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From the Kitchen: Hidden gem in hospital basement

By By Judy Grigoraci
For the Gazette

I like to let you in on little known and unheralded eating spots whenever or wherever I find them. Teenage grandson Shawn’s recent repair of a deviated septum led me to the Charleston Surgical Hospital’s basement cafeteria.

I’m glad it did.

Not happy he needed the procedure, which he breezed through without a wrinkle, thanks to Dr. Pollard and the hospital staff, but, when lunchtime rolled around, I discovered an actual hands-on chef in charge of the food service.

Branden Williams produces his food daily at reasonable prices and all of it open to the public. You don’t have to work there or have anyone in the hospital to walk in and eat.

“Deli style sandwiches, salads and soups are all prepared fresh to-order and pretty standard, but I get to show my real cooking talents with my daily specials,” Williams said.

All the items are homemade by Williams with one kitchen assistant. This day he was somewhat a one-armed paper hanger because he was alone, filling orders and quickly running out of popular items.

I enjoyed his tuna salad as a sandwich for lunch and later went back to get more to go and it was sold out. Employees said that often happens with his food.

The specials consist of a soup, entrée and dessert.

“My specials change daily and rotate through the year,” he said, handing me his menu for the week.

“It’s all from-scratch. I learned how to make General Tso’s chicken from my roommate in culinary school who happened to work at P. F. Chang’s.”

Williams started out with a two-year culinary degree, interned at Sleepy Hollow Golf Club and finished as a four-year graduate in culinary arts at UC Beckley.

He has been in the hospital kitchen since January, 2013.

He serves breakfast as well, offering the usuals you would expect, but also specials.

His Monday through Friday special breakfast lineup from the list he gave me was: French toast; biscuits and gravy; omelets; pancakes; breakfast tacos.

For lunch: baked ziti, garlic bread, and from-scratch, nice sized cookies of oatmeal with golden raisins and whole walnuts and chocolate cookie with macadamia nuts and white chocolate. I got the last chocolate for Shawn, dismaying several in the line behind me.

His lunch specials continued through that week with smoked sausage, redskin potatoes with peppers and onions, cookies and cream pie; General Tso chicken, fried rice, yellow cake with chocolate icing; taco salad with toppings, cookies; BLT, loaded baked potato soup and blueberry cream pie.

According to Williams, hot dogs and the BLT-potato soup are among the bigger sellers.

The cafeteria hours are breakfast from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. and lunch from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

I noticed the breakfast special price is $4 and lunch $6 with modest prices for the menu items. In demand cookies are 2 for $1.

The hospital is located at 1306 Kanawha Blvd., East with entrance from Virginia Street.

Charlestonians remember it originally as the Eye and Ear Clinic.

Anyone can come in and be served. But if you are hospitalized for an overnight stay, you have a private chef. According to one of the floor nurses, Williams comes to your room to consult with you about what you would want to eat and makes certain you have it. That truly could brighten your stay.

I didn’t get a recipe from him and I think I’ll leave General Tso to Williams and to Carina at Main Kwong, but I have a recipe for a special breakfast.

Special occasion, yes, but I’ll bet some wouldn’t think of starting your routine day without chocolate. You know who you are.

In that case you can let on you’re making these for a youngster.

Reach Judy Grigoraci at

Chocolate Pancakes or Waffles

Makes 6 to 8

1 egg

2 ½ tablespoons canola oil or melted butter

¾ cup whole milk

1 cup pancake and waffle mix

2 tablespoons sugar

1 ½ tablespoons cocoa powder

Optional – 2 tablespoons mini chocolate chips

WHISK egg and oil in medium bowl until blended; whisk in milk. Add pancake mix, sugar and cocoa, whisking smooth, but don’t overbeat. Stir in chocolate chips, if desired.

COOK on a sprayed or buttered hot griddle or heated waffle iron until cooked through and crisp if waffle. May serve with butter and syrup, fresh fruit or berries or really hit a grand slam with pancake or waffle, whipped (or ice) cream and hot fudge sauce.

Nutrition information: (1 pancake no toppings) 130 calories; 50 calories from fat; 6 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 30 milligrams cholesterol; 200 milligrams sodium; 15 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 3 grams protein.

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