A restaurant doesn’t need rarities or refinements in order to be successful. Ms. Tootsie’s Soul Food Café may not wow you with foreign ingredients or the artistry of its presentation, but it has a knack for comfort – soothing the soul with its southern fare and balmy ambiance.
Owner Keven Parker’s first entrepreneurial endeavor was Simply Delicious Caterers. Soon after came Cafe 3801 and Ms. Tootsie’s Soul Food Café. His latest expansion is Ms. Tootsie’s Restaurant Bar and Lounge, located adjacent to the Café.
RBL features four floors of stylish bar and lounge spaces that were designed by Parker himself and could rival clubs in New York City. It also has an abbreviated menu based on the Café’s servings. Meanwhile, it stays inviting and utilizes class the way it should. Parker could consider opening his own interior design firm.
Ms. Tootsie’s real name is Joyce Parker. Her friends coined the nickname “Ms. Tootsie” because of her fondness for eating Tootsie Rolls. In tribute to his mother, Parker named the restaurant after her and his memories of her cooking.
One would not expect such a welcoming place quartered inside clean brick façade, or prefaced by elegant cursive font inscribed on the awning.
I instantly fell in love with the place when our server greeted us with watermelon and freshly baked cornbread. Dante Stanton, our server, happened to be a sophomore business major at Temple.
Sweet aromas steamed from the exposed kitchen as the hushed sizzle of the deep fryer filled the room with the scents of simple, southern fare. Nostalgia for my Alabama homestead gripped me as I sipped the syrupy-sweet blend of fruit punch and iced tea ($3-$5). I must have had three or four glasses that night.
The interior is painted a muted baby blue with simple furniture accommodations. Overall, the ornaments of décor are few, with the exception of a photograph display on the wall.
Whitney Thomas, whose photographs are featured, is renowned for his beauty shots and photographs of soul, jazz and R&B artists. Energy and expression darkly glow in radiance amid each photograph.
Meanwhile, the space is modest and manageable, so a server – or a manager – is never out of reach. Our server, Stanton, was attentive and managers David Archie and Jose Duran were charming.
Southern fare is not meant to be fancy. It’s meant to be hearty and in large portions that make your mouth water.
We shared the shrimp Caesar salad ($12) and the three-green salad ($10). Each salad could have sufficed as an entrée enough for two or three dainty appetites.
The former was a mound of traditionally dressed romaine lettuce, which was modestly populated with lightly seasoned shrimp and garnished with croutons and grated Parmesan cheese. The salt in the dressing, however, was a little overpowering.
The latter was also a mound, this time, of baby mixed greens chock full with tender, lime fried chicken liberally drizzled with honey mustard dressing with slices of cucumber and tomato guarding the corners of the plate. Tender chicken cuts and honey mustard is a match made in heaven.
Each entrée comes with your choice of two sides.
The Sadiki’s fried catfish piqued my interest ($18). It astonished me with unexpected satisfaction. I chose the caramelized candied yams and okra as sides – creamy, sweet, melt-in-your-mouth yams. The okra, however, was a tad cold on arrival.
And of course, no southern-styled meal could be complete without southern fried chicken ($13-$16). At Ms. Tootsie’s, you have your choice of breasts or thighs that are deep fried in a buttermilk batter. The mention of that made me quiver with anticipation. My guest wisely chose the collard greens and macaroni and cheese. Sultry and savory, both sides lived up to their legendary, toothsome goodness.
By the end of the night, we had sat through about two table turnovers in a two-hour period with a few lingerers. Even their Mondays, which are usually the slowest days for most restaurants, are populated as though it were the weekend – a true testament of customer satisfaction and booming patronage.
Aaron Stella can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the know…
Ms. Tootsie’s Soul
1314 South St.