In 2011, I read Specialty of the House: Inside South Carolina’s Soul Food Restaurants in Saveur Magazine, the “Nat Geo” of the epicurean world. The article featured restaurants in Charleston, a city long on my bucket list, but always elusive. I vowed to one day make a trip to the lauded southern town and visit Bertha’s Kitchen featured in the article.
My chance finally came this summer when the Jones Family Reunion made its way to Myrtle Beach. As this year’s host, my parents and I recognized we would need a few days of R&R after a weekend full of activities accented with balloons, buffets, bus tours and those beloved reunion t-shirts. After the events went off without a hitch, we took a leisurely drive down US-17 to Charleston.
The next day after sightseeing, we went to Bertha’s Kitchen – literally on the other side of the tracks. With its authentic patina of a long-standing establishment, there was no false veneer or fuss over inconsequential details.
A bright, teal blue home welcomed visitors with a sign reading “Bertha’s Kitchen” along with other words of yore, and a “CLOSED” sign displayed on a wide open, iron screen door did not deter the steady stream of patrons. It epitomized the charm only a favorite local “spot” can garner. Any Williamsburg restaurant designer would be green with envy.
As for the food, Bertha’s received a 2017 James Beard Foundation America’s Classics award so you can say the proof was in the bread pudding.
My dad, whose parents hailed from Bamberg County, South Carolina, transferred back to his mother’s kitchen. This normally chatty character said few words as he enjoyed his expertly fried fish, smoky sides of beans and okra soup presented exactly as pictured in the article.
While we packed our leftovers, I said, “Daddy, do you want some napkins to remove that liquid so your fish does not get soggy?”
He looked at me with the trademark Jones eyes, gave his head a little shake and said, “Don’t worry, Lolly. I’ve got something.”
And with that, he gently tore a hunk of fluffy, corn bread, sopped up that lima bean juice and popped it in his mouth.
Reviewers say Bertha’s is a place with tasty, southern cheap eats and I would certainly agree. But Bertha’s is something more.
Bertha’s Kitchen is home.