Pros:Excellent food, southern comfort food selections, nice atmosphere.
Cons:Some aspects of major chain influence creeping in.
The Bottom Line: I would highly recommend Fatz Cafe as an alternative to major chains that all taste alike.
People tend to lump food in The South into a single grouping. Although many foods are common across the South, you find variations from State to State. Some foods are common to a single area and may even take on the name of their place of origin. Georgia and Virginia fight over the origin of Brunswick Stew (both states have a Brunswick). South Carolina is no different...from Calabash Chicken to Shrimp and Grits...many comfort foods call South Carolina home. Fatz Cafe has taken these favorites on a tour of the South, with restaurants featuring South Carolina favorites in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia and of course, South Carolina.
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Surprisingly, many of the South Carolina favorites come from the Low Country, which is the Coastal area of the State. However, Fatz Cafe comes from humble origins in a Peach Stand in the Upstate of South Carolina, which is toward the mountains. The cooking is a combination of flavors found throughout the South, some from South Carolina, and popular dishes that come from other parts of the country. Whatever their origin...most of the food at Fatz Cafe could be called Comfort Food.
Fatz Cafe has a feel that is very reminiscent of Ruby Tuesday or TGI Friday's. The combination of low lighting, large comfortable booths and a bar area apart from the main restaurant have a generic feel. However, the service at Fatz Cafe is more hometown. The experience begins like any other big chain, but the attention to detail from the servers and the local flavor represented in photographs and signage that covers the walls begin setting the tone of a local joint. When you open the menu and discover that the dishes are far more unique than what you might find at the major chains...with heavy doses of country cooking...the illusion of being in a local joint becomes complete.
Many restaurants take a different approach to bread. The bread is usually brought out free of charge, and often becomes a trademark of the company. Some Italian Restaurants bring you fresh baked bread with oil and herbs that you can dip the bread into. Other restaurants rely on over-sized dinner rolls or block bread served on a cutting board that you cut yourself. Fatz Cafe has them all beat in the bread department (with the exception of the honey drizzled croissants served at Copper River Grill which are the best!) Fatz Cafe begins your dining experience with piping hot poppyseed rolls that are deep fried like a donut and served with butter and sweet butter. The rolls are addictively delicious...and should be eaten in moderation. Not only are they bad for you...but you will quickly destroy your appetite wolfing these delicious rolls down.
Fatz Cafe has a unique appetizer menu...borrowing a couple of dishes from the coast. They have Sullivan's Island Shrimp Cakes and Southern spinach and shrimp dip (served with fried flat bread). They also have traditional favorites like cheese fries (which are smothered with toppings) and buffalo wings in three flavors (buffalo mild and hot and honey barbecue). In addition to these appetizers, Fatz has another Southern staple...Fried Green Tomatoes. If you've never had them...well...let's just say you're missing out.
Chicken strips have been done a dozen different ways. But none of the ways I have ever had chicken strips comes close to Calabash Chicken...named for a small town on the coast of South Carolina. The blend of peppery spices on marinated chicken strips is divine. Served with honey mustard dressing, these chicken strips are unlike any other you have ever eaten. Fatz Cafe has the second best Calabash Chicken I have ever eaten (the top spot has gone out of business). Aside from Calabash Chicken, Fatz Cafe also serves Teriyaki Glazed Chicken and Carolina Stacked Chicken which is a barbecue chicken breast smothered in bacon, ham and Monterey jack cheese. They also serve several chicken pasta dishes. I have not sampled any of the pasta.
Fatz Cafe also has traditional favorites like pork ribs which you can order individually or with shrimp or steak. The steak options include sirloin, chopped steak, ribeye, cajun crusted ribeye and a hard cider sirloin which is marinated in a secret blend of juices and apple cider. The seafood options begin with a South Carolina special...Edisto Shrimp and Grits. I don't eat seafood, but the Carolinians I know are nuts about this dish. They also have Calabash Shrimp which is based on the same recipes as Calabash Chicken. Bacon wrapped shrimp called Killer Shrimp, Steakhouse Salmon, Maple Plank Salmon and Fish Filets complete the seafood selections.
The dinner entrees at Fatz Cafe are filling but are also in the ten to twenty dollar range. The sandwiches run slightly cheaper and offer portions that are more manageable. Among the sandwich selections are a grilled chicken sandwich, Phillysteak, ribeye sandwich, Reuben, cheeseburger, blackened fish sandwich and a club sandwich. For a taste of home, they have a calabash wrap stuffed with calabash chicken. A signature item is their Onyum Burger...a half pound burger topped with monster onion rings.
The dessert menu offers a wide variety of options. They have classical favorites beginning with a double fudge brownie, strawberry cheesecake, the traditional southern peach cobbler and key lime pie. For something a little more interesting, they have mango-guava mousse cheesecake, peanut butter pie and carrot cake. They also have some bite-size inspired items including brownie bites and ice cream or bananas foster bites and ice cream. If none of those items catch your interest, maybe you can settle for a good old fashioned strawberry sundae. Whatever your choice, the desserts at Fatz Cafe are as good as any other chain restaurant...but nothing exceptional.
Fatz Cafe is an excellent restaurant with it's roots deeply embedded in the South. At the rate of expansion, they may soon cover the entire Southeast and maybe even start venturing into distant lands. The combination of service and an interesting eclectic menu based in southern tradition make Fatz Cafe unique among chain restaurants. Although some of the food items slip into the bland run-of-the-mill major chain mold, they have enough unique selections to set them apart. An excellent chain that I would rate four stars out of a possible five.
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