Taste of the Islands

Posted On September 8, 2020

Caribbean Restaurants Spice up the Midlands

by April Blake

Try opening a restaurant during a global health pandemic to really test your restaurateur skills and creativity, which is what local owner Michelle Edwards did. Then for a little more fun, try keeping your other nightlife-centric restaurant running at the same time.

Edwards has owned Legacy Caribbean Bar and Grill, located at 215 O’Neil Court in Columbia, for 10 years (it was located on Parklane Road until late 2018) and opened Pon Di River Caribbean Bar and Bistro in the old Applebee’s at 2344 Broad River Road in June 2020 — yes, during the thick of social distancing and uncertainty over what restrictions would be placed on restaurants and bars. “Before the pandemic hit, we did fairly well, then we went to curbside only, so it was slow for the first month then it got better,” she said. “It’s so weird but we sell more food now than we did before!”

The two restaurants are very similar except in size. Both places offered (pre-pandemic) an all-you-can-eat Caribbean buffet Monday through Friday, to give patrons the opportunity to try a wide variety of Caribbean dishes. The buffet is currently unavailable, but she looks forward to offering it as an option again in the future. “The biggest thing with Caribbean food is the spice,” said Edwards, who wanted to appeal to a wider audience. “When we first opened it was all Caribbean food and I realized I had to Americanize it a bit.”

Some of the menu’s Americanization shows up in the form of different wing flavors, fish and shrimp combos, burgers, and salads. The house-mixed spice blends, such as the jerk spice that adorns the jerk chicken, is a bit milder to accommodate a wider palate. Southerners, however, are a prime audience to enjoy many traditional Caribbean foods, like the best-selling oxtails. “A lot of Southern people eat oxtails but here, the spices make it!” said Edwards.

Edwards had some other recommendations for people who may be unfamiliar with the island flavors: jerk chicken macaroni, curry shrimp, and their peas and rice dish which she likens to a dirty rice with kidney beans. Other popular items include their collard greens and fresh Caribbean cabbage which has a satisfying crunch to it and is topped with a piquant pepper sauce.

The menus at both locations are rounded out with options like beef stew in a special Caribbean sauce, curry goat, a brown fish stew, rice and peas, plantains, and king fish — after all Caribbean cooking has plenty of seafood options, being an island-based cooking style. It is a meat-heavy menu, but they do offer a vegetable plate with three or four sides for those looking for a lighter meal.

In pre-pandemic times, Legacy was a big nightlife spot in the northeastern corner of Columbia. At over ten thousand square feet, their reggae nights and karaoke nights are popular draws. A DJ, a little dancing, and a (currently closed off) pool hall complete the nightlife reggae vibe that brought people from all over Columbia to Legacy. Edwards is eager for things to get back to normal, though she is glad to be able to offer food service until late in the night these days for the many people who work less traditional hours, and don’t have as many food options.

Both Legacy and Pon Di River are open for takeout from 11 a.m. until midnight, seven days a week. To-go business is brisk at both locations. Customers can order online at legacycaribbeanbarandgrill.com or through Uber Eats. Pickup orders can also be placed over the phone at 803.708.8481. Additionally, both locations offer pick-up catering for gatherings and events of any size. Edwards is making sure both restaurants are taking all safety precautions including face shields, sanitizer, and following the South Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association guidelines.

If life needs a little spicing up, Caribbean cuisine is a good way to try out familiar foods with a little extra zing.

Legacy Caribbean Bar & Grill
215 O’Neil Court | Columbia, SC 29223
Current Hours: Monday-Friday, 11 a.m. – midnight

Pon Di River Caribbean Bar and Bistro
2344 Broad River Road | Columbia, SC 29210
Current Hours: Monday-Friday, 11 a.m. – midnight