L.T.’s Home Cooked Meals on Lady’s Island — where the gravy was nectar and fried pork chops slipped past the fried shrimp as the most popular special for more than a quarter of a century — has closed.
With it goes a seasoned slice of Beaufort life, where the bricklayer and the judge sat side by side in a tiny building that looked more like a UFO than a meat-and-three.
Owner and cook Larry Taylor became an institution himself, like the fluffy buttermilk-and-lard biscuits you’d never guess came from the hands of a 6-foot-4 man with the voice of a Harley-Davidson and a son drafted into the NFL.
The menu — and the “Cash Only. No Checks. No Exception” sign at the cash register — were vintage Taylor. No nonsense, with a smile.
“It takes more to frown than laugh,” he said.
A steady cadence at L.T.’s added a dash of Texas Pete to civilian life in a laid-back Marine town.
Every Monday it was shrimp and gravy, or pork chops. On Tuesday, spaghetti or country style steak. Wednesday, fried chicken. Thursday, hamburger steak or spare ribs. Friday, fried shrimp or fish combo. With rice or mashed potatoes and gravy. Maybe some green beans. Biscuit or corn bread. Ice tea. Cash only.
L.T.’s was open six days a week for lunch. Then Taylor would go to his second job. He’s still running the private Yacht Club downtown, where he’s been the voice of authority for 40 years.
Taylor said he’s been holding down two jobs since he was 15.
He’s 66 now. For years, gout has kept him from eating the crab and shrimp he loves. But recently he’s had heart issues. And some mysterious seizures.
After telling customers for 10 years he was going to close at the end of the year, it finally happened one day in September. He said he had a seizure in the kitchen and called it a day.
Life never hinted at being easy for Taylor.
He was reared in a family of nine children that lived off the land and the creeks in the northern reaches of Beaufort County.
Being from Sheldon meant he never played ball at Beaufort High, where he was in the class of 1969, because that’s a long walk home.
He said his first job was picking tomatoes for “a dime a damn bucket.”
He baled hay in the hot sun at Brays Island, pulling $25 a week.
After high school, he started working indoors, learning the kitchen life at the Bachelor Officers Quarters at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.
He also cooked at the Piggy Park, KFC, and the Village Inn and another restaurant owned by Fred Knight.
One time after having to wait to get in a place to work, he insisted on having his own key from then on.
When he opened his own restaurant, he did every bit of the cooking.
“I can’t trust a soul but me,” he said. “They would serve up all kind of burned-up stuff. I said, ‘If you can’t eat it, don’t serve it.’ ”
He admits to being hard to work for.
But he’s proud of his work ethic.
“If I was white, I’d be a millionaire,” he’s often told friends. “Or if I had two like me.”
Beaufort looked to Taylor for more than comfort food.
“He’s off the hook smart,” said John Trask III. “He has an innate sense of order. He’s a terribly disciplined guy. He’s dependable, and people turn to him for advice. He’s complex. He’s an incredibly stoic person. His reaction to a problem might be, ‘Oh, well.’ ”
Beaufort business owner Matt McAlhaney said, “He’s got this presence. People expect leadership from him. People look to him for comfort. What he says goes, no questions asked.”
As a result, they say the self-taught cook and businessman who has very little to say became one of the most recognizable people in town.
“I don’t know anyone who has touched as many people in this town on as many levels as Larry has,” Trask said.
Edward Dukes, Trask’s business partner, said, “If you didn’t know Larry, you wanted to — or it meant you hadn’t been here long enough.”
Over all these years of daily specials, Taylor lost his wife, Izetta, and saw a son sentenced to life in prison for crimes he said his son did not do, but “he wouldn’t tell who did it.”
L.T.’s had posters on the walls featuring another son, Devin Taylor, who starred in football at Beaufort High and the University of South Carolina before playing four seasons with the Detroit Lions. Devin Taylor was raised by his mother, Sylvia Cuyler of Lady’s Island, and Larry Taylor credits her with making all the right decisions. Devin earned a degree in integrated information technology and was working on his master’s degree when he was taken in the fourth round of the NFL draft in 2013.
Taylor said he saw his 6-foot-8 son play only a couple of times in college.
It’s the same reason he cooked six days a week at L.T.’s.
“Trying to make a living.”