by Eric Doksa
“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.