Memorable | One of the Best
Review by: Michael Stern
From the perspective of the 21st century, the Woman’s Exchange feels like a culinary time capsule from the distant past. It was established in 1885, started serving meals in the 1930s, and today stands out as one of the last bastions of ladies lunch.
Polite meals are served quickly and efficiently. When you walk in, past handcrafts for sale on consignment, you are greeted at a desk by a couple of women who point your attention to a short menu written on a chalkboard behind them. There are listed the meals of the day. When we visited, the choices were seafood Charleston, chicken salad, and a four-vegetable plate. Take your pick, pay the women, then find a table, preferably in the bright “garden room,” where windowed walls provide a view of nothing but greenery.
A waitress brings beverages, then the meals on a round, wood-grain tray. It is pretty food, carefully arranged. Three items on our vegetable plate were separated by thin strips of white bread, like the partitions on a diner plate, but edible. The fourth item, escalloped squash, was too messy to be put on a plate so it came in its own little bowl. Accompanying the veggies was a sweet cornbread muffin.
We already knew what was going to be in the seafood Charleston, because back at the order desk the Woman’s Exchange cookbook had been opened to the recipe for it: a creamy, mild dish reminiscent of shrimp wiggle. And the chicken salad, my-oh-my, what a presentation that was! Around the salad on its plate were a tiny crustless pimiento cheese sandwich, a little array of fresh fruit, and a block of opaque red Jell-O.
For dessert, everyone gets the same thing. For our lunch, it was a bright and happy square of strawberry cake with pink icing: the perfect end to a very ladylike meal.
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