[Sidebar] September 7 - 14, 2000
[Food Reviews]
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Miss Fannie's Soul Food Kitchen

A great deal on down-home cookin'

by Johnette Rodriguez

242 Broad St., Providence, 453-9555
Open Tues-Thurs and Sun, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
Fri-Sat., 11 a.m.-midnight.
Major credit cards
Sidewalk access

The first time I tasted Miss Fannie's cooking was at a reception after the opening of an exhibit at the RISD Museum of Art. The smothered chicken wings were good, but what really caught my taste buds was the potato salad. Smooth and creamy, sweet with plenty of pickles, it reminded me of my Southern family's version of this American picnic favorite.

And, indeed, Miss Fannie (King), her two sisters and her youngest brother came to Providence from Alabama in 1965. Back home, her family had run a food stand, selling fish sandwiches and beverages. Coming north, Miss Fannie still loved to cook for friends, and when her son Don (now artistic director of the Providence Black Repertory Company) was at Brown, a craving for her cooking broke out all over College Hill.

A long-held dream of having her own restaurant finally came to fruition last spring, in a bright and airy storefront near Central High. With the assistance of Cheryl Spears and Sherry Spears, Miss Fannie is cooking, catering and greeting the public with a warmth and hospitality that gives new meaning to the "soul" in soul food.

The food is set up for take-out (as well as eating in) on a large steam table, so you can choose by sight, as well as smell and gustatory whim. The barbecued pork rib dinners are offered in two sizes ($6.50 and $9.50), with a traditional choice of two side dishes, which range from baked macaroni and cheese or red beans and rice to several vegetables -- corn on the cob, green beans (cooked with ham hocks), collards (cooked with either pork or turkey), candied sweet potatoes, cabbage (cooked with salt pork) -- to potato salad or cole slaw.

Over the course of our two visits to Miss Fannie's, we sampled most of the sides, and the vegetables have that smoky taste of being simmered with a bit of meat fat. I appreciated the option of having my greens cooked with turkey, and I loved their bit of a red-pepper bite. The boiled cabbage, so simple in itself, took on new dimensions with the salt pork (this from a non-meat eater). And the cole slaw was delectably creamy, with no carrots to annoy Bill, who is a purist about his slaw. He reported that the pork ribs were finger-lickin' good and kept him going for days. And he gobbled down his comfort-food side choice of macaroni and cheese.

Each dinner also comes with a square of cornbread, which Bill liked because of its lightness and hint of sugar. I missed the heft (and taste) of more cornmeal and buttermilk, and the Southern bread I'm familiar with has no sweetening in it.

I had baked chicken ($5) on our first visit and fried chicken ($5.25) on our second. The former was falling-off-the-bone tender, the latter had great seasoning in its skin, but the breast seemed a tad dry. Maybe I'm just a drumstick-kind-of-gal, and they were out of drumsticks by 6:30.

A friend who shared our second visit had the fried catfish, and I was delighted to find a flour-egg-cornmeal triple-dipped breading, instead of those heavy New England-style batters that hold so much grease on fish. There were nice herbs in the flour, and I kept sneaking more from our friend's plate.

To cap this cholesterol binge, we all split the banana pudding ($3) and the peach cobbler ($3). The pudding had the requisite "vanilla wafers" and a butterscotchy homemade pudding, though with fewer bananas than I'm accustomed to. The peach cobbler was still warm from the oven and quite delicious.

Miss Fannie's is a bargain no matter which way you look at it. Sandwiches of chopped barbecue, ribs, catfish, pork chop or chicken are $3-$4.50. A dinner of chitterlings (slow-simmered pig intestines) is $8.50, but there are smaller $4 and $6 orders. Wednesday night's special is meatloaf, or liver and onions, and Sunday's special is pigs' feet or pigs' ears. Can't get much more authentic than that. Stop by for the aromas, for the jazz pouring out of the CD player and most of all, for the potato salad, the catfish and the ribs.

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