Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The highs of Loweâ??s

Eatonville kitchen elevates soul-food standards

Posted on Wed, Mar 17, 2010 at 4:00 AM

Lowe's Good Eaton may be open seven days a week, but there's no better time to sample the restaurant's dishes than Sunday afternoons, when worshippers dressed in their Sunday best cross the street from Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church in the heart of Eatonville and head straight to Shea Lowe's soul-food sitdown. The famished masses pay no heed to the menu board near the entrance ' most know exactly what they crave ' and make a beeline for the steam table toward the back of the restaurant to confirm their selection is available. The scene is one of animated anticipation: suited men and chapeau'ed ladies getting their fill of in-line hobnobbing before getting their fill of Southern cookery. 

A Caribbean influence is immediately noticeable, with items like curry chicken ($7.50) and 'slap yo' mommaâ?� oxtails ($7.99) simmering under the glass. That's because Lowe's wife hails from Jamaica, and the menu includes some of her family recipes. The oxtails, supposedly so good that they might spur a bout of maternal abuse, didn't make me want me to sock my mother, but they were worthy of giving my cousin a good shove. While flavorful, they weren't as fall-off-the-bone tender as I would've liked; there are plenty of Caribbean joints in town ' Timehri, Shakera's and Golden Krust ' that do the dish better. Sides of macaroni and cheese and sweet corn, on the other hand, were spot-on. The curry chicken had the obligatory infusion of allspice and turmeric to give it the island essence, and even the rice was identical to the sort you'd find at a Caribbean restaurant. For added zest, squeeze bottles of homemade pepper sauce fashioned by the head cook ' Miss Kim, whose Thai heritage lent the hot sauce its distinct bite ' yielded a bit of heat and a lot of flavor.

Of the traditional Southern offerings, three pieces of fried chicken ($2.99) were cheap and superbly gratifying, the crisp skin and slick resplendence of white and dark meat delightfully sticky and messy. Smothered pork chops ($7.59) drew comparisons to the ones served up at Johnson's Diner, which we found to be more tender and a little better-seasoned. But Lowe's chops are still a plateful of comfort, no doubt, especially when accompanied with a heap of mashed potatoes and green beans. The coup de grâce is sopping the thick gravy up with arguably the best corn bread in the city. Other sides, like black-eyed peas and steamed cabbage, are also perfectly executed. It should be noted that because many of her customers don't eat pork, Miss Kim will occasionally season her peas with smoked turkey or, in the case of collards, green beans and cabbage, with vegetable-based spices.

If you make it out on a Friday or Saturday, you may find Lowe hovering over a batch of his special ribs ($9.99), which he slow-cooks over an open charcoal grill. Desserts are a tad hard to come by. It took three visits before I was able to sample the sweet potato pie ($1.75), but it was well worth the wait. The pie wasn't overly spiced with nutmeg and cinnamon, but had an almost floral essence. Just as wonderful was Miss Kim's banana pudding ($2.50), with its just-right thickness and consistency.

And after sampling Lowe's fare, the same could be said about my belly.

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