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.
Dessert refuses to be an afterthought at Ye Ole Fashioned Ice Cream & Sandwich Cafe. More than 30 ice-cream flavors—repeatedly lauded by the Charleston City Paper and Moultrie News—pile atop cones or blend into milk shakes, and classic banana splits make mouths water with their pecans and cherries. The café’s scoops of amaretto cherry or java chunk are generous, living up to the vision of Rod Lapin, who opened the first Ye Ole Fashioned in 1972 with the idea of making customers’ jaws drop at the size of his portions.
Today, at more than half a dozen locations, including one helmed by his daughter Becki and her husband, that hasn’t changed. Ten strips of bacon layer the café’s signature BLTs; chili-laden, all-beef hot dogs weigh down their buns; and the plates are required to start lifting weights regularly before they’re allowed to carry double-decker sandwiches or burgers.
Chef Gary Langevin is so driven to create an authentic Italian dining experience that he not only breaks up Bella Napoli's menu into multiple courses, including primi and secondi piatti, but also offers, upon request, to prepare favorite dishes from Italy that are not on the menu. The Italian ambiance extends from the kitchen into the dining room, where friendly staffers tap into Italy's warm-natured culture by mingling with guests as they feast and oftentimes singing along to the live music that fills the air on Saturday evenings. On Saturday afternoons, diners feast on expertly cooked pasta dishes or tiramisu made with imported ladyfingers while learning the cuisine's native language, courtesy of workshops with Il Tavolo Italiano, in which instructors guide pupils toward mastering Italian phrases such as "The weather is beautiful" and "Clearly, the Mona Lisa was Da Vinci's most contrived piece of work.
Although his only experience in the food industry was assembling sub sandwiches, Joe Fischbein dreamed of owning his own restaurant. To prepare himself, Joe literally worked his way up from dishwasher to prep cook, meeting future partner and professional chef Casey Glowacki along the way. Though their paths diverged, Joe's dream came true in 2004 when Casey asked him to help run his new eatery: Five Loaves Cafe. Since Casey first established the café, it's evolved faster than a tadpole's opinion of legwarmers. Salads and sandwiches dominate the menu, highlighting cold cuts carved from house-roasted meats and dressings made in-house in small batches. Dinner entrees showcase grass-fed, hormone-free beef from Meyers Farm, free-range chicken from Tanglewood Farms, and vegetarian and gluten-free dishes, as well as fresh-cut local pastas from Rio Bertolini's.
Armed with just a single, generations-old cookie recipe, Great American Cookies opened its first store in 1977, and the rest is history. Today, the franchise boasts locations in malls across the country and nabbed a coveted spot on Entrepreneur magazine?s 2012 list of Top 500 Franchises in the baked-goods category. The shop?s reputation grew, and so did its menu as chefs churned out a mouthwatering roster of gourmet-cookie recipes, each created and carefully tested in Atlanta. The tempting options now include snickerdoodle, peanut butter with M&M?s, and chewy pecan supreme, as well as freshly baked fudge and cheesecake brownies and cookie sandwiches stuffed with frosting. The real showstoppers, however, are the giant chocolate-chip cookie cakes, which can be customized with sweet, celebratory messages or shopping lists penned in colorful icing.
At Chucktown Tavern, you get to hear your neighbors sing. The joint booms with karaoke every single night of the week as patrons try their pipes on numbers from the DJ's selection of hundreds of karaoke tracks. Melodies of popular tunes and weekend performances from local bands drift towards the kitchen, where head chef Hope Young and her kitchen crew fold locally grown produce into classic breakfasts, sandwiches, and seafood dishes. She stuffs burgers with filings such as marinara, pepperoni, pimento cheese, and jalapeños, piling the patties onto freshly baked breads. Glasses click together, spilling rivulets of imported beer and cocktails into cool rings on wooden tables. The revelry pours out onto the front courtyard, where patrons recline in padded furniture like kings or cool pieces of wood a king found and named.