Wednesday, February 15, 2006

A messenger for Bessinger


Growing up in West Columbia, I always considered Maurice Bessinger a sort of father figure. I’ve mentioned before that my tee-ball team was sponsored by Piggie Park, and I considered Little Joe, the illuminated cartoon pig who monitors the intersection of Charleston Highway and Airport Boulevard, to be one of the Seven Wonders of West Columbia.

But the name Bessinger is synonymous with barbecue in the Lowcountry, too. Octogenarian Melvin, whose son David now runs Melvin's Bar-B-Que in Mount Pleasant, is the oldest living Bessinger restaurateur -- a word which surprisingly lacks an n. His relationship with his Midlands-based younger brother, best as I gathered from reading “The Story of Melvin’s Legendary Bar-B-Que” and Defending My Heritage: The Maurice Bessinger Story, has been strained, to put it lightly.

Each Bessinger claims to have been promised the family biz in Holly Hill by father Joe, after whom each of the brothers has named a sandwich. According to Melvin’s story, “Melvin’s father asked him on his death bed to run the famous restaurant after he passed away.” This was 1949.

According to Maurice’s account of his teen years, “I’d never given such matters much thought, but Daddy said to us that ‘Maurice will get the business…’” This was 1947.

Each claims their sauce is the secret family recipe. Says Melvin’s, “His father gave him at the age of 10 years old the Golden Secret Recipe and how to cook the hogs in the ground as well as other family recipes.”

Maurice has a different account. “It was an old family heirloom. Actually, it is hundreds of years old. Daddy went on improving and refining it for the rest of his life. I inherited the recipe when I built Piggie Park Enterprises into the largest barbecue operation in the world.”

I have my own theory, called the Third Bessinger-Hunley-Lizard Man Conspiracy, but I’ll share that at another time. For now, let me say that if you find yourself in Mount Pleasant, like Gervais did last weekend, you must go get some of Melvin’s 'cue. I had the Blue Plate Special: pulled pork, the best collards I’ve had this millennium, cornbread, and cole slaw. It was great. Not a buffet, but that’s my only gripe. The cheeseburgers are supposedly world renowned, too.

Also, maybe read the Maurice Bessinger story. Even if you don’t believe that public education is an instrument of the New World Order, which is the forerunner to the anti-Christ, you might enjoy this book. Um, no, it’s not at Barnes & Noble.

8 comments:

Steve Reuland said...

There's a Melvin's on James Island as well. I used to live across the street from it my junior year in college, and on occasions when I could find enough change in the couch, it provided me with many precious calories.

*jcg said...

Melvin's on James Island has provided many-a hangover cheeseburger, and you are correct to say they are world renowned.

By the way, 2 wonders of West Columbia down (Piggie Park and Zesto's). 5 more to go....

Anonymous said...

In addition to Melvin and Maurice, I've heard of another Bessinger brother named Thomas who runs "Bessinger's", but I've never been there and don't know where it's located. Confirmation as to the existence of both Thomas and his restaurant would be greatly appreciated.

Queer as Folks said...

Savannah Highway...halfway from downtown Charleston and the on ramp to interstate 526. It is across from Palmetto Ford. The food is almost identical to Melvin's but the best thing about both Melvin and Thomas Bessinger's is the onion ring's!!! they are the size of donuts.

Anonymous said...

My absolute favorite BBQ is not in South Carolina. Sorry Gervais, I just don't go for the vinegar based, or the mustard based.

The ribs at Fat Matt's Rib Shack in Atlanta are the best I've ever eaten. I'll drive all the way to Atlanta for a slab of those and pitcher of beer.

Earl Capps said...

Emeril says Melvin's got the best cheeseburger in America. One day, I'll actually stop eating his barbeque and try it.

But those ONION RINGS he's got are GREAT!

Ya'll gotta check his place out!

Queer as Folks said...

Fat Matt's in Atlanta is really good but the best ribs you have to drive a little further than that. My three faves are number three the rendevous in Memphis. Number 2 the John 3:16 barbeue palace and house of spirituality Spring Hill Avenue in Mobile, Alabama and Number 1 Dreamland in Tuscaloosa.

Anonymous said...

Where's Uncle Maurice when you need him:

http://www.charleston.net/stories/?newsID=71501§ion=localnews