Welcome back to RouxBDoo's Blog, and although it is called Cajun and Creole, many of you know I occaisionally cover other types of Southern foods, like "Low Country", which is another of my absolute favorites. As you might remember I am periodically working out of Charleston, South Carolina, and it has afforded me a chance to try out some of the local cuisine.
What is Low Country? Well, geographically the Low Country is comprised of areas between Coastal South Carolina and Georgia. That coastal plain is below sea level giving it the moniker "Low Country." Culturally the area is known for some of its earlier inhabitants, known as the Gullah. The Gullah were a people made up of freed slaves, Caribbean or West Indian Islanders, and some of the local Native Americans. Many still inhabit barrier islands where their language is still partially intact and their cuisine has influenced dining and restaurants for many years.
One popular Low Country restaurant in Charleston is Jestine's Kitchen. Located at 251 Meeting Street, be aware there is usually a line around the corner most any time they're serving, which is opening at 11:00am through 9:30pm or 10:00pm on weekends. Jestine's is named in honor of Jestine Matthews, a Low Country resident born in 1885. Her mother was native American and her father a freed slave from Wadmalaw Island. The restaurant is a memorial to her cooking, by a family that had employed Jestine for several generations. Although she passed away at the tender age of 112 in 1997, her memory lives on in this restaurant and its food.
I arrived around noon on a Saturday, on a recommendation from my cab driver from the airport. I had my luggage in tow, which was no problem at all to the staff, I parked it inside the front door, poured a glass of ice-water, and took my place outside in line. Fortunately, there was a large menu board in the facing window that let waiting customers read the menu, rather than staring hungrily at the annoyed, dining patrons which is usually the case.
Once inside I looked over the menu and had a tough time deciding what I wanted, all of it looked appealing. I was craving shrimp, so I considered the fried shrimp basket. Now, as you sat down you received a small bowl of some bread-and-butter "icebox" pickles. These were very tasty and went well with the corn bread I got as a pre-appetizer. The appetizers included Chicken and Rice soup, Crabcakes, Corn Fritters, and the always overpriced Fried Green Tomatoes. Charleston restaurants seem to think that Friend Green Tomatoes rank up there with Foie Gras and Caviar. C'mon people, they're slices of tomato dusted with seasoned cornmeal, and deep fried... get over yourselves. So I went in another direction.
I chose the Corn Fritters. I'll have to say they were HUGE. For around 5 bucks you got two Corn-Grenades that were very dense and heavy, and I hate to say I was not really a fan. I was expecting light, hushpuppy-like fritters, maybe in a basket. The taste was OK but a little too bulky. Well, no worry, I didn't have to wait too long until my shrimp arrived. There were about 8 medium sized shrimp, lightly breaded and fried to perfection. They were very good but I could've used a few more, I guess I should've ordered the larger Fried Shrimp Platter. The accompanying slaw and fried okra were very tasty and nice to round out the meal.
I will say they have awesome iced tea. They call it "Jestine's Table Wine" that comes sweetened, if you so desire as with most restaurants in the South. Also I should point out that Jestine's offers Daily Blue Plate Specials in addition to the Salad, Sandwich, Basket, and Plate sections of the menu. There were some Low Country regulars as well as lots of seafood on the menu, the Pecan Crusted items sounded interesting. I was on my usual traveling budget and trying to avoid the sugars associated with desserts, so I bypassed them. I understand Jestine's also operates a sweet shop on Wentworth St. in Charleston as well, so I bet dessert would have been good. I seem to remember being offered Pecan Pie.
Overall, I thought the food was good, price wise the plates run between $10 to $15. The baskets are a bargain running from $5 to $9 as do the sandwiches. All together you can easily get a great meal for under $20, or thereabouts. The atmosphere is nice, decorated with a variety of Salt-n-Pepper shakers and other Southern kitsch that make this little place homey and inviting. The surly waitress I had was a bit snippy but that might be part of the ambience. The service was great nonetheless and I had a nice time overall. So when in Charleston, check out the line outside, calculate the heat index, and then determine if you want to try Jestine's... you might be glad you did.