Miss Ellie's Island Soul
162 Seven Farms Drive
Entrée Prices: Inexpensive ($6- $11)
Serving: Breakfast & Lunch
Daniel Island has proven a tough nut to crack for restaurateurs. The neighborhoods are fully occupied, and plenty of large companies have set up headquarters there. But things still haven't quite clicked on the culinary scene.
Laura Albert's Tasteful Options has established itself as a lunchtime favorite, and Ken Vedrinski has received rave reviews for Sienna, the Island's only fine-dining offering. A stream of sandwich, pizza, and ice cream joints have proven less successful, as have some more promising upstarts such as the under-appreciated Arlaana and downtown-transplant Baker's Café, both of which recently closed their doors. Daniel Island office workers routinely drive over the Don Holt Bridge to Montague Avenue in North Charleston or over the Wando Bridge to Long Point Road in search of lunch variety.
But, hope springs eternal, as the recent opening of Miss Ellie's Island Soul attests. Miss Ellie's has taken over the old Baker's Café location and brings Daniel Island a dose of down-home cooking that probably wasn't in the Guggenheim Foundation's master plan.
At lunch there's a selection of salads and sandwiches, but the Blue Plate Specials are the real focal points. The lineup rotates, and fried chicken, fried whiting, meatloaf, and chicken pot pie are usually to be found. These are served with two sides and a basket of corn bread.
The chicken pot pie ($8.95) comes to the table in a brown ceramic pot with a square of pastry draped over the top. Beneath the deeply-browned crust awaits a rich broth full of chicken, carrots, onion, and green peas. Tinted yellow from melted cheese, the pot pie is tasty and satisfying. The fried chicken ($8.95) is excellent as well, with a crispy, golden-brown batter and tender meat inside, though both the flavor and the price leaves one wanting more than just a single breast piece.
In classic country fashion, Miss Ellie's isn't afraid of loading up the veggies with meat. The lima beans are cooked with chunks of ham and have a nice vinegar tang to them. The collard greens are accompanied by big lumps of pork and, once doctored up with Texas Pete Pepper Sauce, make for a fine side item. The mashed potatoes are good and creamy, though the brown gravy is a little overly-starched.
I'm a charter member of the Real Cornbread Ain't Got No Sugar Society, but I have to admit that if you are going to adulterate corn bread with sugar, you ought to do it Miss Ellie's way — so moist and sweet you can treat it like cake and save yourself a couple of bucks on dessert.
Miss Ellie's serves breakfast, too — a rarity on Daniel Island. The morning menu runs the traditional Southern diner gamut, with biscuits and gravy, French toast, pancakes, and omelets. Ellie's Favorite ($6.95) provides a representative sampling: country ham, eggs, and your choice of home fries, grits and toast, or a biscuit. The portions are big, with a heaping mound of eggs and a generous bowl of golden-brown potatoes. The sodium count might make your cardiologist cringe, but it's real country cooking.
Miss Ellie's is a family affair. Owner Melody Shelver named the restaurant after her mother, Elodie Skipper, who at age 83 still bakes the desserts, and Shelver's three sons work in the dining room and kitchen. There are a lot of little country touches to the dining area like the square "Mom's Kitchen" salt shakers, the sweetgrass baskets in which the cornbread is served, and the burlap sacks under clear plastic that serve as tablecloths. Melody Shelver is warm and personable, greeting diners brightly as they come in and thanking them on the way out. It all makes for a very comfortable, enjoyable atmosphere.
The prices are a little steep for country cooking, but you're paying for that Daniel Island rent. In the end, it's the food that counts, and Miss Ellie's blue plate specials and big breakfasts leave you full and satisfied.
I've worked on Daniel Island for the past six years, and even lived there briefly in 2002. In that time, the island has grown dramatically, following its New Urbanism plan, but it still has more of the feel of a high-end subdivision than the "island town" the marketing material promotes. The scale is too big, the streets a little too wide, the buildings a bit too nice and a bit too far back from the road. The most common complaint I hear about Daniel Island is that it has a creepy, Stepford Wives aura. A friendly, down-home café like Miss Ellie's can't fix that on its own, but it's a promising start.