Any good home cooking restaurant will have a bottle of pepper sauce on the table, because folks like a little dash on their greens. You'll see hot sauce, and kudos to the place that has both Louisiana Hot Sauce and Tabasco.
There's one condiment that you seldom find in a restaurant, but when you do, you should go ahead and settle in for a fine spell of eating:
At Peggy's Heavenly Home Cooking, it's even homemade.
Peggy's, as we at the office call this little gem, has been operating for about two years, under three different owners, as the Upper Crust. Former cook Peggy Brown purchased it about 18 months ago, maybe longer, and soldiered through tough times. Finally she's gotten to the point of being able to change the name to reflect who she is and what she cooks.
Brown is purely a home-style cook, but pure doesn't necessarily mean simple. And simple sure doesn't always mean easy. Proper country cooking, soul food, home cooking -- whatever you want to call it -- is not easy. Brown ups the ante
by eschewing salt pork and other meats in her vegetables in favor of spices for flavor.
Further, while she uses her grandmother's recipes at her restaurant, she's worked in professional kitchens for years, including The Peabody.
In short, she comes by her culinary talent naturally and has refined it through training.
Housed next to Printer's Alley on Cleveland, there's ample on-street parking, which makes Peggy's convenient for to-go meals. Many's the day we've checked the menu for the vegetables of the day (don't take it as gospel; the choices sometimes change) and called in a take-out order. From those meals, I can tell you this:
Most days, the greens are among the best in town. If you like your greens meaty and smoky, you might not agree. But I don't, and my first rule of greens is that they not be cooked to death. Tender, but not mushy. Brown succeeds, and she never forgets to send pepper sauce on the side if you ask for it.
The peas, whether black-eyed, crowder or just field peas, are also almost always excellent. They're cooked enough to have a little bit of gravy, sometimes they even contain snaps. And if she's got it, be sure to order chow-chow, a touch that never fails to bring a smile to my overworked face. Now and again, a batch might not cook quite long enough, but it's rare.
Mashed potatoes are from scratch and excellent, though sometimes they're a bit stiff and sometimes a bit looser than ideal. But isn't this how it goes when you cook real food? Some potatoes are starchier than others, some greens have a more bitter bite than the last batch.
(Let me mention that the gravy for the potatoes and hamburger steak is suspect, though -- too brown, too salty and too silky to be home made. I could be wrong, but well, I don't think I am.)
On quite a few days, when I don't feel the call of virtue, I've ordered the patty melt and have never regretted it. An enormous burger, grilled onions and mustard, bound together by melted cheese and served on buttery toast is hard to resist, but impossible to finish.
When, just last month, the name of the restaurant changed, I decided it was time to visit Peggy's in person for a review. I ordered, for the first time, the fried catfish I've heard raves about, and am so glad I ate it for the first time hot from the skillet.
It was very, very good. The meat was clean and delicate, the cornmeal crust crisp and light. The size of the fillets was laughably large and I split them four ways.
On another visit, I ordered the chicken and dressing and couldn't have been happier with it. The cornbread dressing with celery and onion had a touch of sage, but not as much as turkey dressing might, and was just the right consistency: Moist but not gummy. The chicken -- you can choose dark meat or white, and I chose the leg and thigh -- was fall-apart tender.
A smothered pork chop we tried at the same meal was breaded, fried and smothered in gravy that clearly was true pan gravy, not from a mix. It could have been more tender, but it was flavorful.
The meatloaf is unrivaled, in my (admittedly limited) experience with meatloaf. The meat is well-seasoned, tender and juicy, and the topping is tangy and simply delicious; in a "Best Bets" feature written by CA reporter Michael Donahue on the meatloaf, Brown revealed that the sauce contains ketchup, honey and lemon juice.
The service is friendly, and the atmosphere simple. Three big-screen televisions are a distraction, so sit with your back to them if you don't want to be bothered.
It was a bit unusual to review a restaurant that has served me so many meals, as I usually get a two- or three- meal snapshot before writing a review. With this history, I feel comfortable giving Peggy's three stars for food, even with a few quibbles over the gravy and the menu discrepancies (and comparing it to similar restaurants, keep in mind -- not to upscale dining). Brown simply prepares an excellent -- even heavenly, we'll say -- plate of home cooking.
-- Jennifer Biggs: (901) 529-5223
Peggy's Heavenly Home Cooking
Address: 326 S. Cleveland
Telephone: (901) 474-4938
Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday.
Reviewer's choices: Patty melt ($4.25); catfish dinner ($8.95); chicken and dressing, meatloaf, mashed potatoes, peas, greens (plates lunches are $6.95 for meat and two sides, with an excellent cornbread muffin)
Poor: Zero stars
Good: One star
Very Good: Two stars
Excellent: Three stars
Extraordinary: Four stars