What’s Cookin’ Downtown

Eclectic | Sandwich Shop | Small Town Café
Worth a return

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.

What to Eat
What’s Cookin’ Downtown, Betty Sandwich
Betty Sandwich
The Betty is a sandwich of avocado, lettuce, tomato, cucumber, red onion, and sour cream spread. Here, on marble rye.
What’s Cookin’ Downtown, Grits
Bacon and cheese on top are swell, but it's the grits they cover that are outstanding: creamy with a sharp pepper twist.
What’s Cookin’ Downtown, Tater Tots
Tater Tots
The great breakfast potato here is Tater Tots: creamy shredded spuds in brittle gold.
What’s Cookin’ Downtown, Pimento Cheese
Pimento Cheese
Rugged pimento cheese is butter-rich but seems to have a bit of horseradish snap.
What’s Cookin’ Downtown, Chicken Salad
Chicken Salad
Well-balanced chicken salad: white meat, grapes, celery, pecans, and the right amount of mayo.
What’s Cookin’ Downtown, Meat Loaf Sandwich
Meat Loaf Sandwich
Beefy meat loaf, melted Swiss, and sweet cranberry sauce on grill-crisped rye: A winning sandwich!
What’s Cookin’ Downtown, Pop’s Heavenly Hash Browns
Pop’s Heavenly Hash Browns
Pop's Heavenly Hash Browns: topped with sausage, grilled jalapenos & onions, eggs & Velveeta
What’s Cookin’ Downtown, Shrimp Po Boy
Shrimp Po Boy
The shrimp po boy is dressed with a bright New-Orleans style sauce reminiscent of remoulade.
What’s Cookin’ Downtown, Fresh Fruit
Fresh Fruit
Fresh fruit actually is fresh.
What’s Cookin’ Downtown, Fruit Salad
Fruit Salad
Fruit salad, aka ambrosia
What’s Cookin’ Downtown, Biscuits & Gravy
Biscuits & Gravy
One big breakfast: two crisp-edge biscuits blanketed with sausage gravy.
What’s Cookin’ Downtown, Pasta Salad
Pasta Salad
Available sandwich sides include colorful pasta salad.
What’s Cookin’ Downtown, French Fries
French Fries
Thin, crisp French fries accompany a French dip sandwich.
Directions and Hours
open now
Sunday11am - 9pm
Monday11am - 9pm
Tuesday11am - 9pm
Wednesday11am - 9pm
Thursday11am - 10pm
Friday11am - 10pm
Saturday11am - 10pm
Open Year Round
Meals Served
Breakfast, Lunch
Credit Cards Accepted
Alcohol Served
Outdoor Seating

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