"Bless this bread, bless this meat, bless this belly 'cause I's gon' eat!"
Reverend Williams, Soul Food - 1997
I love my Mom. She is a far better parent than I or anyone deserves. She's a good friend, a reliable go-to person when help is needed and a fabulous mother-in-law to my Wife.
But her cooking...
Mom hates to cook. To be fair, meals in our house were never late and there was plenty of it but she was not, I'm sorry to say, a particularly inspired cook. She's got a repertoire of about a dozen dishes with maybe 8 standard everyday ones. I suspect what drove me to being a Foodie as I grew up was the constant curiosity about new food that can only come from such a limited palette growing up. When I started going out to restaurants I was immediately the one who wanted to try all the exotic places. I was forever trying to talk my friends into going for Thai food, or Indian, or Nepalese or Japanese.
Doug's Soul Food cooks like I wish my Mom cooked. It cooks like I want to cook. It cooks like you wish your Mom cooked. On the front of the menu, along with a picture of the owners mother, is the motto, "Not Mom's, But Close!". It is humbly implied that this means they are not quite as good as Mom. I think the reality is closer to your Mom not being quite as good as they are.
Like good home cooking, you will find no fancy ingredients at Doug's. There is no curly parsley on the plates, there is no exotic ingredients in the food. What winds up on your plate is the fundamentals; chicken, pork, flour, butter, salt, pepper, eggs, and cheese. You are not paying for expensive ingredients, you are paying for technique.
I make pretty good fried chicken. It's one of those dishes I wanted to conquer right from the start. I think I went through about 15 or 20 derivations of the coating, the brine, the cooking method before I settled on what is now, I think, Version 2.7. Took me two years to get that far and it's still not quite finished, the hardest part still eludes me.
When you take a bite of nice, crispy friend chicken, especially a fried drumstick, you should be able to easily bite off a chunk that has some meat and some crispy, delicious fried coating in it (the best part of fried chicken, as we all know). What you are trying to avoid is the entire skin and all the breading sliding off the piece in one mouthful. The breading has to adhere to the skin and the skin has to stay on the chicken. This is not easy. Differences in temperatures, fat layers under the skin melting in the heat and providing lubricant, the wet batter, the dry batter, the fact that skin and flour don't chemically like each other and getting it all done, cooked to GBD perfection without overcooking or undercooking the meat... is a flouncing, flamboyant, flourecent BITCH. I can do it about half the time (I think it has to do with how long you leave the batter on)
The fried chicken I had at Doug's was perfect. I took a bite and left a perfect bite sized hole in the chicken. Every bite had some breading in it till I was done. That is a damn fine trick.
Soul Food has been in our state for a long time but I only began seeking it out after I began reading Southern cookbooks and watching Southern cooking shows. It was love at first taste. More than that. I'm starting to suspect I lived there in a past life. I fell head over heals for greens, love sweet potato pie and I'm dying to try grits (if I could find somewhere that does them well).
My Bride an I went to Doug's on a sleepy Sunday afternoon. We were the only two patrons and enjoyed the undivided attention of the owners. Doug's does not have a large menu but it has a lot of open-ended variables such as "Sauteed Vegitables" which could mean whatever they have that day, "Cakes" which included two selections and "Pies" which included five. The protien options are BBQ Pork Spare Ribs, Perch, Catfish, BBQ Beef Spare Ribs and Southern Fried Chicken. Every meal comes with 2 sides and a starch which are cornbread (a cornbread muffin actually), dinner roll or hush puppies (little deep fried seasoned dough balls for those who have never had). The dining room is tiny, tidy and cute with perhaps a dozen tables, a counter and classy table settings with white tablecloths.
As I've already alluded, the chicken was perfect. This is not KFC chicken. Salt and Pepper are no secret. This is good home cooking. Crispy, juicy and perfectly cooked. The hush puppies had a little kick and were another layer of crispy fried goodness. The greens were nice, tender and just bitter enough to be complex without being icky.
My Bride ordered the BBQ Pork Spare Ribs, Mac & Cheese, candied sweet potatos and cornbread. She was nice enough to let me steal a few bites of everything (in the name of science of course).
Note, in the right hand corner of the web page, it says something about me being an empiricist? Well, that's why I have to say... this is not Barbecue. Barbecuing is a cooking style that involves the application of low heat and smoke over a long period of time. Real Barbecue is famous for taking cheap, tough pieces of meat and turning them into tender, smoky, flavorful piles of goodness and love. I do not think that Doug's has a barbecue pit in the back.
Never the less, the ribs were tasty, tender-but-satisfying and possessed of a nice tangy sauce. No, it's not technically barbecue, but it's good.
My Bride raved about the Mac & Cheese and it was pretty damn good. I suspect some Velvetta was used, and it really did taste like something you threw together in your kitchen in a hurry, but it's the kind of home recipe that other people want a copy off. She plans on making both her sides Mac & Cheese when we go back. The Candied Sweet Potatoes were good, but she makes them better.
Now, I'm not normally a dessert person. Restaurant desserts, especially in this new era of "Death by Chocolate with Chocolate Ice Cream, Chocolate Sauce on Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Sprinkles and shaved Chocolate with Chocolate Mouse served on a Chocolate plate with a Chocolate fork", are not big with me. I am, however, a big fan of PIE. To me, it is the one of the Ultimate comfort foods. It's my Death Row dessert. I want the taste of a cherry/apple cream pie lingering in my mouth as they throw the switch.
Such a whore for pie am I that when it came time to decide on dessert, I took a piece of candy from the fuckit bucket and doubled down. Sweet Potato Pie and Apple Pie for me, the infamous "Edna's Lemon Cake" for My Bride.
The Sweet Potato pie was perfect. Soft, custardy and just sweet enough to accent the potato.
The apple pie was excellent as well. Note the flaky crust? I couldn't help but think that a few notes could be taken by LMNO Pies...
The dark secret my Bride waited to tell me till after we had left Doug's is that she immediately suspected that this was a doctored cake mix. Aunt Edna's cake is probably a yellow cake mix with some lemon zest, lemon juice and a sugar glaze on the outside. If you have a problem with such a thing, then consider yourself warned. If not, then good, cause it was damn good cake and I'd hate to think of you missing it.
Doug's Soul Food is another example of a place that isn't WOW food. It's not trying to impress you, it's trying to feed you and fill you up. This is not the kind of place to take an out of town guest if you want to impress them with fancy local cuisine. But on a cold fall afternoon, after a long and wearysome day, when you just don't feel like cooking and you're maybe feeling a little homesick, stop by Doug's. It's pure comfort food done right.