Women and Soul Food – A Visit with Aluette

A visit to Charleston isn’t complete without a trip to Alluette’s Cafe. I first found this gem, tucked away on a side street between King and Meeting, last year when I was doing research for good, local food. Alluette’s was rated at the very top – with good reason. Travel and Leisure magazine and Oprah Winfrey herself do not mess around when it comes to worthy eats. 

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“Low Country Holistic Soul Food” is how she describes her cuisine, and it’s right on. It was one of my first stops when I arrived in Charleston last year, and while the city is full of unique, dynamic restaurants utilizing seasonal ingredients from local farms, Alluette Jones-Smalls is one of a kind.

With skilled hands, a touch of sass, and a warm face that belies her 62 years, statuesque Alluette herself is front and center in the kitchen that faces out to her diners. She’s fully present in the no-nonsense preparation and delivery of your meal.

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And that’s my favorite part. You can chat with Alluette as she prepares your food with care and precision behind the counter. It’s slow food at its finest, and the conversation alone is worth every minute. I was shocked that she remembered me from a year ago, but sure enough – she pointed out exactly where I sat and recalled that I was wearing a hat. I was blown away.

But I probably shouldn’t have been.

The woman is passionate about what she does, and she doesn’t hesitate to tell you why. It’s about the people. There are few restaurants where you can strike up an immediate conversation like old friends with Alluette and her partner Freddy. They’re quick to share with you the day’s favorites – all fresh, locally sourced, and sustainably farmed. Vegan and vegetarian options abound, and she’s happy to provide gluten-free substitutions if needed. I hear the black bean burger is out-of-this-world, and the locally-sourced shrimp dishes are unrivaled anywhere else in Low Country.

This year, I made Alluette’s my last spot before making the trip home. After 3 days of restaurant food – as much as I enjoyed where we dined throughout the trip – I was ready for simple, fresh and whole. And vegetables. Lots of vegetables. The fish stew, a tangy tomato broth rich with salmon and spinach, was perfectly spiced. I topped the raw kale salad, which came highly recommended by Freddy, with fresh, handmade hummus. Simple, fresh and colorful. Nourishing. Exactly what I needed.

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And just as nourishing? The passion that envelopes everything Alluette does. From her food to her patrons, she lets you know that she’s in this because she believes in the power of what good, quality food does for our bodies and our minds. If we aren’t feeding ourselves well, how can we expect ourselves to function well? (We can’t and we won’t, is Alluette’s pointed response.)

This is a woman who isn’t afraid to speak her mind about the politics behind food, and by doing her part, her tiny cafe is part of a greater movement. I walked out with a nourished tummy (plus a jar of Gheechi Girl sauce, a bottle of homemade ketchup and a vegan oatmeal raisin cookie for the hubs) and a renewed sense of purpose.

On the heels of International Women’s Day, a celebration of our mark on the world, it felt like kismet to spend time with a woman who embodies so much of the necessary work I want to do and the good word I want to spread. As I learn more about nutrition and feeding ourselves from a place of love and respect, I find even greater inspiration from Alluette and women like her.

Women who find power in practicing what they preach.

Women who build their own lives by helping to build up the lives of other.

Women who believe in nurturing people and relationships but who aren’t afraid to call someone out on hypocrisy. It’s beautiful and refreshing and reminds me that health – from a physical and spiritual level – is real and worth fighting for.

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