By Jim Duncan CVFDude@aol.com
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
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
“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
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.
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.
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