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Food Dude

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By Jim Duncan

Something Good

Appropriately named “Something Good,” Millie Carr’s new café in the historic Wherry Block Building has become a mother lode of Riverbend’s neighborhood pride just months after opening. On several different visits there, I talked with customers who had driven considerable distances for dinner. Some said they were returning to their old neighborhood and considered the restaurant a kind of community center. Others said they just wanted to support Carr, whose humanitarian reputation is gospel.

After 25 years of walking in her mother’s footsteps as a geriatric nurse, Carr opened this soul food café last spring, following a six-month delay, waiting for city inspectors to approve her hood, firewall and grease trap. When she’s not helping son Garrett Boone run the kitchen, she works the floor, like a nurse.

“How are you tonight?” Carr asked while beaming goodwill around a café that is frequently overfilled.

“I am blessed and every day is an additional blessing,” she responded after an elderly customer returned her greeting.

To a certain degree, this place runs off the positive fumes of Carr’s aura. Because the neighborhood includes a large percentage of elderly and physically challenged residents, Something Good does an unusually high percentage of carryout orders. That means that sit down diners might have to wait awhile for service. Most don’t mind because they came for the community as much as the meal. But a few get impatient and leave. Sometimes the staff becomes so stressed from heavy business that they just lock the doors, as much as half an hour before closing time. Customers aren’t as accepting of that, especially when they see their friends inside.

One of two dining rooms was christened Big Mama’s Banquet, invoking the matriarch of “Soul Food,” the book, movie and TV series. In actuality, that room honors Carr’s grandmother Lillian, the inspiration for the cuisine. The menu is based around the “meat and two” format of most soul food diners. Some meat choices had star power: baked turkey legs were perfectly tender; cornmeal-breaded catfish was Southern magic with golden crustiness and tender flesh; meatloaf was divinely seasoned and had a smooth, consistent texture. Other entrées were inconsistent. Flour-breaded fried chicken was golden and divine one time, but dark brown and uneven the next. Oddly, a wings appetizer provided seven giant, three jointed wings, but a three piece fried chicken dinner, costing twice as much, provided only a single wing joint, a leg and a thigh. Barbecue ribs were smoky and multi-textured once, but neither of those things another time. We were told it was too hot to use the smoker that day.

Something Good provides 17 vegetable choices, including some dishes that are hard to find in Des Moines — collard greens, red beans and rice, navy beans and fried okra. Both the greens and red beans had enough pork included to make me want them as entrees. Fried okra was dark brown and disappointing and the corn bread came only with margarine, but it was good enough to eat naked.

Some of the best things on the menu were common dishes executed with old-fashioned perfection. Humongous burgers came from short order heaven, grinders rivaled those on the South Side and breakfasts rate with any in town, on a calorie per dollar basis. Portions were generally so generous that I only made my way through a small portion of the dessert menu — heavy crusted sweet potato and pecan pies.

Side dishes

New Bedford scallops and Chesapeake soft shell crabs are in season at Sage, which is also hosting a Templeton Rye dinner Oct. 4... Casa di Vino will host a tasting of Central Coast (California) wines Sept. 18... DuBay’s has closed after just four months. CV

Past Food Dude Reviews
Amici Espresso (1-4-07) Bandana's (1-11-07)
Perry hotel (1-18-07) Beyond frozen (1-25-07)
Centro (2-1-07) KC BBQ (2-8-07)
Planet Sub (2-15-07) Trostel’s Greenbriar (2-22-07)
Acapulco (3-1-07) Aryana (3-8-07)
AJ's (3-15-07) Ban Thai (3-22-07)
Two Crop Palace(3-29-07) Mo Q x 2 (4-5-07)
What's In A Name?(4-12-07) Lemongrass (4-19-07)
Chef Joe's Place (5-3-07) Suburban Restaurant (5-10-07)
Gateway Market Café (5-17-07) Irina’s Restaurant Bar (5-24-07)
Trailer Tripe (5-31-07) Azalea (6-07-07)
Pho All Seasons (6-14-07) Farmers Market (6-21-07)
El Sabor Latino (6-28-07) Crouse Café (7-5-07)
Bistro Montage (7-12-07) Jaliscolita rebounds (7-19-07)
New Saigon (7-26-07) Smokey D's BBQ (8-2-07)
Gourmet Burgers (8-9-07) Iowa State Fair (8-16-07)
Rolling Wok (8-23-07) Sports Bars (8-30-07)
Dragon House West (9-6-07)  

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