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Lell Trogdon greets regular customer Kevin Jones with a joke and one of her breakfast specials—french toast.
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Lell’s Sticky Fingers French Toast
STRIKE UP A CONVERSATION with any of the regular customers lingering over Saturday breakfast at Lell’s Café in Rock Hill, and the word you hear most often is “real”—as in “real food,” “real fresh” and “really good.”
Since opening a little more than a year ago, the small eatery has gained a following of devoted fans who rave about chef/proprietor Lell Trogdon’s creative cooking, fresh ingredients and the friendly service they receive from her staff. “It’s sort of the breakfast and lunch equivalent of Cheers. You come in and people know your name,” says frequent guest Jo Koster.
Open for breakfast and lunch starting at 7 a.m. Mondays through Saturdays.
But what really has people talking is the bacon—the delectable, crispy, thick-cut, sweet-and-peppery, you have-to-try-this bacon.
Like almost everything else at Lell’s Cafe, right down to the condiments and salad dressings, the bacon is made from scratch using only farm-fresh, local ingredients. Starting with whole pork bellies from Caw Caw Creek Farm in Columbia, Trogdon cures select cuts with a sugar and spice rub, then bakes up giant trays of it for her customers to enjoy alongside their farm-fresh eggs and thick-cut French toast. “When she makes bacon, this place smells so good,” Koster raves.
As a result of Trogdon’s commitment to use local food sources whenever possible, the menu at Lell’s Cafe is limited and it changes daily to reflect the availability of ingredients. Devotees know to check the cafe’s Facebook page to learn about the latest finds at local farmer’s markets and the chef’s plans to turn those ingredients into delicious home-style meals. In the summer months, for example, Trogdon has been known to turn organic chickens, vine-ripened tomatoes and sweet South Carolina watermelons into lunch specials like tomato and basil sandwiches, chicken salad (complete with house-made mayonnaise) and watermelon feta salad.
It may seem like an unusual arrangement in an on-demand world, but customers like Koster wouldn’t have it any other way. “Everything you’re getting is not only perfectly prepared and really delicious, but it’s healthy, and it’s good for you and it’s sustaining your neighbors,” she says. “You’re not only getting great food, you’re getting a connection.”
That connection has been “baked in” from the earliest days of the cafe, which launched as a Community Supported Restaurant. Customers purchased shares in the restaurant to provide start-up capital, helped secure the lease and even provided furniture in exchange for food “dividends.” And that community support is what keeps Trogdon going in spite of 14-hour days and a tight economy.
“The business has already surpassed my two-year business plan,” Trogdon says. “That doesn’t mean I’m home free, but so much has happened so fast I’ve had to scramble to keep up. It’s an astounding opportunity at this late date in my life. I am blown away by the faith people have in me making this happen.”
Lell’s Sticky Fingers French Toast
1 cup brown sugar
2 ounces bourbon
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 pinch salt
1 dozen eggs
1/3 quart heavy cream
1 loaf bread, cut in thick slices
Mix first six ingredients thoroughly. Soak thick bread slices in this custard until it is absorbed. To make the French toast, cook in sauté pan or on griddle for 2–3 minutes, flip and cook on the other side until browned. Serve with honey. Lell’s gets theirs from Mama Beehive Honey Farm in Clover