I noticed it a few times on my way to places like Baraka's for Shrimp n' Grits, or late at night to pick up a Sloppy Joe at The Kickback: just a little joint on the east side of the street with folksy paintings of soul food decorating the storefront and bars on the windows.
Yes, the neighborhood can occasionally resemble a war zone, and timid folks may hesitate to enter. But keep in mind that any violence that percolates around here generally arises from personal wrongs among those who know each other well, not aimed at your average bystander.
I say this because I support small, local businesses, especially restaurants, and think of it as a loving service to your city to encourage them to thrive.
Within this shabby commercial area where fly-by-night is often the name of the game, I wasn’t sure if they were actually open for business or just a shell some hopeful restaurateur had left behind.
Then a 6’4” queen with plucked eyebrows, his nails painted a vivid neon purple, told me one evening at the Kickback, “Oh, yes, they ARE open, honey, and it’s the BEST oxtails and chitlin’s you’ll get in this nasty ole city! And I’m a picky bitch too!”
OK. Well. ‘Nuff said.
Avid curiosity and a deep hunger for truly good food (wherever it may be located) will get the best of me every time.
Jerome Letbetter is the proprietor and sole cook at Grandma’s Diner, and he’ll give you a quirky smile if you ask the obvious question, “So, are you ‘Grandma’?”
“Sure. Well, actually,” he answers, “the name is to honor the women who raised me.”
Jerome’s eldest daughter, Leticia Williams, sporting a purple and black braided bun jauntily perched up front, says, “His mama worked all the time, and he and all his brothers and sisters lived with Great Grandmama Eardean and Grandma Mary Young.”
“Is that where you learned to cook?” I asked, sampling Jerome’s lemon-pepper wings.
“Of course,” he says. “That’s where a lot of these recipes come from—many, many hours spent fixin’ up meals for me and all the kids.”
I told him how the fame of his cooking had already spread around the neighborhood, and he was modest—yet not too surprised.
Since his daughter was there I asked her if her Daddy passed along those skills; Leticia laughed, “Oh, Daddy always persuaded us to get into the kitchen and cook! He puts his own special touch on everything!”
Jerome calls from the kitchen: “I make my own tartar sauce—nothin’ from a bottle!—and my own BBQ sauce too. I’d want my grandmammas to be proud of what I’m turning out here.”
The main menu is posted on a whiteboard set out in front of the counter—most popular items included here like fried shrimp and fish, hot wings, cheeseburgers, beef, turkey or pork sausage and porkchops. More substantial items are listed on a print-out menu at the order window.
Not all dishes are available at every hour though, so just ask what’s up for the day; the kitchen is small with only a tiny cooler, so potato salad may be replaced by tater tots, or the collard greens, a dish served best in cooler weather (cold temps make’em sweeter) may give way to succotash and green beans—Jerome will let you know as you place your order.
The porkchop served with my hubby’s lunch was huge, with a golden brown, savory crust and tender enough to melt in your mouth. Shrimp and fish are tasty and well-seasoned, hitting the local Top 3 Favs list with the big, juicy cheeseburgers or the hot wings box.
If you have a yen for cornbread, like I always do, just ask for a substitution: two sizeable hunks will replace your fries or tots—Jerome has no problem with that.
“Now, when the weather gets a little cooler, you gotta come in and try a piece of my Red Velvet Cake—it’d melt all out now—cream cheese and butter’ll do that in the summer heat.”
I look forward to it, Jerome! Until then, I’ll be happily satisfied with those crispy wings or tremendously good oxtail served over a luscious mound of yellow rice.
I love to see a continuing tradition of good food, well-prepared from family recipes, reasonably priced, and served up with a kind spirit. I’m also a Savannah-born-and-raised Southern girl and I won’t hesitate to explore when I hear there’s good cookin’ around. I urge you to do the same!