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November 26, 2013

Taste Bud: Sheila’s brings it on home

My late grandmother would occasionally batter-fry whitefish and have the family over for dinner. With it, she would often serve fried potatoes as well as spaghetti with tomato sauce.

And she would typically ask everyone at the table the same question at least once: “Do you like them whitings?”

I don’t often get to enjoy food like she made, but had the opportunity to do so recently at Sheila’s Southern Style Cuisine, which is located at 2017 Brownsboro Road in the site that previously was home to I Love Sushi and Teriyaki, among many other concepts. (To call that spot a Bermuda Triangle of dining is to be kind; here’s hoping Sheila’s makes a go of it there.)

Sheila’s is straight-up soul food — ribs, fried chicken and fried catfish (and whiting!) are menu features, along with sides like mashed potatoes, collard greens and fried okra always at the ready. Yep, this is a menu my grandmother — “Mammaw,” as we called her — would have been on board with. In fact, if she’d ever opened a restaurant, her menu would have looked a lot like the one at Sheila’s.

I couldn’t not try the fried chicken, but every offering available looked good to me. You can also mix and match your chicken to your liking. You like white meat? Go for the breast and wing. Dark meat? Go for the drumsticks and thighs. Are wings your thing? You can substitute it all for four whole wings. Have it your way for $8.95, and that includes two sides of your choice.

My girlfriend Cynthia went for the “whiting” (Mammaw would have been proud); for $7.95, she got three big pieces and two sides. In fact, she couldn’t finish off the fish, which meant I had leftovers the next day. Score.

Of course, the reason she couldn’t finish the whiting, which was rolled in cornmeal batter and fried, was because of the huge basket of fried okra and the mountain of mashed potatoes and gravy she was served along with the fish. Me, I finish off meat first if I sense I’m getting full, but for her it’s always the veggies and starches that take precedence. This may be why we get along so well. Hmm.

For starters, our server brought us two complimentary pieces of cornbread that were prepared in a waffle iron — yep, waffle-shaped cornbread. And it was good stuff, the real deal.

When our meals arrived, Cynthia immediately raved about the potatoes. Interestingly, the bite I tried offered a nice surprise in the form of a lump — yep, Sheila’s definitely would have gotten Mammaw’s seal of approval. Cynthia noted that it’s rare to find mashed potatoes in a restaurant that are simultaneously creamy and lumpy. They sure did feel and taste like home.

For my sides, I chose baked four-cheese macaroni along with collard greens. I got a lot of mac and cheese. The pile seemed like it was as big as my face — and I have a pretty big face. It was creamy and tender, and the cheesy flavor was probably some of the most intense I’ve had in a macaroni dish. Holy cow. I wanted to take a swim in it.

The collard greens were lightly seasoned but were big and leafy and not overcooked. I hate when greens are cooked to the point of having the texture of wet seaweed; these greens were spot on and seasoned with pork (I know, because I found a couple of decent-sized hunks hiding amongst the leaves).

Here’s something to try if you’re a spice-head — I asked our server for a side of hot sauce, and she brought out a fairly basic cayenne sauce in a small dish. I dipped the collard greens in it, and it was a smash hit. When I made greens in the past, I used plenty of black pepper and malt vinegar, but I’m here to tell you that hot sauce makes a damn fine collard-greens condiment as well.

The chicken was a tad spicy, too, thanks to the peppery homemade batter, and the meat was fresh and perfectly cooked. It was good enough that when I go back, I’ll be hard-pressed to order something different.

At one point I spotted an elderly woman in the kitchen, cooking her heart out. I asked our server if that was Sheila, and she confirmed it was. As it happens, Sheila and her three daughters — our server being one of them — run the show. You hear about family-owned and operated businesses, but this one is about as family-oriented as you can get.

Try it — you won’t be sorry. And look for the daily lunch specials, including salmon croquettes on Fridays. I’d be shocked if they aren’t as good as what we ate.