“I hope nobody ate breakfast,” were the initial words of food writer and City Paper contributor Jeff Allen on Friday morning as he addressed a group waiting to be schooled on Charleston’s Gullah and Soul food cuisine. The tour started at Marion Square where Jeff gave a brief overview of the area and the five restaurants on the agenda.
After a nice historical stroll through the neighborhood between King Street and St. Philip Street, the first stop was Dave’s Carryout. We could smell the fried food from about a block away. Everyone crammed into the small joint run by Sandra McCray and two family members. Small brown bags filled with fried shrimp, hush puppies, and tartar sauce were handed out to each guest. The shrimp was flavorful enough that it didn’t require any sauce.
Jeff then led the group over to one of Charleston’s best kept soul food secrets, Ernie’s. A nice spread was setup that consisted of cornbread, a gelatinous okra soup, and butterbeans so good you could hear everyone in the room hum “mmmm” in unison. Ernie’s doesn’t advertise, the bowl of butterbeans speaks for itself.
A shuttle then took everyone up to “The neck” of Charleston, which is basically the border of Charleston and North Charleston, where the sisters of Bertha’s Kitchen cooked up a crispy fried pork chop, cabbage, and rice.
At that point everyone was getting full and in need of a nap but two of the most important stops were still ahead, including the kitchen of a Charleston legend, Martha Lou.
Tables were setup outside and Martha Lou herself started carrying out trays of food that became part of a full-on buffet of rice, baked chicken, butterbeans, and mac n cheese. Word got out that Martha’s fried chicken is the best in town so she ended up bringing out a tray of that as well. It was agreed by everyone that Martha Lou was not messing around — this woman can cook.
Finally, the group was shuttled through some of the rough parts of Charleston on the way to Alluette’s holistic café for dessert. The good news was that Alluette uses almost all organic ingredients. We started off with a cup of decadent dark chocolate mousse followed by a plate of pound cake, bread pudding, and apple pie, which Jeff calls “the best apple pie I’ve ever had in my life.” I tend to agree.
After Alluette and Jeff made some closing comments the group applauded to the close of such a wonderful event. The stories about the rich soul food history that Jeff was able to share with everyone were truly amazing, and all of the food was cooked with pure love. The only thing that could make the event even better is a final stop at the battery where a spread of hammocks are lined up for an afternoon slumber.
We @ guerrilla cuisine just got in some super cool cookbooks
and we want you to be the first to get your hungry lil hands on one or even two of our first in a signature series.
Look for jimihatt at a wine + food party this weekend
Last year, Circa 1886 held an ice cream flavor contest, and the winner’s flavor — Seersucker — was featured on the menu during the summer. To view video of last year's ice cream contest (full disclosure: I was one of the judges) visit the restaurant's YouTube channel .
This year, they’re looking for a cookie that embodies Charleston. Will it have boiled peanuts? What about grits? Perhaps some pralines and benne seeds.
f you’ve got a clever idea for a cookie, go to their website and make your suggestions. Or submit a video tagged CharlestonChristmasCookie on YouTube.
If you win, your cookie will be featured on the dessert menu in December and, more importantly, you’ll get a free dinner for four at Circa 1886.
Showing a modest burst of progress, Charleston has gotten another female head chef.
J. Paul'z sous chef Tracy Little is sous no longer. Little has moved up after former head chef Daniel Caruso moved to Rochester, N.Y. with his new bride and took a position at a Wegman's Grocery Store restaurant called Tastings.
Little has been working at J. Paul'z for the past year and joins maybe three other head female chefs in our male-dominated culinary scene. With former positions at The Mustard Seed and Fat Hen, Little will be crafting a seasonal menu with tomato pie, pan-seared grouper, and truffle mac 'n' cheese. You go girl.
What's next, Charleston? Equal pay?!