Thursday, September 23, 2010

Jestine’s Kitchen, Charleston, SC

If at first you don’t succeed… fry, fry again.

Note the water cooler
Upon hearing that we’d moved to Charleston, an old colleague of mine commented that she loved the area and that she and her husband have come very close to moving here.  She also could not say enough about Jestine’s Kitchen on Meeting Street, so we wanted to see for ourselves if it would live up to the hype.
We’ve driven by Jestine’s many times only to find a waiting line out the door. We were pleasantly surprised to find that it was not the case when we arrived, even though it was 12:00 p.m.

The restaurant seats about 40 people.  It’s somewhat nondescript and could use some paint.  As we waited to be seated I eyed what I thought was a speed bump on a table nearby. But alas, it was only a very large piece of crispy fried chicken. When the waitress asked if the gentleman wanted it wrapped to go he replied, “No, I will take no prisoners.”  At that point I wondered what I had gotten myself into.

waiting to be seated
We waited for quite some time to be seated. The hostess got our attention and said she would be right with us. We continued to wait as she flittered throughout the restaurant.  We were eyeing a two-top toward the back of the restaurant which appeared to be the only one available – but I was wrong. 

The hostess ushered us up to the absolute worst table in the restaurant, on top of the bus station, straightened out the chairs and handed us the menu. Less than one foot away was a large, commercial refrigerator and a wire rack which was a makeshift cashier area.  The waitresses had to bend over to ring things in and at that time their rear ends (some small, some large) were almost directly on our table.

The menu is a small, three-fold, paper garden variety with “Jestine’s” story on the back (I won’t ruin it for you…).  Suffice to say thought, that baring charbroiled chicken, steamed shrimp, glazed ham and diet coke, everything is fried, I mean everything.

spiced, pickled cucumbers
The waitress quickly arrived and set a small bowl of nicely spiced, pickled cucumbers on the table.  Their other “signature” item (besides the deep fryer), is the salt and pepper shakers. No two are alike and they adorn the shelves of the “kitchen”, which you feel like you’re sitting in.

She rapidly explains the specials and then recommends some appetizers like she does at every other table. “Would you like some corn fritters or fried green tomatoes to start?”  It reminded me of my early days at TGI Friday’s we had to suggestively sell and we were “rated” on how well we sold things.  How you scored in the ratings at the end of the month determined your schedule for the following month. I could tell that she loved suggestively selling as much as I did back then.

Fried Oysters
Under the heading of “In for a penny, in for a pound,” I decided to try the fried oysters with green beans and mac ‘n cheese (two of the many side dishes offered). We also ordered one of the specials, a spicy gumbo over rice.

As we waited for our lunch we watched a line form outside. This must be a regular occurrence as they have bungee corded a large thermos of water (photo at top of page) with paper cups on a tree near the door. An interesting touch and probably very welcomed in the hot heat. We also watched as many (at one point six), tables remained dirty and empty.  Years ago I would have called this a “false wait” – when you are too busy to handle the crowd, but I don’t think that’s the case here. I think it was just the inefficiency of the staff. The table next to us remained covered with a calculator and notebook the entire time we were there and was also never seated even though the line outside continued to grow.

Gumbo
Lunch appeared rather quickly.  The gumbo was hot, not too thick and full of wonderful flavors. The oysters were perfect – lightly battered, moist and very tasty. The mac ‘n cheese was a cold, congealed mess, but the biggest disappointment was the beans. They were also rather cold, but get this…they were out of a can! A can like the jolly Green Giant makes. With so much focus these days on “farm to market” and using local products this was a real missed opportunity.

We never saw our waitress and so I flagged another one down to see if I could get another side of mac ‘n cheese. Although tempted to tap one on the rear ends that came ever so close to my shoulder, I resisted and asked if she could get our waitress for us. She kindly asked what was wrong and hoped that she could help us.  I must say that everyone if very friendly here.

A #10 scoop (ala a cafeteria), of mac ‘n cheese returned with an apology by our waitress. This time it was hot and it tasted homemade, but the noodles were so mushy and overcooked, it wasn’t worth the calories.

I was glad that I went to see what all the hub-bub is about, but won’t be back anytime soon. Although recently converted from a “tourist” with our move to Charleston, this place screams “tourist trap” and an oily one at that.

PS. They use peanut oil if that helps. 

We gave Jestine's Kitchen 3 plates out of 5.

Jestine's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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