Rusty and Paulas
Rusty & Paula’s: Pure South Carolina cooking

I’d planned for us to have lunch in Allendale, SC. There wasn’t anywhere open, which is odd for a town with a college, although I did recognize the cafe where I foolishly ate a pickled hot pepper out of a jar when I was a kid. At least that restaurant still exists. There was nowhere in Ulmer, either. Finding nowhere even to stop for restrooms, we pulled into Bamberg and went into the Rite-Aid. As we were checking out, we asked the cashier if she could recommend a place. She looked at the time.

“If you hurry, Rusty & Paula’s is still open!”

We found it just up the street, thanks to the number of cars out front. Inside, it was bustling. A regular looked up from his meal and told us to pick a table. After we did and sat down, he said, “well, leave your hat on the table to claim it and go fix yourselves a plate!”

We got up to do so and the server stopped us. It was less than a hour until closing. “Now y’all go over there and make sure you like what we have left before you decide to eat here, because we’re running out of some things.”

chicken fried steak Rusty and Paula's
Southern buffet favorites at Rusty and Paula’s

So we did. It was an honest-to-goodness Southern buffet with a dozen or more cooked vegetables and the finest chicken fried steak I have had in years. Plus a not-sweet-at-all blueberry cheesecake.

We didn’t see a menu or prices, we just ate. One young boy nearby didn’t want to eat and John looked at him. “Santa is watching you!” The boy got wide-eyed and quiet.

When I turned around to find the cashier I saw the menu and prices posted above the register. Our Sunday meal was prime pricing for them, but you could tell by the crowd that this all-you-can-eat is an after-church tradition. The prices are broken out by age, with deep discounts for those under 8 and over 80. There was even an over 90 price.

Rusty and Paulas menu
Rusty and Paula’s special pricing

We arrived hungry and depressed. We left full and cheerful. We’re so glad that the cashier at Rite-Aid pointed us here because there wasn’t a big sign or any way to tell for sure it was a restaurant until you walked up to it. But it sure was good!