By Becky Billingsley
Tuesday, April 3, 2012, Myrtle Beach - Big Mike is Mike Chestnut, a Myrtle Beach City Councilman and new owner of a soul food restaurant and grill putting out big beautiful flavors.
Chestnut, who opened Big Mike's Grill at 504 16th Ave. N. in mid-March, is a local restaurant veteran who is indeed grilling many dishes, like salad topped with grilled chicken, a $5.50 burger plate, grilled cheese, BLT, hot dogs and a fried baloney sandwich. Baskets are $7.50-$9 and come with fries, hushpuppies, coleslaw and a choice of chicken fingers, shrimp, fish or chopped sirloin with onions.
Other fried dishes include thick beer-battered onion rings, hot wings, fried cheese, corndogs and fried chicken sandwich, with a choice of white or dark meat.
All of that sounds great, but my mind was on the $8 Blue Plate Special, where you get a choice of one meat (fried chicken, meatloaf, smothered pork chop, fried pork chop), two sides (cabbage, green beans, mac and cheese, collards), rice and gravy or mashed potatoes, and cornbread with butter.
Before I describe why this meal was spectacularly delicious, know that the Queen is in the kitchen. That's right, Queen Esther "Queenie" Bowens, who for years had legions of loyal dining fans when she had Queen's Cafe on Carver Street, is helping Chestnut out in the mornings. Most recently she worked at PierHouse Restaurant at Second Avenue Pier, but now her influence is evident in Big Mike's soul food.
My server recommended the fried chicken, and I'm glad she did. It has a crunchy scald, and the meat on my leg and thigh was tender and moist with a hint of salt. I saw Chestnut grilling a slice of meatloaf for another customer, and it was a huge 4-inch thick portion.
Saltiness was more evident in the broad-chop collards, along with a meaty richness and a slight peppery kick. If someone was going to try collards for the first time, this flavorful recipe would make them fans forever. For those who gummed collards before they had milk teeth, it will bring back good old day memories when meat and fat were preferred flavorings.
The mac and cheese is house-baked with a chewy topping of good quality cheese. The pasta isn't mushy, and under the top cheese layer there's a light coating of creamy sauce. White rice is cooked so the large grains are separate and firm, and the brown gravy it's doused with exudes a rich mix of meat and spices.
Cornbread is sweet and has a light cake-like texture that easily crumbles, in a delectable way.
Dessert is an extra $1 - it was peach cobbler when I stopped by on April 2. Large peach slices are bathed in a rich and thick cinnamon sauce, and ultra-moist crust is part cake, part streusel.
You can eat Big Mike's healthy choices, but I'm going for the good stuff, because these Blue Plate Specials are too good to pass up.
The restaurant behind the Shell gas station and across from the K-Mart shopping center was formerly Baja Grill. Chestnut is keeping the surfboard sign, but Big Mike's will replace Baja. He has applied for a beer and wine sales permit. For the time being they do not accept debit and credit cards; you have to pay with cash.
Big Mike's Grill is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and the number is (843) 712-2048.