Moose's Famous BBQ
1440 South Live Oak Drive (Hwy. 17-A)
Entrée Prices: Inexpensive ($9-$10)
Serving: Lunch & Dinner (Thurs.-Sat.), Lunch (Sun.)
"That's a lot of eatin' for 23 dollars," my wife said as we left Moose's Famous BBQ with two kids in tow.
And she was right.
The little brown barn-like building is out on Highway 17-A about three miles outside of Moncks Corner, and it has a few Texas touches. A big cardboard cutout of John Wayne watches over the dining room, and the bathroom doors are labeled "cowboys" and "cowgirls." The buffet features smoked sausage and brisket — items more typical of the Texas Hill Country than anywhere in the Carolinas.
But don't be fooled. Like an Orangeburg boy sporting a ten-gallon hat, Moose's may put on some far-off airs, but it's classic South Carolina at its core. It's only open Thursday through Sunday, for starters, and they don't serve beer — just fountain Pepsi and extra-sweet iced tea. It's buffet only, too: all you can eat. You pay upon entering, pick up your Styrofoam plate and plastic utensils, and make your way down the steam table.
On the barbecue front, there are bins of chopped pork, barbecued chicken, and smoked rope sausage, along with whole pork tenderloin and beef brisket, which are hand-sliced for you as you pass through the line.
The finely chopped pork is only lightly seasoned and is flavorful enough to be eaten just like that, but it's even better with a little sweet mustard sauce spooned over the top. The chicken has a nice spicy zip and is smoked to a beautiful reddish-gold on the outside, but inside it's perfectly juicy and tender.
As a general matter, one should avoid brisket or any sort of beef at a South Carolina barbecue joint. We just don't do it very well, and it always winds up tasting like dry, uninspired roast beef. Moose's is an exception to the rule, pulling off a brisket that's worth making two more trips up to the buffet to investigate. It doesn't have the mahogany-red smoke ring you might find west of the Mississippi, but there's a great crispy black crust and just enough of the fat cap left to keep the beef rich and moist. The spicy Texas-style red sauce brimming with black pepper that's in squeeze bottles on all the tables makes a fine accompaniment to the beef.
Sliced pork tenderloin is also something of a novelty in these parts, but Moose's version is every bit as good as the brisket. There's only a hint of smoky flavor, but the thinly-sliced, pure white meat is tender enough to eat with just a plastic fork.
It's almost enough to make you wonder whether you're still in the Palmetto State, but the hash and rice will bring you back home. It's a thick reddish version, served over white rice, that has a less peppery spice than competing local versions, but it's still hearty and filling.
If you were so inclined, you could load up your plate with nothing but meat and make a fine meal of it. But, unlike a lot of barbecue joints, where the sides are just an afterthought, Moose's buffet is so packed with tasty items that it's impossible to fit everything you want on one plate. You start off with a little dab of red rice, because that looks good, but the hashbrown casserole looks tasty, too (like all of Moose's casseroles, it's homemade by "Mrs. Moose"). And you gotta have some of the brisket baked beans, but not too much because you need to leave a little room for the fried corn nuggets. Before you know it, your plate is mounded over, and you're sprinkling pillowy, fresh-made pork skins over the top. And you already know you'll have to make another trip back because you still haven't tried the fried okra or the lima beans or the macaroni and cheese.
It's a bit of a haul out to Moncks Corner from downtown Charleston, but gas is cheap these days. Stop at an ATM on the way: Moose's takes only cash, though you won't need all that much. The lunch buffet costs $8.67 for adults (including your drink), and it's $9.59 at dinner. For kids, there's a sliding scale based upon age: $6.99 for 9 and 10 year olds, $4.99 for 7 and 8, $2.99 for 5 and 6, and 99 cents for four and under, which seems more than fair, since even the littlest tots will find plenty to love on the buffet.
For my 8-year-old son, Moose's provided something of a rite of passage. After polishing off a grown-up-sized plate of barbecue and sides, he scarfed down a serving of Mrs. Moose's pecan banana pudding, raved about how good it was, then went back through the line for a second helping of the sweet yellow goop. He's young and has yet to learn the Fourth Indisputable Law of Barbecue ("You always have room for banana pudding") as well as the Fifth Indisputable Law ("Banana pudding expands in your belly"), so he was soon moaning and writhing and asking to lay down in the booth.
He fell asleep in the car less than a minute after we pulled out of the parking lot and snored all the way back on the long ride home. It was a touching moment: a young pup's first time being incapacitated by too much barbecue. If his father's track record is any indication, it won't be the last. And what better spot for it than a place called Moose's Famous?
This one's a keeper.