Gene Antley was a senior on the 1975 University of South Carolina football squad that walloped rival Clemson 56-20, and it was a handful of former teammates, including Jerome Provence and Tony Penny, that encouraged him to open up what is now one of the most popular restaurants in the greater Columbia area.
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Back in Antley's playing days from 1972-1975, other notable Gamecocks were Jeff Grantz, Ron "Sunshine" Bass from Remember the Titans, Bill Kittredge, John Dantonio, and Mark Dantonio, who is the current head football coach for 3rd ranked Michigan State. South Carolina had to battle opposing talent in the likes of University of Georgia quarterback Ray Goff and North Carolina State University running back Stan Fritts. A handful of the top teams in the country were Houston, Nebraska, Notre Dame, LSU, and the Oklahoma Sooners, coached by Barry Switzer, who defeated Michigan for the 1975 National Championship, 14-6.
When commenting about which team was the most feared, Antley sat up and quickly replied, "Houston. They were huge, so big compared to anyone else we had seen." In a memorable contest with Houston, South Carolina actually had the lead late in the 4th quarter, only to see the Cougars execute the Veer offense to perfection and punch in the winning score.
Hailing from the rural Cope area outside of Orangeburg, Gene Antley saw most of his playing time in college at defensive end and briefly played semi-pro ball in Charlotte. And it wasn't until after a successful insurance career that Antley decided to help grow the family business, along with his three brothers, when they opened the doors to Antley's Barbecue in Orangeburg in 1998.
Their dad and a couple uncles had been running a Duke's restaurant in town that was purchased back in 1973, and the opportunity to expand was too appealing to refuse. The combination of the Duke's family pork recipes, an untraced plantation recipe for the beloved fried chicken, and Gene's mother's and relatives' homemade sides, was the spread that got the community raving.
In 2002, Antley and business partner Becky Headden, brought the magic to Columbia and established the dive barbecue joint named Palmetto Pig near the shadows of the Colonial Life Arena, where the old Shealy's Sandwich Shop once operated. The aroma catches you from hundreds of yards away, and the nostalgic atmosphere upon opening the glass doors provides a comforting sensation.
Unless you arrive very early or very late, you will have to patiently stand in line and enjoy the decor on the dock wood walls, such as the 1975 senior picture of Antley's Gamecock teammates, who were dressed appropriately for a night out at The Warehouse in their bright fly collar shirts, bell bottoms, and manicured hair styles. Antley laughingly recalled telling John Dantonio that his long, wavy hair made him look like "Sir Lancelot".
After soaking in the scene and making payment at the cashier, a buffet of chopped pork, pork skins, hash and Rice, fried chicken, hush puppies, baked beans, mac and cheese, green beans, potato salad, cole slaw, and succulent pickles awaits. A choice of three different sauces, and, of course, pitchers of sweet tea are provided within an arms reach at every table. Banana pudding, the traditional southern dessert offered with barbecue, coats the stomach, but you now also have the choice of homemade red velvet or carrot cake for purchase.
Sit where you'd like, stay as long as you'd like, eat as much as you'd like, and you are going to leave a happy camper.Former and current Gamecock coaches and players frequent the restaurant, but you could very well stumble across tempted visitors like Bob Knight, Mitt Romney, Clemson fans, or Antley's lifelong crush in actress Olivia Hussey. And if you think you see Terry Bradshaw, you've found owner Gene Antley, who people frequently mistake for the famous Pittsburgh Steelers' quarterback.
The surviving, delectable family recipes will continue to make Palmetto Pig a must-stop destination for regulars and first-timers alike, and with the Gamecocks' recent success and five game winning streak against Clemson on the gridiron, The University of South Carolina is establishing itself in "Pigskin" as well.
Gordon Shuford is a member of the South Carolina BBQ Association, and a regular contributor to Gamecock Pride.
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