Jestine’s Kitchen

Review by: Jane & Michael Stern

**** THIS RESTAURANT IS PERMANENTLY CLOSED ****

Jestine’s opened in the 1990s, but its featured recipes go back many decades. Some were contributed by the kitchen staff, and some were the invention of Jestine Matthews, the African-American woman who worked for the family of proprietor Dana Berlin through much of the 20th century. The cafe was named to honor Ms. Matthews, who passed away in 1997 at the age of 112.

A hospitable Meeting Street storefront with a soundtrack of old-time jazz singers and evocative decor that includes vintage cast iron skillets, flour sifters, and juice squeezers, Jestine’s creates a downhome Lowcountry ambience that seems to attract more tourists than locals. “This is my all-time, number-one restaurant,” boasts a young seaman from the nearby naval base to his date one afternoon as he guides her to a booth and chivalrously unwraps her silver from the clean green washcloth that serves as a napkin, then orders a pound of spiced, steamed shrimp and a basket of corn bread for them to share.

The menu is broad, with choices that range from a peanut butter and banana sandwich to a fried double pork chop plate, brown sugar-glazed ham, half-pound slab of meat loaf, and various seafood combos. This is a nice place to taste the time-honored coastal delight of shrimp and grits (a Sunday special) or shrimp Creole (every Wednesday), as well as such brightly seasoned Lowcountry vegetables as okra gumbo and red rice or the deep-south delight, deep-fried green tomato. Fried chicken, enveloped in red-gold crust, is the star of the menu. Side dishes include macaroni and cheese threaded with chewy strips from the top of the casserole and vegetarian vegetables (cooked without ham bone or hock).

You can drink beer or wine, Sun Drop or Cheerwine; but the proper beverage to accompany Jestine’s powerfully flavored food is listed on the menu as “Jestine’s table wine” – cool, sugary tea served in shapely tumblers.

What To Eat

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Meat Loaf

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Midnight Magic Cake

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Pickles

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Shrimp Creole

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Pork Tenderloin

DISH
Butter Beans

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Pimento Cheese

DISH

Jestine’s Kitchen Recipes

Discuss

What do you think of Jestine’s Kitchen?

5 Responses to “Jestine’s Kitchen”

Kim

June 8th, 2021

I absolutely loved the Ice box pickles and would buy a big jar every time I went to Charleston which was about twice a month at least, also the Fried Chicken and Corn Cakes were delicious. I hate that they closed. We went to Charleston a couple of weeks ago and I was sad to see they’ve closed.

Reply

Jane & Michael Stern
Jane & Michael Stern

October 11th, 2010

This is a tourist trap. To begin, there are approximately 12 tables inside this restaurant. When my friends and I arrived, we discovered that the business did not take names at the door, and instead expected customers to line the outside of the building and wait until someone came and got us (which I saw lead to a dispute between a couple people as to who arrived first). After being seated, our server, who seemed almost arrogantly dismissive about our presence, rattled off the daily specials and sort of made an off-handed comment when one of us ordered a drink different from the rest, as if it were too much of a challenge.

We each ordered a variation of fried chicken, which really was FANTASTIC. (At this point in the meal, the food had won me over.) However, the worst part came when we got to the payment portion of the meal. One of the customers at our table got the waitress’ attention and asked for our check(s). She gave him a scowling look, to which he confusingly replied, “Is that alright?” She told him that the menu stated that if we wanted separate checks we would need to have asked for them at the beginning of the meal (not that she made any effort to ask us at the beginning), but that she would make an “exception” this time and ring it up as we pleased (this ASTOUNDED me!). She then threatened to put another patron’s meal on this individuals ticket and, although she didn’t do so, proceeded to bring his ticket before the others with the comment, “Here, since you’re in such a hurry.”

I suppose my point is that the food is wonderful, but the service is MISERABLE. There are a number of other great restaurants in Charleston that make the same style food, just as good, with exceptional service. Try Hominy Grill, for example… I think a lot of locals go there once a week! (No, really, it is awesome!) Enjoy your trip to Charleston, and avoid Jestine’s.

Reply

harpsichord_gal
harpsichord_gal

February 12th, 2008

This is pure Southern comfort food, from the cornbread served with butter and honey, to the okra, collards, ham, fried chicken and fish. Oh, and let’s not forget the fried green tomatoes; I could make a meal out of those alone. The veggies are fresh and the entrees and not mass-prepared. Whatever you decide on will arrive hot and delish. You won’t find dried out fried chicken or fish here. A typical meal is ham for my husband, shrimp and grits for me.

Jestine’s is heaven. It’s a comfy place; forget pompus dining. The service is friendly and quick. It’s relaxed, not loud. When Charleston is filled with visitors (i.e., during Spoleto USA) allow time to be seated; Jestine’s is not huge. We like to dine early to avoid the rush.

Jestine’s reminds me of kitchen table dinners when I was growing up. It’s good homestyle cooking, a refreshing change in the Holy City of Charleston.

Reply

Jane & Michael Stern
Jane & Michael Stern

February 11th, 2008

I went to Charleston the week after Christmas, 2007. Charmed by all, we were downtown shopping and ventured into Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville shop. As I was checking out of the shop, I asked the lovely young lady who was checking me out where to eat “locally” that was good. She recommended Jestine’s Kitchen. She said Jimmy eats there whenever he’s in town. Rightfully so. There was a wait, but it was worth it. The service is top notch, the food excellent. Dana Berlin, the owner, greeted all with warmth and enthusiasm. Go if you are in Charleston; you will not regret it.

The fried chicken livers are perfect: crispy outside, tender inside. They are served on a bed of rice. I had sides of fried okra and hoppin’ John. The cucumber pickles we started with are very good. The sweetened tea could not be better. My fellow diners had blackened chicken and pecan fried chicken breast. We split a pineapple bread pudding and a piece of coconut cream pie. All delicious.

I only wish I had been staying for several more days to try many of the other menu items. Delicious, welcoming, beautifully presented and artfully and politely served.

Reply

Jane & Michael Stern
Jane & Michael Stern

March 3rd, 2007

Upon moving to South Carolina seven years ago, we rapidly made the acquaintance of Charleston. Although I enjoy other restaurants in the area, a little write up in our bed-and-breakfast’s food notebook turned us on to Jestine’s. The relatively inexpensive home-cooked food is filling and delicious and it is far and away better than waiting in endless lines at the “tourist traps” in the area.

We usually eat early and avoid the crowds. We all love the cold cucumbers in vinegar that are served as an appetizer, and after that it is a free for all. My daughter and I love the fried pork chops and the Coca-Cola cake is fantastic. My son swears by the moist fried chicken.

One year we took my sister and her family there when they were visiting. My son took his usual fried chicken to go. My sister promptly swiped his chicken leaving a $5 bill in its place. That was four years ago and my son has yet to “forgive” his aunt even after the thank you card arrived. Even as a teenager he knew money could never replace food from Jestine’s!

Reply

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