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CHEAP EATS: Yancey’s soul food is more filling, tastes great

By Helaine Williams

This article was published March 3, 2011 at 4:16 a.m.

Meatloaf platter at Yancey’s Cafeteria

— I lost the nerve to try the chitterlings at Yancey’s Cafeteria, the legendary Little Rock soul-food restaurant where the dish is a staple.

I was almost there. I looked down at the serving dish bearing the traditional soul food delicacy made from the small intestines of pigs. But up once again popped that unpleasant childhood memory of the smell generated by the mess of “chitlins” whose preparation I’d witnessed a bit too up-close and personal decades ago.

“Er, would you say chitterlings are an acquired taste, or something that people find to be good once they get up the nerve to try them?” I asked the women who waited to serve me a togo plate during the first of two recent Yancey’s visits.

“Hmmm. To me, they’re an acquired taste,” one of them replied.

That did it. I backed off. But I harbor little doubt that chitterlings fans everywhere would be pleased with the Yancey’s version. Judging from what I have sampled, the restaurant gets its other offerings right.

Once housed in an unobtrusive building at 1523 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, Yancey’s now takes up one side of a building at King Drive and Wright Avenue. The white, purple-trimmed building marks Yancey’s inclusion in the community revitalization initiated by the blossoming Arkansas Baptist College (a new campus building is goingup at the restaurant’s former location).

But the simplicity that has always been a hallmark of Yancey’s is still evident. The new location is a small, intimate space with a few booths for those who want to eat in. No menu selections or prices are posted; customers just look, ask, order (or phone in). For $7.50, diners get a main dish, two vegetables and two corn muffins in a Styrofoam plate or box.

For the past 35 years, Yancey’s has been owned by James Kinard, whom the regulars simply call Yancey. Gregarious and jovial, he’s as good a generator of belly laugh-inducing stories and jokes as he is for good food ... food that, he says, is always prepared with fresh, authentic ingredients (no margarine or “butter spreads” here) and slowly and carefully cooked.No, he says, he doesn’t advertise. He just depends on word of mouth. Judging from the traffic on a recent Saturday, the “word” gets around.

Other stars of the $7.50 plate include ribs, pork chops and chicken; besides peach cobbler, desserts ($1.25) include rice pudding, banana pudding, blackberry cobbler and Rex jelly cake. Vegetable selections include smothered potatoes with onions, okra and a different type of bean dish each day, Kinard says.

After dithering over the chitterlings during that recent visit, I ordered the pepper steak, one of several main selections available, and chose steamed cabbage and gravy drenched rice as sides.

As is often the case with soul-food restaurants, servings are generous. The pepper steak was “ginormous” and perfectly flavored ... a pleasing blend of black pepper, green pepper, onion and other spices. The cabbage, also mildly peppered, wasn’t too limp or too crisp. The plain white rice was brought to life by the gravy, also a fitting accompaniment to the steak.

On a second takeout visit my husband and I split another dinner dominated by beef - meatloaf with greens and candied yams. The meatloaf was tender, slightly pink and well-flavored. The candied yams were deliciously sweet and rich; the greens well-textured and flavor-rich without being too salty.

Good, simple, home-cooked food for folks who don’t need frills but do value taste. Good enough to make a gal resolve to try those chitterlings, just to see if their taste is better than their smell.

Next time.

Yancey’s Cafeteria Address: 1510 Wright Ave., Little Rock Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Tuesday-Saturday Cuisine: Soul food Credit cards: Not accepted; cash only Alcoholic beverages: No Wheelchair accessible: Limited Carryout: Yes (501) 372-9292

Weekend, Pages 41 on 03/03/2011

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