11 AM: My craving for Lowcountry cuisine sends me striding from downtown up through North Charleston, in pursuit of Martha Lou’s. Staffed by a couple of gregarious Gullah waitresses who cajole babies and crack jokes, this tiny roadside place is as welcoming as you please.
While you dine, Martha Lou herself strolls the aisles, chatting with regulars about how she prepares chitterlings and the amount of food prep she does each night in her home kitchen before even setting foot in the restaurant.
A nearby patron leaned towards me as I sat down. “You come in a person, and you leave as cargo,” she said, looking slightly dazed. Sounded pretty good to me.
The setup is a simple meat-and-three, with the meats cooked to order. I chose pork chops, okra-tomato soup, lima beans, and cornbread. My server offered me a to-go box before she even set down the plate. Look at this thing!
Daunted by the huge chop, I dug into my sides first. As soon as I tasted the beans and the okra-tomato concoction, I wished I’d chosen collards instead of cornbread. The cornbread was fine, but Martha Lou worked magic with those vegetables. The butter beans melted into their own ham-salted gravy, while the okra and tomatoes went down like a sweet goulash. Once I set my knife to the pork chop, it too was extraordinary, tender and juicy.
A few spoonfuls of hot peach cobbler rounded out the meal. It tasted like flaky pie dough mixed into sweet glazed peaches. Mm-mm. I have wonderful grandmas already, but I can’t be the first who wants to adopt Martha Lou as a bonus grandma.
2 PM: I fail to find a Gullah art gallery that allegedly sits on John Street. Instead I amble about town. I go to the post office, the grand main library, and the visitor’s center, explore residential areas, and peruse storefronts on King Street, the heart of the shopping district.
5 PM: Taking the Gateway Walk, founded in 1930 and maintained by the Garden Club of Charleston. The self-guided walk leads explorers through the courtyards and cemeteries of five churches and the Charleston Library Society.
Supposedly you can guide yourself through via wall plaques, but I’d never have made it without my smartphone. I prefer tours (like the Freedom Trail in Boston) that literally paint the trail out for millennials like myself who scoff at self-sufficiency. Pah! Self-sufficiency!
The cemeteries have a fecund, overgrown beauty. The soil is soft, and mosses and grasses encroach on all sides, with thick-petaled flowers bursting from the trees.
Old gravestones sink at angles and some began to disappear into the earth. The custom here seems to be to use very worn gravestones to form walking paths. As someone socialized to avoid stepping on graves, I found this disconcerting.
One of the gates was padlocked for a wedding vendors’ showcase. I peered in as the decorators, caterers, dressmakers, florists, and photographers set up their wares. The picture doesn’t do it justice, but, heady with the gardens’ beauty, I felt like I had glimpsed the fairies at work.
8 PM: Dinner at Page’s Okra Grill. Sitting at the bar, I ordered pimento cheese and crackers with a tasty okra relish, greens, more stewed okra and tomatoes, and grilled calves’ liver and onions.
Southerners, I must confess I don’t get the fuss about pimento cheese, but maybe I need to try a few more versions.
The liver was cooked more than I like, toughening it up, so I filled up on vegetables. Unlike Martha Lou’s okra-tomato stew this morning, Page’s version is smoky and darker, but just as tasty.
I ended with a colossal piece of hummingbird cake, or spice cake studded with pineapple pieces and a cream cheese frosting. I liked the cake, but the frosting was too sweet for my taste. No matter – there was no hope of vanquishing the cake-Hulk anyway.
11 PM: Journaling before bed.