it's okay to play with your food

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Mrs. Wilkes' Boarding House

Weeks ago, my friend Jess returned from a road trip south with news of a must-visit restaurant for my trip: Mrs. Wilkes’ Boarding House. She spoke of delicious fried chicken and rutabaga, waiting in line starting at 10 am for a table and all-you-can-eat, family style dining. It sounded amazing. And the fact that it was only open Monday thru Fridays bode well, though it meant that Daniel and I would have to make a slight detour on our way from South Carolina to Alabama. (I find that most restaurants with limited weekday hours are great, as they don’t cater exclusively to tourists. John’s Roast Pork in South Philly is a good example.)

By 10:30 am, the line was already about 30-40 people long. Daniel dropped me off so I could secure a spot in line while he parked the car.

I strongly prescribe to what I refer to as, the Smell Test. The smell of a restaurant is a good indicator of the kind of food they are preparing. Obviously a bad odor is a problem, but just as problematic is no fragrance at all. Standing outside of Mrs. Wilkes, the smell wound its way to the sidewalk.

They started seating and after about 15 minutes we were directed to our table, second dining room, second table on the right. The table was ready with a glass of sweet tea at each setting and bowls and plates of food. BBQ pork, butter beans, carrot raisin salad, corn bread and biscuits, beef stew, fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, rutabaga, squash, sweet potatoes, mashed potato salad, collard greens… I know I’m forgetting something… Seven other people were seated with us and after an awkward “Can we start?” moment, we dug in.

The food was amazing. My earlier concern about everything being overly sweet down south was completely unnecessary. At Mrs. Wilkes, they struck the perfect balance of sweet, but not cloying. Even the sweet tea still tasted like tea. My favorites were the incredibly moist, piping hot fried chicken; the tangy, vinegary collard greens; creamy, golden mac and cheese; the incredibly moist cornbread; and the even moister, soft, flakey biscuits.

And they just keep bringing you food! As soon as a plate empties, they offer to bring you more. At one point, I announced I was taking a break. Daniel, however, advised me that breaking means your stomach realizes it’s full, not necessarily a good thing. So I kept going, even polishing off my tiny bowl of delicious banana pudding, with bits of soft white cakes amidst pudding and whipped cream.

About thirty minutes later, we were bringing our dirty dishes to the kitchen, paying our $16 and staggering out the door. It was probably the most food I have every consumed in that short of a period of time. And about six hours later, much to my surprise, I was craving more fried


Not everything in the south is fried and/or cooked in lard. On the way to Montgomery, we passed by Lane Packing Company, responsible for most of the peaches we buy at the supermarket. Peach season doesn’t start till mid-May, but they also grow strawberries. And we are smack in the middle of strawberry season right now. A taste of one of the sweetest strawberries I’ve ever had was all it took before I bought a pint for the road. Every. single. strawberry. has been amazing.

Coming Up: Delicious Thai and more fried chicken from Montgomery, Alabama.


ch said...

Wow, this sounds delicious. Mike and I were talking yesterday about how mac and cheese is the national food of Bermuda, but I bet it's way tastier in the South.

kitchenplay said...

i can't compare the two, but I must say, the south knows how to make unhealthy food... like, it's their job...