Next to the day's special dishes, the chalkboard at Alluette's Café proudly proclaims a few phrases that may shock loyalists to the fried-chicken school of soul food: "Vegans Welcome," "This is a no Pork Cafe," "Organic & Natural Products," and "Fresh Local Seafood." Alluette Jones-Smalls has been cooking up what she calls "holistic soul food" in various ventures since 1993, but after she overcame the cancer that nearly claimed her life, she embraced the concept of fresh ingredients, free of toxic chemicals, with more vigor than ever.
Now, she's come back to her Charleston roots at Aluette's Café. She cooks everything up to order, which takes a little longer—but Travel + Leisure magazine makes it clear that it's worth the wait, calling the food "vegetable-centric, truly luscious, Southern food." O, The Oprah Magazine's Celia Barbour praised the shrimp as "quite possibly the tastiest … I've ever eaten, dusted with spicy flour and fried so lightly that each sweet crustacean bore a crisp, fragile shell." Alluette doesn't add sugar to any of her dishes or drinks—including her signature Aunt Mary's iced tea, which is sweetened with fruit juice.
Guests can admire the local artwork on Alluette's brightly painted walls as they wait for local shrimp over organic, seasonal greens or hormone-free grilled chicken with brown rice and lima beans. Alluette frequently invites live musicians, poets, and other artists to perform in the shop, and out on the patio, herbs and flowers uproot themselves to waltz for diners.
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In six locations around the Charleston area, King Street Grille rolls out upscale pub fare and a few dozen flat-screen televisions. Full of contemporary versions of traditional bar favorites, the menu unfolds to reveal mac ‘n’ cheese egg rolls, nine types of grilled, hand-formed burgers, and plates weighed down with comforting entrees, such as pork chops and Chicken Madeira. The bar stocks more than 100 beers and its own line of liquor to wash down meals or offer as gifts to the thirsty actors who reenact big games inside the TV. Throughout the week, the eatery pairs good food with good times by transforming its space into a venue for trivia nights, billiards, and live music.
The culinary craftspeople at HōM fuel in-house ping-pong competitions with a menu of boutique burgers. Kitchen magicians transform 6.5-ounce servings of brisket, chuck, and short rib into seven succulent burger incarnations. Incisors swoon over revamped classics including the mushroom and swiss, dressed temptingly in dijon mustard and caramelized onions, or the HōM Wrecker, garnished with apple-wood-smoked bacon, pepper jack, fried egg, and green-tomato chutney. Outside of the beefy staples, stomachs fill up on specialty sandwiches such as lamb draped in eggplant-tomato caponata, and falafel, which, like the best engagement rings, comes swathed in cucumber-yogurt sauce and horseradish hummus. Diners dunk hand-cut fries into two of six dips, mixing roasted-garlic mayo with smoked-onion remoulade or drenching them solely in apple-cider barbecue sauce. To cleanse uvulas of savory servings, the tap pours bubbling glasses of Yuengling or soda for underage taste buds.
The Crab Shack takes local focus to a whole new briny depth by plucking all their seafood from nearby waters. The menu of seafarer's feasts includes the parmesan-coated smoked crabeque sandwich ($11.99), tasso-gravy-covered lowcountry shrimp and grits ($15.99), and the frogmore bucket, which is stocked with two-dozen large shrimp, steamed with a special butter sauce ($23.99). Patrons can also order the she-crab soup, a trademark dish served with a heaping dose of feel-good, as all profits go to the Hollings Cancer Center.