Move over, bourbon brioche toast

Make room for grits at Southern Gal

Southern Gal Darolyn & Dietra
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Aiken County’s Midland Valley used to be so well-known for its cotton and textile mills that old-timers still jokingly refer to residents as lintheads. The industry is gone and abandoned, so a drive through the Valley isn’t exactly postcard-pretty.

But old Augusta Road, which runs straight through it, boasts a different kind of allure: a unique little Restaurant Row. Treasures include cook Sheri Arthur’s juice-oozing hamburgers at Bruce’s Bar, ackee and saltfish at Jamrock Caribana, and loroco con queso pupusas at El Salvador Restaurant Y Pupuseria. 

Set back from the thoroughfare, across from the Gospel of Deliverance Church, a purple-colored cottage houses an unusual café called Southern Gal in the Valley.

Photos by Michael Stern

The Southern Gal is Chef Dietra Bynum, who came from Louisiana, where her mother and grandmother taught her to cook.

Motherland notwithstanding, listings on the menu aren’t a whole lot different from those at a typical country café. Yet the word typical does not apply to anything cooked here. Kitchen artistry, even in dishes that can be ho-hum elsewhere, reveals Bynum’s roots in the expressive cuisine of the Bayou State.

For instance: grits. I didn’t plan to ask for any when I stepped up to the Saturday brunch buffet, which is served cafeteria-style. Why occupy precious plate space with something so common? Dietra’s wife, Bree, who stands behind the buffet table and assembles the meal, strongly suggested I have some.

Good advice. These grits are thick and creamy, seasoned with a sure touch and balmy as a warm biscuit. They don’t scream for attention, but they sure got mine. I approached Chef Dee and sarcastically asked, “They’re not from a box, are they?” 

She chuckled and told me only, “They’re stoneground, and I do seven or eight things to them in preparation.” She had no intention of telling me what those things are. If I were a chef, I’d want to wheedle the recipe from her. As a dedicated eater rather than a cook, all I can say to you, dear reader, is, Get grits!

Have them plain (which they are not) or crowned with a row of sauteed shrimp and energized by potent tan-hued Louisiana gravy, flecked with corn. On the side come toast and eggs.

And wouldn’t you know that even Southern Gal’s eggs provoke more interest than they ought to? Scrambled and laced with herbs, they deliver buttered zest in every forkful. For brioche French toast dipped in a batter flavored with Irish cream, the buffet table offers regular syrup and “adult syrup,” the latter spiked with bourbon.

The morning meat selection includes bacon strips and turkey sausage patties as well as links they call “burnt end sausage.” As smoky as burnt ends in a Kansas City barbecue parlor, the robust tubes of meat demand an exuberant chew.

Those who come for the prix fixe Saturday brunch buffet are allowed three platefuls, with no more than three wings on each plate. Why ration the wings? Because wing-savvy eaters consider them the best for miles around. Flavored with garlic, lemon pepper, Parmesan cheese, and a drizzle of honey, they feature fragile skin and flavor-saturated meat that separates easily from the bones. (Non-buffet customers can buy all the wings they want: five cost $6.99; fifty are $49.99.)

Visiting Southern Gal in the Valley is not a fast-food experience. When the buffet isn’t open, Chef Dee and sous chef Trust Green cook everything to order and arrange each plate for right-hand woman Darolyn Alfred to carry into the dining room. When they’re not busy in the kitchen, the staff mosey table to table, making sure everyone is happy.

Coming for Saturday brunch requires an extra measure of patience. Sometime after diners find a seat, their turn to get a meal comes. At that point, they are directed to the buffet table at the side of the dining room. Here Bree assembles each plate, one by one, discussing choices with the customer across the table. This process is extremely inefficient … and unusually personal.

One-on-one interaction with the chef’s wife, as well as with Dee herself, with Darolyn and Trust, is another reason, beyond extraordinary food, that the promise on Southern Gal’s roadside sign can come true: “Your Palate Will Fall In Love.”

Southern Gal in the Valley: 18 Burnettown Loop, Warrenville, SC. 803-594-5029 and 678-683-4488. https://www.facebook.com/southerngalinthevalley/ Note the limited hours of operation: Wednesday from 4:30-7 p.m., Thursday and Friday 9 a.m.-2 p.m., Saturday brunch 9:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Call ahead to be sure.

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  1. Avatar photoSlmarquis70 says

    Love the article – can’t read it and not want to go to Southern Gal. And the photos are full on erotic.

    • Avatar photoHanna Raskin says

      Aren’t the pix great? When Michael got in touch about writing for TFS, he wanted to make sure there was room for photos–I assured him we always have space for food images.

  2. Avatar photoLynda Green says

    I love the article and I am also happy to report that I love the food (wings are my favorite) even more. As a Southern Gal customer concur and enjoy my dining experiences at Southern Gal.

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