It is fitting that Livelihood Cafe is located in a renovated house. The menu and the cooking are old timey and down home. Cooking from the book of Lowcountry life, owners John Sigler and his wife, Rigel Graham, deliver the culinary kith and kin of Southern foodways with a trace of contemporary conceits. They include a nod to quesadillas and salsa, an aioli riddled with the heat of Old Bay Seasoning, and creme fraiche and pesto standing alongside Southern classics.
Livelihood Cafe reveals a spare space. The front dining room clusters five four-tops and two two-tops in a narrow dining room. A long banquette allows for flexible seating for large groups or easy accommodations for parties of four in an adjoining dining area.
The sunny butterscotch rooms are decorated with antique farm implements, an eclectic assortment of pottery and a well-thumbed collection of cookbooks. Black and white photographs bring nostalgic footnotes to a space that wears its homespun roots on its walls.
Hospitality starts at the host "window" where friendly and well-informed servers seat you quickly. A quick dispatch of waters and menus and a quick recitation of the day's specials and you are left to read a menu that is trim on offerings yet broad in its flavor profiles.
Sigler and Graham have used their F&B experience to their advantage, winnowing choices, condiments, sides and toppings to a comprehensive menu plat.
Dressings and soups are homemade and they taste of their ingredients and not guar gums and stabilizers that lend shelf life to store-bought products. Sandwich breads are homestyle and generously layered with fillings.
A chicken salad sandwich cut a wide swath of filling between two toasted slices of bread topped with a trimmed tomato slice and soft, buttery lettuce. The crab cake sandwich is a family recipe: "filler light" and anointed with a Maryland kitchen staple of Old Bay Seasoning folded into a silky garlic mayonnaise (aioli).
Seasonal vegetables receive a cozy flat bread wrapper and a verdant dollop of pesto sequestering all their grilled juices with the licorice tang of basil and the mortar of garlic and cheese coddled in the cloak of their wrap.
The fried chicken sandwich suffers no lily gilding and is simply served with lettuce and tomato, but a side of their creamy ranch for dipping purposes is highly suggested.
A neighbor's sandwich of grilled salmon topped with a fried green tomato elicited high praise, as did the "barnyard" burger topped with bacon, egg and cheddar cheese.
Chicken, steak (they serve it with their steak and egg breakfast), salmon or crab cake can top any of their green salads for a protein-enhanced lunch. And breakfast, well you can have a short stack or a chicken biscuit dripping in syrup, right alongside any lunch offering.
Their homemade black bean soup or tomato-basil soup are welcome companions to a chicken biscuit. And early December's rainfall made their vegetable beef soup resonate with many diners with its base of caramelized onions, tender beef chunks and the earthy swaddle of cabbage and kale.
What Sigler and Graham manage to do at Livelihood Cafe is to use their menu and ingredients to bottom-line advantage. The rib-eye steak is served with steak and eggs, is a topping for salads, and layers a hoagie roll with onions, peppers and cheese for a City of Brotherly Love classic: the cheese steak. Chicken is fried, wrapped and enveloped in a quesadilla. Salsa and avocado; tomato, basil and pesto; all find a culinary refrain as toppings, condiments or sides.
A simple children's menu reflects their own other "job" as parents and chicken can be ordered simply grilled for your youngster, along with a basic burger, grilled cheese or quesadilla. The option for three juice varieties along with milk buffers your child's thirst if you elect to avoid soft drinks.
The breakfast menu, served all day, keeps it simple. Omelets, French toast, pancakes, breakfast biscuits and Southern staples are embedded with ease in a tightly focused menu. One switch-up: salmon and grits, so if you have a hankering for shrimp and grits, be prepared to adjust your appetite.
There is a daily special and it appears that pork is the default protein. Pork chops, pounded and fried pork chops, pork loin and pork tenderloin make frequent appearances on the "special moniker" with collards bracing as the side. Expect to see a variety of legumes and beans including field peas, red beans and three-bean salad. Casseroles crest on most weeks and feature cheesy potato or greens.
Desserts satisfy a sweet tooth with pecan pound cake, sour cream pound cake and key lime pie.
Livelihood Cafe is taking baby steps, opening in September with a lunch menu, then expanding to all-day breakfast service.
Plans for dinner and brunch rest in the future.
They are riding the rails of their Lowcountry heritage and vested in the local and seasonal plenty that Charleston and her expanded baskets of plenty provide.
When you get a hankering for the taste of memory and need a side of classic Southern fixin's, it's likely that Livelihood Cafe will provide.