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.