added the buttery crumbly cornbread into the mix, a pro-move if I do say so myself. The entire meal was made from the heart, and you could taste it with every bite. This was enough to make it onto my “must try” list, but what I had next cemented it’s place in my soul forever.
Besides the Blue Plate Special, we also got a fried bologna sandwich, a staple of my childhood. Two thick cuts of fried bologna, with lettuce, tomato, and cheese, nothing more nothing less. One bite was all it took, and here came the waterworks—for real this time. I was sobbing. This dish was the embodiment of my grandfather. He was such a huge part of my life, a true family man, and he always made me, you guessed it, fried bologna sandwiches. Whether I was happy, sad, angry, he would always solve the problem with a fried bologna sandwich (he also thought a little saltwater could fix everything). I haven’t had a single bologna sandwich since I was what, 12 years old? But with each mouthful, all these happy moments with my grandfather came rushing back to me. When I say this restaurant completely embodies the sense of family—I wasn’t kidding. This is what soul food is about. I can’t thank Big Mike enough for transporting me back to those precious moments. I had to give Chris a bite (a small one), just to make sure I wasn’t being biased—and he concurred—this sandwich is crispy, savory, moist; a happy memory between two buns.
We wished we saved room for more, (that peach cobbler looked SO good!) but what we had left us unbelievably stuffed & impressed. Big Mike himself really represents how his food is delivered, honest, humble, and greets you with a big hug. Big Mike's food was exactly what we were looking for and I’m so happy we found this little hidden gem. The sense of family and goodwill found under this roof is understated. They seem to have got the word out since the floor was packed, even on a Wednesday. Customers were filing in to get a piece of the magic, either at Big Mike’s table or their own at home. Next time you’re trying to avoid the chaos of Myrtle Beach, make sure you head to Big Mike's Soul Food to get a glimpse of one of America's greatest & oldest cuisines.
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