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Bertha's Kitchen

2332 Meeting St. Rd., North Charleston, SC - (843) 554-6519
Posted By Michael Stern on 10/7/2009 9:36:00 AM
Far from the steepled skyline of the peninsula in a stark industrial expanse of North Charleston, Bertha's is one of a handful of unassuming African-American eateries that make the Holy City an adventurous eater's paradise. Founded by the late Albertha Grant in 1979, it is a primer in Lowcountry soul food that includes red rice with sausage, fried chicken encased in fissured red-gold crust, pork chops with meat as wanton as gravy itself, and macaroni and cheese fetched from the baking pan with shards of crunchy-chewy crust.

The restaurant is small enough that the cafeteria line isn't so much a line as it is a counter where you stand and tell one of the several kitchen staff if you want your pork rib niblets on rice, which parts of the fried chicken you prefer, and if you're having just lima beans or lima bean dinner. The beans alone are a soupy, khaki-colored side dish. Dinner pairs them with hunks of neck from which weighty nuggets of meat are easily detached by probing with a fork. With the neck or in place of it to accompany the beans, you also can choose pig tails, which are little more than cylinders of glistening, warm pork fat that melts as it hits your tongue. Who knew a menu item called lima beans could be so mighty a meal? Lima bean dinner is a below-the-radar Charleston specialty, part of the daily repertory at Bertha's and at nearly every African-American cafe in town.

Bertha's is inexpensive and informal, but every meal is prepared exactly to order. As you stand at the counter, you consult with a member of the kitchen staff as to whether or not you want more pig tails or less in the limas and if you also would like to include some necks. Do you want red rice, white rice, or hoppin' John -- on the side or underneath? How much gravy will you have with your stewed gizzards? For all the precision ordering, all meals come on disposable plates. The day Jane and I arrived exactly at 11 o'clock when Bertha's opens, we paid at the register ($16.43 for a spread that crowded two trays) and were given a remote control to carry to our table with the food. The cashier advised that because we were the first customers to be eating on premises, it was our responsibility to turn on the set and choose channels. We ate our Lowcountry banquet to the open-kitchen perfume of simmering soul food and a cacophony of legal wrangling in the courtroom of television Judge David Young.

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Scorecard

5 - Overall: Legendary - Worth driving from anyplace
Overall: Legendary - Worth driving from anyplace
Fried Chicken
Macaroni & Cheese
Lima Beans
Red Rice
Turkey Prioleau
Candied Yams
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Reviewers Photos [Upload Your Photos]

If you order all dark meat fried chicken, you get a leg and thigh still connected. This is some great fried chicken!
"If you order all dark meat fried chicken, you get a leg and thigh still connected. This is some great fried chicken!"
Cliff Strutz





Macaroni and cheese is served how you like it: either all soft, from the center of the baking pan, or crunchy-chewy, from the top and edges. This serving has some of each.
"Macaroni and cheese is served how you like it: either all soft, from the center of the baking pan, or crunchy-chewy, from the top and edges. This serving has some of each."
Michael Stern


Fried Chicken comes hot from the deep-fryer with a fissured red-gold crust that oozes savory juice. This close shot barely hints at just how succulent it is.
"Fried Chicken comes hot from the deep-fryer with a fissured red-gold crust that oozes savory juice. This close shot barely hints at just how succulent it is."
Michael Stern


Red rice is a Lowcountry staple, a good bed for nearly any meat or vegetable. Bertha's offers it with little discs of spicy sausage.
"Red rice is a Lowcountry staple, a good bed for nearly any meat or vegetable. Bertha's offers it with little discs of spicy sausage."
Michael Stern


Our visit came on December 31st, which meant that hoppin John, the traditional Southern, good luck, New Year's Day dish, was available as a side.
"Our visit came on December 31st, which meant that hoppin John, the traditional Southern, good luck, New Year's Day dish, was available as a side."
Cliff Strutz


I never knew lima beans could be so astonishingly good. You can have them alone (shown here), redolent of porky flavor, or served with a heap of meaty neck bones: a huge, whole meal unto itself. In the background are mac 'n' cheese and a fried chicken drumstick.
"I never knew lima beans could be so astonishingly good. You can have them alone (shown here), redolent of porky flavor, or served with a heap of meaty neck bones: a huge, whole meal unto itself. In the background are mac 'n' cheese and a fried chicken drumstick."
Michael Stern


What soul food meal doesn't go better with a side order of yams cooked so long that they caramelize?
"What soul food meal doesn't go better with a side order of yams cooked so long that they caramelize?"
Michael Stern


An every-Tuesday dish of what the blackboard menu lists as turkey prioleau is a coastal comfort-food paradigm of long grain rice laced with shreds of white and dark meat, saturated with turkey drippin's and dotted with pepper to boldface the flavor.
"An every-Tuesday dish of what the blackboard menu lists as turkey prioleau is a coastal comfort-food paradigm of long grain rice laced with shreds of white and dark meat, saturated with turkey drippin's and dotted with pepper to boldface the flavor."
Michael Stern


The slightly sweet cornbread comes in tall, thick blocks.
"The slightly sweet cornbread comes in tall, thick blocks."
Cliff Strutz


A portrait of Bertha and her family greets you at the front door.
"A portrait of Bertha and her family greets you at the front door."
Michael Stern


Bertha's is one of a handful of unassuming African-American eateries that are part of the great adventure that is Charleston eating.
"Bertha's is one of a handful of unassuming African-American eateries that are part of the great adventure that is Charleston eating."
Michael Stern


I can't say I know exactly what Bertha's motto means, but I do know that it is the source of sensational soul food.
"I can't say I know exactly what Bertha's motto means, but I do know that it is the source of sensational soul food."
Michael Stern



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