Thursday, February 21, 2013 / 3:25 PM
Move over, Sweetie Pie's: there's a new soul food restaurant in South City, and they’ve got chops.
The Choice is a buffet featuring (depending on the day) fried chicken, smothered chicken, smoked turkey legs, candied yams, yolky potato salad, and an eggy bread pudding that tastes like a dreamy French toast.
Their secrets? The fried chicken is marinated in a batter of egg, powdered milk, butter, salt, and white pepper, rested overnight, and then floured and fried. It is some juicy, crispy, damn good fried chicken. The "smothered chicken (below left)," a Southern delight, is first fried then baked with gravy, hot chicken broth, onions, and 'shrooms. The texture is a sensual blend of crispy and moist. Candied yams (below right) are sweetened with sugar, honey, maple syrup, nutmeg, and cinnamon for an addictive taste. “The yams are baked, not cooked on the skillet, to avoid mushiness,” explained Choice co-owner Lillian Copper.
Smoked turkey legs are cooked in the smoker out back, then finished with a little Worcester sauce in the oven, for about an hour. My complaint about smoked turkey is its occasional toughness; this birdmeat just drops off the bone.
Other items (above and below) typically found on the 25-item buffet include stuffing, mostaccioli, red beans and rice, greens, roast beef, gumbo, baked turkey, sirloin steak, fish, catfish, seafood pasta, mashed potatoes and gravy, peach cobbler, pecan brownies, and a crunchy, French-toast like bread pudding. The menu is a reflection of what "Miss Lillian (right, on Valentine's Day)," as she is sometimes called, feels like making that day. (Call ahead to see if she has fried chicken or any other items you’re particularly hoping to find.)
Copper comes by her flair for Southern cooking via "some catering experiences, some classes, and a lot of family cooking," she said. "People have always loved my food. You have to prepare it slowly,” she emphasized, “to get all the flavor.”
The cook-owner opened the Choice a little more than a month ago with dinners priced at $9.99 for one entrée, two side orders, plus bread. After some consideration, she turned the cafeteria-style restaurant into an all-you-can-eat buffet for $12.99 a head. “There’s a mystique about all-you-can-eat," confided Copper. "A lot of people go back to the buffet, but a lot of people don’t. I’ve never seen anyone yet go back a third time.”
The re-jiggering seems to have worked -- the promise of stuffing your piehole until you need to nap has begun to draw in more diners, she said.
The premises (the home of the original Richard Perry Restaurant) are a visual surprise, too, with an elegant ambience that includes a white baby-grand piano (above), ornate place settings (see photos at end of article), and a classy wooden bar and lounge area (below). It was a long, multi-year renovation, said Copper, with that weary, mountain-conquering grin shared by all restaurateurs who know how a gut rehab (and the waiting for all the business licenses that the City requires) can deplete a person's reserves of perseverance.
Lillian and husband and co-owner Rick Copper have even bigger dreams, though. They're hoping for an outsized success that will eventually lead them to open both a sports bar and jazz club upstairs in the building's second floor, and a B&B on the third floor.
The Choice Manager Kevin Jackson (below at right, with Copper and employee Alex Slaughter), a former trainer for Hilton dining services, said that it was the couple's ambitions that drew him to seek employment there. The food is dandy, the first floor is a study in elegance, and the (literally) lofty goals for the upper floors give a fella something toward which to strive.
We're nuts about something else they've got going at the ambitious Choice, too: they're open 'til midnight six days a week.
3265 S. Jefferson
10 a.m. to midnight Tues. to Sun. (closed Mondays)
Live music on Fridays
On Facebook: The Choice at Something Special
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