Despite never planning for a life in restaurants, Angie Bellinger is the one-woman show behind Workmen’s Cafe in James Island, South Carolina. “We went over the menu before we opened,” she says, referring to a conversation with her mother, Ruby Lee Whaley Bellinger, whose idea it was to open Workmen’s in the first place. “But when we opened, she just threw me in here: ‘It’s on you, you do what you want.’”
Workmen’s is located in a small repurposed house on the outskirts of Charleston, and is known to attract a rush of blue-collar workers around lunchtime, all seeking a plate of Bellinger’s hearty and affordable cooking. The menu is set up like a meat-and-three, with mains like ribs, fried chicken, and pork chops offered with sides like macaroni and cheese, collard greens, and lima beans. Regulars never pass up Workmen’s cornbread or biscuits, items Bellinger learned to bake from her mother using freehand ingredient pouring, relying entirely on instinct — and never a measuring cup — to achieve consistent results.
Under the watchful eye of Barack Obama (a framed copy of the Post and Courier from the day after his 2008 election hangs above the to-go containers), Bellinger prepares, assembles, and rings up her signature soul food for locals who know to pull over for it.