The way locals frequent The Hungry Drover—with tenacity, persistence, and zeal—might suggest the restaurant has fed generations of Travelers Rest residents. In fact, John and Debbie Wilson opened the diner not quite three years ago.
The Drover, as locals refer to it, sits at the intersection just past Sandy Flat Berry Patch, a pensive brick façade on a gravel lot. Maps from the 1800s show this crossroads on the old drover road, used to steer hogs and turkey from Tennessee to Charleston.
What lies inside is nothing short of unapologetically good: chopped pork barbecue and tomato pie, sandwiches loaded on homemade bread, omelets with farm vegetables, biscuits laden with sausage gravy—all fresh, all local. If it’s produced within 20 miles, John Wilson will sit down over sweet tea and consider your goods. Eggs, raw milk, honey and molasses, grits and produce arrive from “thataway up this road” and “just there as the crow flies,” he says, gesticulating all the while.
The building, erected in 1949, was first Neves and Thompson Grocery Market, a Gulf filling station. Owner Ruby Neves, now 92, never imagined it as a restaurant—she feared Wilson would burn it down. It was Debbie’s distaste for fried foods that swayed her. You’ll find no fried food on the menu, and no fryers in the kitchen. Today Neves’s granddaughter Kelly works for the Wilsons, and though Ruby refuses to sell the building, the families boast a (very) long-term lease.
It’s a tough call between breakfast and lunch at the Drover. Except for Friday Supper, the restaurant opens at 8am and closes by 2pm. Mornings are filled with eggs, long-simmered grits, and a sourdough French toast so luscious it rivals Southern bread pudding.
At midday, diners contemplate barbecue and tomato pie. Pork shoulder, smoked every other day over a combination of hickory and local charcoal, appears on the barbecue sandwich as a Matterhorn of cascading ’cue on a homemade bun. Even the popular Cuban sandwich includes a stratum of chopped pork.
As for the tomato pie, there are two types offered: a traditional quiche layered with cheese and tomato, or a smoked Gouda and bacon variety. Both feature an astonishingly unsodden bottom crust.
There’s no shame in sampling both barbecue and pie, just be warned: the Wilsons frown on an unfinished plate.