What’s Cookin’ Downtown

Review by: Michael Stern

Aiken is a city (population 30,000), but for many who live here, it feels like a small town. On Laurens Street — the main street — you often see the same people eating in the same restaurants every day. Among always-popular places where regulars congregate to socialize as well as to eat is What’s Cookin’ Downtown.

A casual cafe, a source of take-home dishes and meals, and a popular caterer, the easy-going town gathering place serves breakfast and lunch, from simple coffee-an’-pastries to sandwiches (hot and cold) and meal-size salads. Much of what’s eaten here is all-American lunchroom fare — from scratch, and good; but those seeking regional cuisine will find what they’re looking for in zesty house-made pimento cheese, biscuits with sausage gravy, and what’s billed as “Gourmet Grits.”

About those grits: gourmet, indeed. They’re the stand-out on a familiar morning menu of eggs every-which-way, pancakes, and French toast. Thick and flavorful, they hum with black pepper punch. A simple bowlful is dandy; it’s also possible to make them into a mighty hearty meal by adding eggs, cheese, ham, bacon, tomatoes, sautéed mushrooms, bell pepper, jalapenos, or sautéed onions.

When in the mood for something light at lunch, I go for a sandwich called The Betty, which is a vegetarian bouquet of avocado, lettuce, tomato, cucumber, red onion, and sour cream on rye. Hot sandwiches include hand-pattied burgers available with everything imaginable (including a choice of pimento cheese, Velveeta, Swiss, cheddar and provolone), a chicken-fried steak dressed with chipotle mayonnaise, and a grilled hot dog served in a Yankee-style split-top bun. From the day’s special roster, meat loaf comes crowned with melted Swiss cheese and cranberry relish on grill-crisped marble rye.

Chicken salad is a specialty, available in a sandwich or as the featured attraction in a chef’s salad or on a salad plate with fresh fruits. It’s exemplary: always fresh, enlivened by plenty of sweet small grapes, crisp bits of celery, and a few crunchy pecans.

Note: Breakfast is served from 7 to 10:30 Monday through Friday, and from 7:30 to 11 Saturday. Lunch is available Monday through Wednesday from 10:30 to 3pm and Thursday through Saturday from 10:30 to 5pm.

Directions & Hours

11am - 10pm
  • Monday: Closed
  • Tuesday: 11:00 AM – 9:00 PM
  • Wednesday: 11:00 AM – 9:00 PM
  • Thursday: 11:00 AM – 10:00 PM
  • Friday: 11:00 AM – 10:00 PM
  • Saturday: 11:00 AM – 10:00 PM
  • Sunday: 11:00 AM – 9:00 PM

What To Eat

Shrimp Po Boy

DISH
Fresh Fruit

DISH
Fruit Salad

DISH
Betty Sandwich

DISH
Grits

DISH
Biscuits & Gravy

DISH
Tater Tots

DISH
Pimento Cheese

DISH
Chicken Salad

DISH
Pasta Salad

DISH
Meat Loaf Sandwich

DISH
Pop’s Heavenly Hash Browns

DISH
French Fries

DISH

What’s Cookin’ Downtown Recipes

Discuss

What do you think of What’s Cookin’ Downtown?

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