(photos by Kelsey Blackwell)
With only three gummy worms on hand and nearing the bottom of my bag of sour cream and onion potato chips, a pit stop was in order during my recent trip through Charleston.
I remembered from a Chowhound search a place called Alluette’s Café. It was said to serve something called “holistic soulfood,” which to me seemed a contradiction in terms (hormone-free pigs feet?) but interesting nonetheless. I’d scribbled the address on a hotel notepad and decided to investigate.
Truth be told, I wasn’t really hungry when I walked in to the packed restaurant. I think curiosity and the fear of an eventual empty belly are what lured me there. When I parked myself at the counter, I was glad they had. The chalkboard menu above the register read like “hippie soul” with standbys like fried croaker, barbecue wings and potato salad mingling with items oft-thought “granola-esque” – hummus, spinach salad and wild-caught salmon. The day’s offerings were surrounded by statements like “Vegan’s welcome,” “This is a no pork café,” “Slow food movement,” “Fresh local seafood,” and Organic and natural products.”
(With orders piling up overhead, Alluette does her thing in the kitchen)
Encouraged that whatever I ordered would be better for me than my usual gas-station fare, I selected the turkey burger with something called “geechi” sauce – a kind of cayenne-infused mayonnaise. I’ve since learned that “geechi” refers to Charleston’s once rich “Gullah Geechee” culture brought by Africans from the rice coast. I’m still not sure how authentic this recipe was, though I would much later find out it was quite tasty.
I say much later here because Alluette, she does indeed do all the cooking, and her husband were entirely overwhelmed with business. It was just them, no hostess, no waitresses, trying to please a whole lot of customers. When one woman ordered one of every vegan cookie to go, she was given three peanut butter cookies. When she protested, she was assured, “these are the best ones.” I chuckled a bit and made a mental note to get one for myself.
It may have been the pheromones of junk food I was emitting or maybe it’s just because I was the youngest person there, but after scoping me from her kitchen window that looked out onto the dining room, Alluette had a few questions for me. “Well I haven’t seen you in here, do you go to school? And before I could answer her, “I bet you’d like to pick up some tables?” It took me a minute to realize she meant wait tables, right then, in that moment. I gave it some thought, (the extra cash would have been nice) but eventually turned her down. The way customers kept arriving, I would have been there all day.
A mere hour later I was served my lunch. One hormone-free turkey burger infused with some secret herb blend (rosemary was definitely involved) that Alluette grows in her garden out back of the restaurant. The sandwich was topped with organic lettuce and tomato and accompanied by a reasonable serving of hand-cut French fries. So, here’s the truth. Like the cookie woman before me, my sandwich didn’t come exactly as I had ordered it – cheddar instead of Swiss, fries instead of organic coleslaw. But in her twenty some years as a chef, it’s clear Alluette knows best. I loved every bite.