Charleston, South Carolina
You’re living on the edge when the first thing your spouse says to you is “Are you sure you want to eat here?”
We were standing at the door of a small, unassuming restaurant on Folly Road named Gillie’s Seafood and Soul. It’s convenient to our campsite at James Island County Park, and I’m intrigued by the name since I can’t remember the last time I ate soul food, if ever.
Not like we didn’t have choices. Charleston is a foodie mecca with a booming regional population of almost one million. Farms, miles of productive coastline, and a low-country culinary style merge to create a national reputation. The Washington Post named Charleston one of the top 10 best food cities in the United States.
The first thing I notice when we stepped inside Gillie’s is the wall full of photos. Sure, many other establishments mount photos on the wall, but these were different. Not the typical well-wishers or celebrity endorsements, instead these photos are all women and apparently not related to one another. What’s up with that?
Our server Olivia clears up the mystery without hesitation. Chef and owner Sean Mendes named his restaurant after his grandmother Mrs. Gilliard, nicknamed Gillie. Sean’s interest in cooking and food was triggered at a young age by watching his grandmother create her magic in the kitchen. When he first opened Gillie’s 22 months ago, Sean and his team asked locals to bring in photographs of their grandmothers to be placed on the wall. It’s a pretty cool way to honor all grandmothers.
Another way Sean honors his grandmother is by serving up some incredible food. With so many mouth-watering items on the menu we were hard-pressed to choose, but eventually selected the seafood gumbo, which consists of a roux-based stew with shrimp, oysters, andouille sausage and crab meat served over rice. We also ordered granny’s shrimp and grits, made with brown bacon and sausage gravy. The food bursting with flavor, fresh, reasonably priced and generous in portions. Next time, we’ll try the okra gumbo, smothered turkey wings, and soul rolls (bad boys filled with collard greens, pulled pork, rice, and pimento cheese). Buttermilk southern-fried chicken was on the menu and we got an order to go — my wife Fran rates fried chicken based on how well it survives a night in the refrigerator. For the record, Gillie’s fried chicken passed her crunch test with flying colors earning a 5 out of 5. Overall, the menu is full of inspiring dishes, so I don’t think you can go wrong.
By last count, Charleston is home to nearly 8,000 restaurants, some of them nationally-famous. Among all these choices, Gillie’s makes its mark with a low-country inspired menu served in a relaxed, family-like setting. Grandma Gillie would approve.
For a detailed read, check out this James Island Bugle feature story.
Gillies is located 805 Folly Road, Charleston (James Island) SC 843-297-8615
Where we stayed
James Island County Park is a not-so-hidden treasure for the RV traveler. The Park offers 124 full hook up sites, wide pads and patios, hiking and bicycle trails, and easy access to Folly Beach and Charleston. If you travel with your furry friends, the huge dog park with access to a beach is in a class by itself.