|Cheryl Jones-Stevens and her husband, George Stevens, dish up Southern specialties like barbecued chicken, deep-fried turkey, and candied yams. (WENDY MAEDA/GLOBE STAFF)|
Lower Mills' soul food infusion
Pop open the lid of a take-out container from Mrs. Jones restaurant and you'll get a peek at the make-no-apologies, calorie-count-busting, "Please, may I have another serving"-inducing soul food that Cheryl Jones-Stevens spent countless Sundays cooking in her beloved Aunt Zora Jones's kitchen in Dorchester.
From the juicy, unabashedly fatty country-fried pork chops smothered in gravy to the velvety sweet potato pie, most of the dishes at Jones-Stevens's new Dorchester takeout spot come straight from those Sunday "cooking lessons" that began when she was 6.
The rest come courtesy of her husband George Stevens, a lifelong cook with plenty of family favorites to share from back home in Mobile, Ala., like his fall-off-the-bone-tender barbecued baby back ribs with homemade rub and sauce.
In other words, this couple is dishing out the real thing - simple, homestyle fare that's more church supper than slick barbecue joint. And the service is just as down home.
Jones-Stevens's family hails from North Carolina, and clearly the Southern charm was passed down. On all three of our visits, she took plenty of time to walk us through the menu and chat, once even insisting on pulling a turkey leg out of the big Southern Pride smoker so we could marvel at its impressive size (let's just say David Ortiz could probably use one to hit a home run). Stevens, who's usually in the open kitchen tending to his pitmaster duties, always waved hello.
But we'd pick up a meal here even if it was served up by the Soup Nazi on "Seinfeld." The first thing we'll come back for is the superb breaded and fried pork chop in cracked-pepper flecked gravy ($8.95). And the wood-smoke barbecue, of course: Both the half-chicken ($9) and baby back dinners ($10.50) were subtly smoky, moist, and tender - and dripping with Stevens's sweet 'n' tangy sauce. St. Louis ribs (dinner $9) were extra meaty and moist, though the rub could have been spicier.
Every dinner comes with sweet, cake-like cornbread and a choice of two (out of 14) sides. That flavorful chop was especially good with fresh-mashed potatoes (with more gravy, of course) and spunky collard greens, which Jones-Stevens jazzes up with a secret ingredient she calls "just a little bit of something spicy."
We loved the perfectly soft red beans, the slightly spicy black-eyed peas, and the sticky-sweet candied yams. But the overly rich coleslaw seemed to have come straight from some scary potluck, and the mac 'n' cheese, though velvety smooth, could do with more cheese.
But Cheryl and George, who prefer customers call them by their first names, are still getting into the rhythm of things, which means they're still tweaking flavors to fit customer's tastes. It also means that we missed out on some items that either ran out, like the beef brisket sandwich ($7.95), or are yet to be phased in, like the fish and hominy grits special or the deep-fried sliced turkey ($8.95 dinner, $45 whole darn turkey).
We're sorry we missed that crackly-skinned fried foul. Cheryl and George consider this Southern favorite a specialty - they nearly named the restaurant the Turkey Trot because of it. But in the end, the pair found a tribute to Aunt Zora more fitting.
We agree. It's her love of food that provides the guiding spirit here, and we can't wait to see what will be served up next in her honorary kitchen.