In Good Taste: Down-home Redux
The owner of Alluette’s Café celebrates a healthful, homegrown harvest
For Alluette Jones-Smalls, who opened her small, eponymous downtown café in 2008, “fresh, local, and simple—yet elegant” is what good Southern food is all about. But instead of the stereotypical steam bar crammed full of empty calories and fat, her made-to-order dishes provide a healthful take on the Lowcountry’s culinary heritage, emphasizing fresh veggies versus rendered lard. She’s dubbed her genre “Holistic Soul,” and its cornucopia of done-over dishes has landed her on the pages of national magazines like O, The Oprah Magazine, as well as on scores of foodie blogs, each mention heaping praise on what the Mount Pleasant native is cooking up.
Organic produce from Joseph Field’s Farm on John’s Island lands center stage at the Reid Street restaurant year-round, and to celebrate spring being in full swing, Jones-Smalls orchestrated this menu loaded with seasonal vibrancy. Take note of the savvy work-arounds the cancer-survivor utilizes to celebrate good health without sacrificing good taste: Smart Balance stands in for traditional butter; olive oil is metered with a small spray bottle; sautéed Vidalia onions (instead of refined sugar) are slipped into a dish that needs a boost of sweetness. A few bites testify these are tried-and-true ideas that yield plenty of flavor, nourishment, and, of course, soul.
With the first flush of asparagus from the fields, Jones-Smalls pairs tender spears with farm-fresh eggs. Even when topped with hollandaise, the dish is still light and emphasizes the vegetal qualities of the asparagus. She is careful not to overcook them, aiming for a slight crunch that pairs well with the richness of the eggs and creamy sauce. Chives and dill provide interesting accents but are far from afterthoughts. “You want to taste herbs and spices used in cooking,” Jones-Smalls says.
When Jones-Smalls lived on St. Helena Island, she created Chicken Helena—breasts stuffed with mushrooms, spinach, caramelized onion, and feta cheese—in the same kitchen where Frogmore Stew was purportedly invented. With her return to the Holy City, she renamed it Chicken Charleston. Seasoned with sea salt and thyme, the chicken rolls are gently baked and topped with the first tomatoes of the year.
“Every black family had a carrot garden,” Jones-Smalls says of her childhood in Mount Pleasant’s Old Village. That recollection inspired this root vegetable sauté that gleans subtle heat from ginger and sweetness from Vidalia onions.
“This is the Neiman Marcus of bread pudding!” Jones-Smalls says as her husband slices strawberries into a bowl of organic, whole-grain wheat bread. She says the fresh fruit and the agave nectar drizzled over the mixture have a bit to do with the dessert’s considerable success. The dish is so popular, “I’m passing the torch to Cliff, because it sells so fast. I can’t make it all,” says Jones-Smalls.
In a sauté pan over medium heat, add olive oil, then asparagus. Add dill, parsley, and cayenne pepper. Cook for one minute, adding a splash of water near time’s end to steam finish. Remove from heat and set aside. Shell and cut four soft-boiled eggs in half, lengthwise. Plate asparagus, dividing bulk into four portions. Place one pair of cut eggs atop each serving of asparagus. Set aside.
Heat Smart Balance in sauté pan over low heat, stirring until it just melts. Set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk egg yolks, then slowly add lemon juice. Add garlic, then sea salt and cayenne pepper. Slowly whisk in melted Smart Balance, making sure it’s not too hot so you don’t cook egg yolks. Once mixture is completely blended, pour sauce over asparagus and soft-boiled eggs. Garnish with freshly chopped chives and serve warm.
- 4 hormone-free, antibiotic-free
- 7 Tbs. olive oil, separated
- 4 cups fresh organic spinach
- 1 cup thinly sliced Vidalia onions
- 2 cups sliced portabella mushrooms
- 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
- 2 medium fresh organic
- 4 tsp. fresh thyme
- 4 tsp. fresh rosemary
- Sea salt, to taste
- Cayenne pepper, to taste
- 1 tsp. freshly chopped chives
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Rinse chicken breasts and pat dry. Cover with plastic wrap and pound flat. Remove wrap and rub both sides of each breast with one tablespoon olive oil and set aside.
Sauté spinach, onions, and mushrooms in a sauté pan over medium heat with two tablespoons olive oil and remove from heat. Allow mixture to cool slightly before stirring in feta cheese. Set aside. Sauté chopped tomatoes in a sauté pan over medium heat with one table spoon olive oil. Set aside.
Season chicken with thyme, rosemary, and sea salt. Divide spinach mixture into thirds, and set one-third aside. Divide the two-thirds portion into four, and spread one fourth on each chicken breast, roll, then secure with toothpick at the center. Repeat for each breast. Bake for 20 minutes. Top each serving with remaining spinach mixture (about two tablespoons each) and garnish with cooked tomatoes and chopped chives.
- 2 Tbs. olive oil
- 1 bunch fresh organic carrots, peeled
and sliced on the diagonal
- 1 tsp. freshly grated organic ginger
- 1 tsp. minced organic garlic
- 1 1/2 cup Vidalia onion, thinly sliced
- 1 tsp. dried dill
- 1 tsp. chives, chopped
- Cayenne pepper, to taste
- Sea salt, to taste
Heat olive oil in sauté pan over medium heat. Add carrots and sauté for one minute. Add remaining ingredients (except chives) and sauté another two minutes. Garnish with chives and serve warm.
- 1 Tbs. Smart Balance Buttery Spread
- 2 loaves sliced organic, whole-grain
- 1 dozen organic, free-range eggs
- 2 tsp. vanilla
- 2 tsp. cinnamon
- 1 tsp. nutmeg
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 cup agave nectar (or syrup)
- 2 cups soy or almond milk
- 1 lb. fresh strawberries,
washed and sliced
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 10" X 13" baking pan with Smart Balance. Set aside. Cut bread slices into quarters and set aside. In a mixing bowl, beat eggs. Add vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar, agave nectar, and milk, beating to combine. Add bread and gently stir. Gently stir in strawberries. Fold mixture into pan. Bake for 45 minutes. Serve warm.