Go Columbia

What’s Good Here? The Secret Garden in West Columbia

A dinner plate from The Secret Garden, a buffet-style restaurant in West Columbia
A dinner plate from The Secret Garden, a buffet-style restaurant in West Columbia Handout

What’s good here?

The Secret Garden, which offers buffet-style dining, specializes in barbecue that is slow roasted on the premises using “real” hickory wood, according to I.P. “Sonny” Poole. The sauce for the barbecue is not mustard, ketchup, or vinegar-based, but a mixture of all three.

The restaurant also serves pan-fried chicken, super cheesy macaroni and cheese, and Salisbury steak with rich gravy and mushrooms. The hash is made from an old family recipe using Boston butts and quality hamburger meat slow cooked with a special sauce, which Poole says is good on grits in the morning or for lunch or dinner.

Many of the items on the buffet come from family recipes that have been passed down, and from recipes provided by church members. At least 50 percent of the vegetables served at The Secret Garden are grown on the owners’ farm,

including rutabagas, collards, peas, butterbeans, tomatoes, squash, eggplant and green peppers. Few seasonings are used: salt, pepper, and a little onion.

Poole plans to grow some items in a greenhouse to allow more produce to be readily available all year round.

How did The Secret Garden get its start?

“We are not in this to make a lot of money, we want to give people old-fashioned, quality, clean food at a good price. I’ve been eating this food for 66 years – and I love it myself. We just want to share it.”

A farmer by birth and by trade, (“I was born on a farm and I will be buried on a farm”) Sonny says the family first began to feed people from church on Sundays with produce they grow on their 125-acre farm 27 miles from The Secret Garden restaurant. Then two years ago they opened for a buffet lunch on Sundays.

When his daughter Melissa posted information about what they were doing on Facebook, more people sought out The Secret Garden. Now they are open on Saturdays for lunch and dinner and will be open, most likely by May at the latest, on Fridays for dinner and possibly for lunch by summertime.

On Friday nights, the Pooles are planning a fish camp with catfish stew, fried catfish, salmon patties and hushpuppies.

Who eats here?

People mostly learn about The Secret Garden from Facebook, Yelp, and by word of mouth. “We get people in here from Elgin, Batesburg-Leesville, and we even had some Asian girls who were visiting USC find out about us and come in to eat.”

What does the place look like?

The Secret Garden, tucked among the Poole’s nursery business, is simple yet inviting. Sonny says he likes it when people come in hungry and want to say hello. Currently, about 75 can sit down inside, while there is room for about 25 on a patio and deck. Sonny says he plans to expand sometime in the future.

The Secret Garden

1119 Methodist Park Road, West Columbia

PRICES: Under $10

HOURS: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday . Friday hours available soon.

INFO: (803) 608-5050

Deena C. Bouknight, Special to Go Columbia