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With that in mind we posed the question to a few experts — where do you go to get good Gullah food? From gumbo to grits, Goodwine, Gullah oral historian Giovanni Richardson, Charleston Culinary Institute’s Kevin Mitchell and Chef BJ Dennis (read about his Gullah feast on page 18), shared where they like to go for Lowcountry Gullah cuisine.
2332 Meeting Street Road
Long noted as serving the best okra stew in town, Dennis says that while Bertha’s may fall under the term “soul food,” the kitchen does Gullah right too. And while you may not realize where Bertha’s is, you’ve likely driven past the little blue building a dozen times. Head up Meeting Street Road and you’ll find it. The kitchen dishes up stewed collard greens, mac and cheese, lima beans, and more at affordable prices.
Charlie Brown Seafood
4726 Rivers Ave. N. Charleston
Whether it’s fresh catch or a hot meal, Charlie Brown Seafood has you covered. The family-run operation sells fresh-caught crabs, but Dennis says they’ll also cook up crab, shrimp, and clams. And City Paper reviewer Eric Doksa says Charlie Brown’s fried garlic crab is the best he’s ever had.
16 Blake St.
In her 1970 book Vibration Cooking: Or, the travel notes of a Geechee Girl, Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor wrote, “White folks act like they would starve for sure if they couldn’t have a hunk of meat. Eatin’ neck bones don’t bother me.” That prevalence of neck bones in Gullah dishes can still be found at Hannibal’s Kitchen. “It’s the real deal,” says Goodwine. Tucked on the East Side behind Trident Tech’s Palmer campus, locals having been heading to Hannibal’s for traditional dishes like whole whiting, crab rice, and okra soup plates with smoked neck bones and pigtails since 1985.
Martha Lou’s Kitchen
1068 Morrison Dr.
Today a national treasure, for years Martha Lou’s got by on the business of neighborhood regulars. But thanks to folks like Chef Sean Brock and headlines in the New York Times, now it seems — as the parking lot license plates will attest — that every out-of-town visitor wants a bite from this tiny pink eatery. And Goodwine emphatically agrees that Martha Lou’s qualifies as Gullah. “She serves a lot of different native Gullah Geechee dishes,” she says. Chitterlings and okra soup regularly make the menu in addition to more soul food dishes like fried chicken and bread pudding. But perhaps the most amazing thing is that Martha Lou is still the one behind the stove, serving up her classics at age 85.
Nana’s Seafood & Soul LLC
176 Line St.
Kenyatta McNeil and his mother Carolyn McNeil run this spot on Line Street with the focus on cooking with what you have. Of course, being from Charleston, that means seafood. Nana’s menu changes frequently and includes dishes like hoppin’ john, string beans, chitterlings, collards, oyster purlou, turnips, and, of course, garlic crabs.
My Three Sons of Charleston Restaurant
1910 E. Montague Ave., North Charleston
The crab soup at My Three Sons is one of Alice Warren’s specialties
“She makes some real good deviled crabs,” says Dennis of Alice Warren’s My Three Sons restaurant. Warren is something of a culinary legend in Charleston. She’s been professionally cooking for 40-plus years. First it was at the Ladson House on President Street before opening her own Alice’s Fine Cooking on King Street. Warren was working at Ike’s Hot Chicken and Fish on Meeting Street until it closed last September. Now, her loyal followers can once again find her serving up her time-tested specials on East Montague Avenue. That means dishes like Alice’s crab soup, seafood rice, and banana pudding.
Buckshot’s Restaurant / Joe’s Catering Service
9498 N. Highway 17, McClellanville
Head up 17 North to McClellanville, make a U-Turn, and you’ll come to Buckshot’s. This family operation has been in the carry-out and catering business for 30-plus years. “They, in my opinion, are the truest Gullah restaurant doing farm-to-table,” says Dennis. Mitchell agrees. “April Mazyck, who owns it, she truly knows and understands the culture,” says Mitchell. Mazyck keeps the cozy dining room filled with plates of fried catfish, cabbage with hamhocks, and okra stew. And if you hit it up on a Friday night, you just might get to enjoy some entertainment when Buckshot’s hosts Southern soul evenings with live music and all-you-can-eat oysters or crab legs.
Burnin’ Down South
198 Okatie Village Dr., Suite 108, Bluffton
If you ever ate at Hilton Head’s Roastfish & Cornbread, then you know Chef David Young. Young is now heading up his new operation, Bluffton’s Burnin’ Down South. But you can find the same Gullah staples — think shrimp gumbo, red rice Gullah bowls, and alligator. “This place does truly international food,” says Goodwine. Though it requires a road trip, she says it’s worth it. “Most people wouldn’t find it and know it’s a Gullah Geechee-owned and-operated restaurant. He’s taken traditional foods and added international flare.”
Dye’s Gullah Fixin’s 840 William Hilton Pkwy. Hilton Head
“Dye’s Gullah Fixin’s is on Hilton Head Island and it’s more of a home-type setting, like a diner,” explains Goodwine. Dye Scott-Rhodan calls herself an outland Gullah having grown up in Ridgeland, S.C. One of 10 children, she said, “We had a lot of love, but not much else.” Making due meant learning to cook from her mother and grandmother, with many ingredients coming from the garden. Today, Scott-Rhodan follows the same tradition by using only the freshest ingredients for her Lowcountry boils, flounder with Gullah seasoning, and deviled crabs. But if you’re going to make the drive, make a reservation. Scott-Rhodan cooks from scratch, and if you don’t call ahead, you aren’t getting dinner.
5925 Savannah Hwy. Ravenel
“I can say only one thing, garlic crabs — awesome,” says Richardson. The Brown family serves up the classic Gullah dish at their colorful fish market where patrons can buy fresh catch and conch stew to go. Seafood platters sell for $19.69 a plate but include a choice of four items which can be anything from three large pieces of whiting to 10 shrimp to five oysters to two pieces of shark.
So why should you go to these places? Mitchell says eating Gullah cuisine is an act of historical preservation. “Field slaves who had nothing, said, ‘We got these pig feet, we have chittlin’s,’ and they created cuisine from those products that other people thought were inferior to sustain their lives,” says Mitchell. “In their own right they were geniuses. And we have to keep those traditions alive.”