The Thai and I … and Jell-O

Back in March, a co-worker and I went to North Greenville University (which is actually in Tigerville, S.C.), to host a booth for our ministry. The first day, we tried a gas station-turned-restaurant called The Thai and I across the street. We were that hungry.

First, let me advise that no matter how hungry you are, you should NOT eat Thai in Tigerville, S.C., which, according to the 2010 census, has a whopping population of 1,312 Tigervillians. None of whom, I’m guessing, are Thai.

Most of the menu was devoted to things like hamburgers, chicken fingers and tater tots. People stared as we walked in, probably thinking, “Hm, not the regulars,” and our waitress took her sweet time coming over before bending down at our table wearing short shorts and a tie-dyed shirt with a hole in it.

Nothing about The Thai and I said “Thai,” except a sad attempt at some leafy decorations, a bottle of soy sauce next to the ketchup and a small Thai section on the menu. A few guys sat in swivel bar stools at the front counter while we ordered, chatting up the young cook who wore a camo hat and talked with a toothpick in his mouth. (Not the wooden kind of toothpick; the kind with a half-inch piece of floss on the rounded end.) A couple of our fellow customers talked about raising squirrels, and one guy had a shirt that said “Eat Sleep Hunt.” He used words like “bigun” and “right down’ere.” I swear it was like a scene out of a movie where two misguided out-of-towners take a wrong turn and end up in the backwoods of some no-name town where people eat roadkill and everyone is related. … OK, maybe not that bad, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that’s the case. (By the way, I found the picture online because I didn’t want to take one myself, afraid that someone would see me and think I was mocking the restaurant … which I just did.)

I will say that the Thai food wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, so semi-props to them. … And just so I don’t sound like a complete uppity city girl, no, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with camo and “bigun,” but when you try to mesh that with spicy noodles, I’m a bit hesitant.

Oh, and here’s another photo I found while searching Google Images for “The Thai and I”:

I bet this guy had no idea he’d end up on my blog one day. Yes, I make dreams come true. …

Now it’s time to share a second restaurant story, which also took place in South Carolina. This happened last month when Sara and I took a road trip to Florida to visit our other friend, Sarah (with an h).

On the way down, Sara saw a sign for Lizard’s Thicket and said we must stop. I obliged and we moseyed on in and sat down to a menu that said “Country Cookin’ Makes Ya Good Lookin'” on the front.

“OK, this looks good,” I thought. “Not the way I want to eat every day, but everyone can use fried chicken and okra once in a while, right?”

But then I turned to the “vegetables” section, which listed items like macaroni and cheese, applesauce and Jell-O. The menu even said “Macaroni and cheese IS a vegetable!”

Is it? When did that happen? I leave school and all of a sudden Pluto is no longer a planet and macaroni and cheese is a vegetable? What are we teaching people these days?!

Sara, of course, was appalled that I, as a Southerner, would never put mac and cheese in the same category as green beans, creamed corn and mashed potatoes. … You know, actual vegetables.

“Saying ‘vegetables’ is the same as saying ‘sides’!” she demanded.

“Definitely not,” I said. “If they want to list sides, why don’t they just say ‘sides’?”

“Because this is the South!” she said. “You’ve never seen that before? What’s wrong with you?”

We later got into a fuss about which is better: cornbread or rolls. I say rolls; Sara unequivocally says cornbread.

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6 thoughts on “The Thai and I … and Jell-O

  1. Most of the information in your post is correct, however it is a wise practice to make sure that you do ALL of your research before insulting a ‘down-home’ business. First, the building was never a gas station. Second, the original business owners were a married couple- a white man and a Thai woman. They were fortunate enough to spend each day cooking and working together in the business that they had built. The husband typically cooked the American style food on the menu, while the wife focused on the Thai cuisine. A few years ago the owner’s wife passed away, leaving the business in the sole hands of her disgruntled husband. Without his wife, he has continued operating the business they built together because, quite frankly, it is almost the only thing he has left. I’m not saying that the ‘Thai and I’ has the best food around- it doesn’t. But, the ‘Thai and I’ is a local tradition, inspired by a creative and passionate couple- something that this world could use a little more of. I hope your next ministry trip is more satisfying for you.

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  2. Hi, Zach. It’s been about a year and a half since I wrote this post, but I’m glad you filled me in on some of the background. When I researched it myself, I found a couple of sources listing it as a former gas station, but my apologies if that’s incorrect. The purpose of the post was to share kind of a comedic experience as an outsider and not to delve into the history of the restaurant; still, it seems there’s a sweet story behind it. And I agree, small businesses run by passionate entrepreneurs are a plus. Most of the people who read my blog know that I have a somewhat “down home” background myself, so my purpose wasn’t to offend (although rereading it, I can see how that would happen). Anyway, just wanted to say that I appreciate your input. And the reminder to represent Christ well in my writing. Thanks for caring enough to comment!

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  3. I teach at NGU and have had the experience of eating at the Thai and I–a very creative name once you learn that an Air Force cook stationed in Thailand found the love of his life there. The menu was quite reflective of the blend as she made the egg rolls and other Thai food and always created customers with a smile while he cooked American fast and greasy food on the grill. One of the profs who lived on campus back before her retirement and departure from this earth took me there the first time and introduced me. I haven’t been there to eat in years since she and the Thai both passed away. It definitely has been a hangout at lunch for working locals for the 18 years I’ve worked at NGU. These good ole boys have enjoyed memories made there together. One thing your original piece didn’t mention that even when you leave Thai and I after lunch, the aroma stays with you throughout the rest of the day.

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  4. I know this post was written several years ago and that I just saw it, however I’d like to put my “two cents” in. The couple who now run the restaurant are the son and daughter-in-law of the original owners. So yes, there are Thai people in Tigerville. I have eaten there quite often. The food is tasty and the service is good. I’m always greeted warmly and made to feel welcome. As a member of the University community, I like the fact that it’s a place where I can meet and interact with people from the local community. Is the food strictly authentic Thai? No. Is it good? Yes. Is the restaurant worth patronizing? Definitely!

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