Martha Lou’s Kitchen

Review by: Michael Stern


Here is inexpensive, downhome food to remember, and two women to remember, too: Martha Lou Gadsden, who does the cooking, and her daughter Debra, who is the hostess. Friendly and gastronomically knowledgeable, they are ladies who add flavor to a meal beyond ingredients and spice.

Debra greets customers with hospitality offered by few formal maitre d’s. It is her pleasure to guide newcomers through a menu that includes fried chicken every day and such specials as fried fish, pork chops, ribs, and chitterlings. Sides are Lowcountry paragons: mac ‘n’ cheese, red rice and white rice, collard greens, lima beans, okra soup, and cornbread. After we place our order, Debra pauses and looks us in the eye, warning that the food will not come instantly. It will be made to order by her mother, who begins cooking when Debra brings an order back to the semi-open kitchen.

Subtlety is not Martha Lou’s culinary signature. Everything she cooks is boldfaced. Even ice tea is supersweet and superlemony. Macaroni and cheese is less comfort food than exciting food, the creamy cheese vibrant with pepper punch. Crust on fried chicken and fish is big-flavored salty; okra soup smacks you with a one-two punch of tomatoes and okra. Bread pudding, choc-a-block with fruit cocktail, is as sweet as candy.

What To Eat

Fried Chicken

Bread Pudding

Okra Soup

Macaroni and Cheese

Fried Fish

Lima Beans

Stewed cabbage

Collard Greens


Martha Lou’s Kitchen Recipes


What do you think of Martha Lou’s Kitchen?

2 Responses to “Martha Lou’s Kitchen”

Gregory Forman

July 24th, 2011

Martha Lou’s is one of the premier soul food restaurants in a city filled with great soul food restaurants.

Soul food restaurants highlight fried meats and beans and greens. Martha Lou’s excels in both areas. The fried meats are less greasy than at typical soul food restaurants. When finished eating, there’s no oil at the bottom of the plate but the fried chicken is juicy with a light crust batter and the fried fish uses fresh, not frozen, whiting.

The collard greens and stewed cabbage rely on a lot less pork fat and oil than greens at most soul food restaurants. The stewed cabbage adds slivers of red pepper for visual and flavor contrast. The result is greens in which the fresh vegetable flavor is not being overpowered by smoked meat.

The lima beans were sublime. In a city that invented the “lima bean dinner,” Martha Lou’s may be the best. The day we ate there (July 23, 2011) they were seasoned with poultry (not pork) and the beans were fully cooked and heavily peppered while remaining toothsome (not mushy) with just a hint of smoked meat flavor. The beans were more cooked and gravy-like than limas at fancy downtown restaurants but less cooked and fatty than at similar local soul food restaurants.

The macaroni and cheese is also lighter than the typical eggy/cheesy casserole served in most soul food restaurants. Instead it’s a mix of soft pasta shells in a thin cheese sauce seasoned by loads of black pepper.

Many high-end Charleston restaurants wisely employ the locavore trend by highlighting our local bounty. Martha Lou’s was doing this even before it became trendy. Martha Lou’s lighter touch with fats and smoked meats results in fresher tasting fare than most similar restaurants.


Ken Spink

February 15th, 2011

Inspired by a February 2011 New York Times article I checked it out, and my tongue slapped my brains out at Martha Lou’s fried whiting, moist and tender with a crisp crust, her wonderful giblet rice and limas, and bread pudding.

Set daily menus, prepared fresh and served on Styrofoam plates, on embroidered placemats, in a clean, tiny roadside restaurant: Southern cooking at its best!


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