What’s good here?
The chicken sandwich and the sweet tea. Drake’s Duck-In on Main Street has become a sort of legend around Columbia for both. According to the manager for the last 10 years, Edwina Harmon, people have tried to bribe her for the chicken sandwich batter recipe. Some try to guess the ingredients. She only smiles.
The chicken sandwich has been lauded as better, by some customers, than the chicken sandwiches from that “other” maker of chicken sandwiches. Very large and just crispy enough, the chicken sandwich packs in flavor without overdoing it.
Regulars, sometimes daily, buy sweet tea by the gallons. “People say it has just the right amount of sweetness,” says Shanelle Betterson, Harmon’s daughter, who is the head cashier. The same batter for the chicken sandwich is used to cook the other chicken offerings: individual pieces, dinners, a four-piece wing special (with a roll) for $3.99, and the regular lunch special chicken – leg, thigh, wing, rolls and small fries for $4.89. Drake’s also serves juicy burgers, plain, or with the works, with cheese, chili or bacon. There are bacon or ham, lettuce and tomato sandwiches, as well as barbecue, chicken salad and grilled chicken sandwiches. Plus there are hot dogs, pimento cheese or egg salad sandwiches, and an eight-inch ham and salami sub.
Drake’s is both a lunch place and a breakfast place. Breakfast begins at 7:30 a.m. each morning and ends at 10:30 a.m. Besides, of course, a chicken biscuit, there are many traditional breakfast choices, including platters, omelets, meat-filled biscuits and sides such as grits, toast and hash rounds. For dessert there is lemon meringue pie and ice cream.
Who operates Drake’s?
According to Harmon, current owner Steve Rowland worked for the original owners, the Drake family. When they were ready to retire, Rowland became the owner and has owned the restaurant for 42 years. He works every day during the lunch hour. Harmon says she started working at Drake’s at age 18, took a few years off, and then came back as the manager. It is the only job she has ever had in Columbia.
All of Harmon’s three children have worked at Drake’s, with Shanelle working there since she was a teenager. Wherever Shanelle goes, no matter if it is the grocery store or Myrtle Beach, she is inevitably recognized by someone who calls her “Ms. Drake” or “Ms. Duck-In”.
What does Drake’s look like?
The color scheme is bright blue and orange. The setting is open with seating for around 80 at four- and two-top booths. There are a few pictures of downtown Columbia on the walls and the message “Quakin’ Good Food” painted over the order counter and “Quakin’ Good Ice Cream” painted over the ice cream area.
Who eats here?
Many from the downtown area are regulars at Drake’s: businesspeople, bankers, those working in the justice system, construction workers, and politicians. Drake’s is where many of the downtown courts suggest that jurors go for lunch. USC college students eat here, and many people drive in from the outskirts of Columbia.
Harmon says she is surprised at the number of people who move away and stop in to eat when they visit because they miss the food. She says probably 90 percent of customers are regulars. And, she points out, that there are so many “regular” that she knows about their lives and their food preferences.