Thursday, February 26, 2009

Soul Food in Phoenix
Lots of people head to Phoenix this time of the year to enjoy the warmer weather and play golf. Not us. We went and, after I worked each morning, visited the soul food restaurants of Phoenix.

First we went to Mrs. White's Golden Rule Cafe, which is in downtown Phoenix, not far from the baseball stadium, but somewhat confusing to get to due to the fact that they've recently (at least since last time I was there) put a light-rail system in downtown Phoenix, which makes things like turning a little more challenging.

Mrs. White's is a tiny place, with about a dozen tables and a bar (for eating, not drinking). You pick a meat, and two sides. I had chicken-fried steak, which was pretty much batter fried goodness surrounding a tender, not dried out, steak. It was wonderful. I combined it with some macaroni and cheese, which wasn't particularly memorable, and some greens, which were good, and had a great meal for less than $20. No booze, but they sell sweet-tea and lemonade. The service is friendly. It takes a while to get your food, but that's because they're cooking it up right there. So have another sweet-tea, enjoy the atmosphere and, if you have a sharpie with you, sign your name on the wall.

The next day we went to Restaurant 28, in Glendale, which is a suburb of Phoenix that gets made fun of a lot, I'm not really sure why. The Arizona Cardinals play there, but I don't think that's the reason. Restaurant 28 is the biggest of the three soul food establishments we visited, and it looks more like a traditional (casual) restaurant than the other two, which are converted houses with not a lot of space. It's run by a guy named George, who is from North Carolina. On our visit, George walked into the restaurant, trailing a cart of barbecued meat, and asked us all how we were doin'. The place is called Restaurant 28, commemorating the fact that he and his eventual wife went 28 years without seeing each other before they were reunited and married. His wife was from Arizona, they re-met in North Carolina and, the next thing you know, George packed up his barbecue equipment and headed out west.

Restaurant 28 has a huge menu. And they serve chittlings every day, which is apparently a pretty big thing. It was a big thing to my girlfriend, as we seem to always show up at these restaurants the day after chittling day. But at Restaurant 28, every day is Chittling Day! And they were good, my girlfriend said, although not as good as those of her cousin, who, unfortunately, doesn't have a restaurant.

I'm not much of a chittling eater, so I opted for some of George's barbecue -- chopped brisket. You generally get your brisket sliced, but chopped is much better. You don't have to do so much chewing, and there's more surface space for George's great sauces, most of which I was unaware of until George was telling us about them and I had finished eating. I also enjoyed some fried okra, which I munched on as my girlfriend made her way through her chittlings. Based on the quality and variety of the food, and the friendliness of George and his colleagues, I could eat at Restaurant 28 every day. If I lived in Arizona, at least. And I guess I'd eat there every day for about three years, at which point my arteries would be as hard as concrete and I'd drop dead.

Oh, and you can get beer there, too, which is always nice.

Day Three took us to Lo-Lo's Chicken and Waffles (if you follow this link, check out the pictures section where you'll see a photo of Matt Leinert wearing a stylized Nationals' cap). Like Mrs. White's, this is downtown and in a coverted house. It's run by Larry "Lo-Lo" White, who is Mrs. White's grandson. Of course he is!

I'm certainly familiar with the whole chicken and waffle concept, but I was never quite sure if I got it, and was a little bit afraid to ask. After experiencing it, I'm still not sure that I get it. It is, indeed, chicken AND waffles (I thought maybe you ordered chicken or you ordered waffles). At Lo-Lo's, you get a plate filled up with fried chicken, eggs, grits and a couple of waffles. The fried chicken was very good, crisp on the outside, juicy on the inside. Big pieces. I'm not much of a waffle-eater, but the waffles didn't really seem exceptional, and I'm still unclear as to why chicken and waffles is such a famous combination. But who am I to arguewith the likes of E40 and Cassidy, who, apparently, are hip hop musicians that are big fans of Lo-Lo's? The eggs were good, and the grits were good, and it tasted all right when you just kind of mixed everything up and sopped it up with a waffle. But the chicken was the best part, and I just wanted to pick that up and eat it, not messing with any waffles or anything else.

No beer here, you can have lemonade or fruit punch Kool-Aid, served in Mason jars.

Unfortunately, I was not up to the task of dessert, which featured a red velvet cake, that has been deemed "the best" by none other than ex-Sun and noted red velvet cake expert Shawn Marion. Marion actually majored in Red Velvet Cake during his days at UNLV. So he should know. It was also noted that the Arizona Cardinals considered Lo-Lo's their "good luck" charm during their improbable run to the Super Bowl. (Note to Dan Snyder: Open a Lo-Lo's Washington branch out by the stadium. I'm sure it won't give the Redskins good luck, but it would be a good place to go get chicken.)

Lo-Lo's was just as friendly as the other restaurants. It's even smaller than Mrs. White's, though, and when it fills up it can get loud and a little hectic. Part of the experience I guess.

The soul food tour was a good way to get a feel for Phoenix, beyond the $250 greens fees and fancy sports cars zooming down Camelback Road that I associate with the city. There are many other soul food restaurants in Phoenix (thanks, Google), I actually think they have more there than in DC. Which is interesting when you realize that Arizona has never been blazing the trail in making black people feel welcome, as famously illustrated by their reluctance to accept Martin Luther King Day as a holiday, despite the pleas of Ronald Reagan, and despite the fact that the NFL moved a Super Bowl elsewhere to protest this reluctance. I'm glad things have changed.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great reviews. Lolo's and Mrs. White's are two of my favorite Phoenix restaurants. I'll have to check out Restaurant 28.


tadcranky said...

Thanks. When you go to 28 make sure you get the lowdown on sauces before you order!