Martha Lou Gadsden has been running her pink soul food shack in an industrial area on the north side of Charleston, past the port, for twenty-five years. The restaurant is close to where the new Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge empties into Charleston. Since Martha Lou is such a big fish lover, there are fish painted on her restaurant.
Hand-painted signs advertise Martha Lou’s specialties: fried chicken, pork chops, baked turkey, wings and fish.
Martha Lou’s features five worn booths with gold tablecloths; until fairly recently there were only three tables, but now Martha Lou refrigerates her beverages in the kitchen instead of the dining room.
Martha Lou has great affection for the area, so she had Lowcountry scenes painted on her walls.
Is that Martha Lou fishing on the dock with one of her children, overlooking the old Cooper River Bridge?
Since only a couple other people came into the restaurant, and Martha Lou was cooking alone in the kitchen, I had a chance to chat with her. Always friendly, she was happy to talk. Her grandparents reared Martha Lou, and she learned to cook by watching them in the kitchen. Martha Lou had nine kids, so she had to put her learning to use.
There are breakfast and lunch dishes, but I always order the dinner ($8.50), a choice of meat and a choice of two or three sides. Every day, there is fried chicken, whiting, and pork chops. On Mondays, it’s baked turkey wings. Tuesdays: mystery meat. Wednesdays: beef stew and chitterlings. Thursdays: baked chicken. Fridays: barbecued ribs.
I ordered the elusive “mystery meat,” aka meatloaf. I’d never managed to time my visits right, or Martha Lou had always sold out. I also packed my Styrofoam platter with fried shrimp, mac & cheese and lima beans. Considering the meatloaf didn’t feature gravy or tomato sauce, it was awfully luscious, with a salty browned crust. Martha Lou cooks lima beans cooked with smoked pork. She said you can’t get the same flavor from regular pork.
The “side” of fried-to-order shrimp ($6) sported crisp sheathes of batter, so as not to interfere with the sweetness of the local crustaceans.
I ordered a square of light poundcake-like cornbread.
This square of bread pudding ($0.80) was dense but flavorful, accented with raisins and canned fruits like peaches, pears and pineapple.
When I was paying, one of Martha Lou’s daughters came in to pick up food and Martha Lou repeated my order; she and Martha Lou were amazed at how much I consumed. So was I, but everything was so good, I couldn’t stop eating. Amazingly, for all that food, Martha Lou only charged me $13.75.