Excellent | Worth a Detour
Vanessa’s Soul Food Kitchen | Hidden Gem, Aiken County, SC
Review by: Michael Stern
“Food That Speaks to Your Soul”
Off the beaten path on a country road east of the Savannah River, Vanessa’s Soul Food Kitchen lives up to its name. It defines the term “family soul food kitchen.” From this small kitchen comes what is billed as “food that speaks to your soul.” That means an exemplary repertoire that includes pork chop and hugely flavorful fatty oxtails. Fried chicken with a salty, red-gold crust delivers knock-out satisfaction. Pull the crust from the bird in great sheets that crunch and dissolve into intense chicken flavor. They flood taste buds. Consider smothered chicken, too. Not an alternative to fried chicken, but an addendum, it presents the crusty pieces blanketed with gravy.
Stalwart menu items that demand attention include collards and cabbage and sweet potatoes. On Thursday, consider neck bones or turkey wings along with cornbread dressing.
Turnip greens stand out among a long list of available sides. They arrive as a sodden round of spruce-green leaves curiously spiced. At first taste, I suspected cloves were secreted inside them. Vanessa disabused me of that idea. In any case, they could not be improved. Greens’ common condiment — peppered vinegar — would be redundant. Mac & cheese redefines the word creamy. Elbow noodles and cheese bind together so seamlessly that they become almost indistinguishable, soft as custard.
Dining facilities improve upon the food truck that Vanessa and her husband used to operate.. The kitchen is an alcove in a small room. Tables, a few bench seats, and stools at a short bar welcome newcommers. At the bar, watch food being cooked and assembled. The well-worn place offers welcoming décor that includes seasonal tableaux set upon a mantle on one wall. (Suntan lotion, sunglasses, and a beach hat were on display as 2021’s summer weather settled in.)’
Look beyond the dining room curtain. Here you see an adjoining room with a pool table. Customers rack ’em up while waiting for their food to cook. Nobody eats at Vanessa’s Kitchen if they are in a hurry. This family soul food kitchen prepares meals to order and assembles them one-by-one. Many orders are created to take out.
When the wall-mounted air conditioner doesn’t work, a standing fan provides heat relief. It reminds us of an airplane propeller, but isn’t as loud.
|Meals Served||Lunch, Dinner|
|Credit Cards Accepted||Yes|