In 1998, Stoy and Pearl David opened a soul food joint in a red and white brick building, just south of downtown and just across Broadway from the shell of a Dairy Queen - you know the one, with the amazing but neglected parking-lot mural, where lions shake candy-colored manes, mermaids flip and the Titanic sinks?
But this isn’t about the mural. This is about how, 15 years later, David Family Kitchen still caters to a string of breakfast and lunch regulars, and how the Davids’ children and relatives still do the baking, stewing and general looking-after of things. It’s about homestyle food, welcoming faces and bottomless cups of coffee. That’s because lunch is good, but breakfast is best. Breakfast is how “a joint” becomes “your joint.” Or at least, that’s the vibe of things at the Kitchen.
The outer windows juxtapose painted Bible verses against iron bars, and a handwritten sign taped to the door issues the 11th commandment: no sagging.
Morning sun streams through the front room, where folks pull tables together to accommodate large groups. Breakfast runs from $2.50 (coffee and a thick biscuit slathered with creamy black-pepper-and-crumbled sausage gravy) to about $7 (chicken and waffles, which were probably a menu staple here long before they became a rediscovered menu trend everywhere).
There’s an open kitchen with a flat grill, visible from the order counter. You take a number, help yourself to coffee and wait about 10 minutes for your meal.
Breakfast is near perfect. The egg, bell pepper and mushroom in the vegetable omelet taste fresh, and things get even better with a drizzle of tangy Louisiana hot sauce, thoughtfully provided at each table. I’m told the smothered potatoes ($1.50) are also vegetarian, but they taste a little meaty - perhaps they’re cooked with lard? And the “smothered” is a misnomer, since they don’t seem to be topped with anything. They’re soft-cooked but crispy in patches.
A proper set-up (two eggs, a slab of ham, a biscuit and coffee) runs about $8. The scrambled eggs are buttery and precisely cooked - not runny, still moist. The ham (sliced horizontally, bone intact) oozes smoky juice.
Breakfast is bustling, but there are plenty of tables, and most patrons take their time. My little trio slurps multiple cups of coffee, catching up on the week. And even though breakfast is supposed to be from 6 to 10 a.m., at 9:45 the parking lot is still packed and the front door steadily swings.
We return for lunch, served from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on weekdays and until 4 p.m. on Sundays. We’re there for about an hour. There’s one brief rush and lots of customers ordering take-out. This time, we sit in the womblike back, with burgundy walls and a mural of silhouetted musicians. A corner TV plays a game show, and a picture of Stoy, now deceased, hangs near the register.
It’s a cafeteria-style affair - meat, two vegetables and a roll or cornbread deal that will run you about $7. The staff is patient and friendly, even during their rush, and it’s the kind of joint where a side of broccoli prompts the question, “Cheese on that?”
There are three meats and five vegetables to choose from, as well as a trio of cakes (pound, chocolate iced and vanilla iced) and a cobbler. When one of us doesn’t know what to order, the man behind the counter suggests pork neck bone. Our party comprises one near-vegetarian, one meat-happy Arkie and a Bombay-bred Indian. None of us has ever tasted neck bone, and we approach it cautiously.
We devour the yams - soft, saccharine and swimming in butter. It’s sort of like having dessert for dinner, which is, of course, fine by us.
The Arkie proclaims the mac and cheese “just like my grandma’s,” which is to say, two key ingredients are likely Velveeta and milk. It’s another crowd pleaser, faintly sweet, with plump, satisfying noodles.
The fried chicken is a tad dry, but “I did order all white meat,” the Arkie concedes. And the batter is salty and crispy, just as she likes it.
The cabbage has a silky texture, but it tastes a bit bland. We douse it with vinegar hot sauce, and it improves immensely.
The hands-down highlight of the meal is peach cobbler, served in a hot, generous chunk. The textures - firm fruit, crust that’s doughy underneath and solid on top, and light syrup - are familiar and comforting. Meanwhile, the spices - clove, vanilla and a dash of something more complicated (cardamom, maybe?) - liven things up. At $2.50 a pop, it’s probably the cheapest, most unassuming gourmet dessert in town.
Fried chicken, fried pork chops, cabbage, yams and macaroni and cheese are daily standards, but otherwise, the meat and vegetables rotate. Other offerings include smothered chicken, meat loaf, beef oxtails, fried catfish, peas, beans and other grandma’s garden staples.
David Family Kitchen
Address: 2301 S. Broadway, Little Rock Hours: 6-10 a.m., 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday;
11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday Cuisine: Soul food Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V Alcoholic beverages: No Wheelchair accessible: Yes Carryout: Yes (501) 371-0141
Weekend, Pages 38 on 08/29/2013
Print Headline: Homestyle food hits the spot at family kitchen