-- Where: Greg’s Southern Soul Food, 1817-1/2 S. Market St.
-- Website: On Facebook (search for Greg’s Soul Food).
-- Hours: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, noon-6 p.m. Sunday.
-- Entree price range: $1 (slaw dog)-$11 (rib dinner).
After so much negative publicity about blacks in Chattanooga in recent weeks, I am thrilled to do a review of Greg’s Southern Soul Food restaurant. The inner-city establishment owned by two black men, Greg Besley and Thomas Sexton, is doing well.
On Sundays the restaurant has some 250 customers, Besley says. They’re crowding into the place because it offers a meat-and-two-vegetables meal for $5. Specialty plates, such as ox tails, pig feet and chitterlings, are not included in that discount price.
The restaurant has been open for about two years. Before he opened it, Besley operated Greg’s Southern Soul Food catering from his home in Alton Park for 14 years. His catering customers included Northwest Georgia Bank in Fort Oglethorpe, Southside Health Center and Southside Reunion, he says.
By opening a location outside his home, he hopes his food-service business will expand.
The latest menu option is the 1950 L&G Wiener, a wiener sandwich made with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, mayo and mustard. Besley made it for the first time at the request of a customer on the day I ate there for this review. Retired police officer Napoleon Williams was the first to try it.
“You can’t beat the prices here,” says Williams. And it tasted good, he says. The L&G sells for $5 and comes with a soda. Other wiener dishes include a slaw dog for a $1 and a chili dog for $1.50.
Besley says he made the sandwich to appeal to seniors who dined on the sandwiches during the 1950s. He named it L&G in honor of Lowery and Gordon, two black men who owned a five-and-dime store in the Westside and sold the sandwich. He says he’ll put it on the menu in January.
Other options already on the menu include ribs, OVERSET FOLLOWS:shoulder, beef, pork chop, fish, chicken and chili. Customers also can get a sandwich or a plate. Most sandwiches cost $5. Exceptions include the rib sandwich for $8 and the shoulder or beef sandwich for $7. The rib dinner, the most expensive plate on the menu, is $11. The shoulder beef dinner is $9 and pork chops and fish plates are priced at $7.
The sides are potato salad, coleslaw, french fries, fried okra, onion rings and baked beans.
I ordered barbecue chicken, baked beans and coleslaw.
Williams, who is also the host of the “Donut & Friends” radio show on WMPZ-FM Groove 93, said the slaw was the best in the city. I thought he was just being nice. Then came my plate. The slaw was outstanding. And the beans were good, piping hot. They looked plain. I kept stirring them around, trying to figure out why they tasted so good. I saw no pork for flavoring. No bacon or crumbled pieces of ground beef. When I asked Besley the secret to such good beans, he said he’d never tell. He only offered that he and his mother created the recipe and that they use brown sugar.
He said his mother, Carolyn Barlow-Besley, and grandmother, the late Helen Barlow, taught him to cook. His mother is the backbone of the restaurant. She does all of the food preparation and setup, he said.
All food is made from scratch, he added. Nothing comes from a can.
I also liked the bread. It is thick, like Texas toast, but he serves it as white bread. It’s soft and good for eating with meat and sauce.
The only problem I had was the meat. The barbecue pulled chicken was tough. Besley says he adds lots of warm juices on the dish, and that he made the sauce, a honey-based creation, himself. The sauces did give the meat a good taste, but it was just tough to chew.
The service was good. Williams and I were the only two people in the restaurant when I arrived during a Monday lunch hour. Williams had already been served, so I had Besley’s undivided attention. He quickly took my order, made the food and came back with a beautiful presentation. I started humming when I saw it. It took less than 10 minutes.
You’ve got to get past the outside image. The parking lot is small. One parking space is taken up by the barbecue grill. And if more than four cars park in the lot, the fifth one faces a sign warning that the car will be towed if the driver isn’t there to patronize the adjoining business. The door and windows are covered with burglar bars and splattered with all kinds of nonuniform signs and advertisements.
The inside, though, is like being at a small club. There are only two booths and two tables, and the lighting gets darker the farther you get into the room. The back booth gets little of the sun shining through the door.
“Judge Alex” was on the TV during my lunch. The television sat atop a tall drink cooler, and next to it was a flat-screen security monitor. Besley has already been considering ways to expand, but he said no changes will be made before the next year.
The best part about the atmosphere, the rich part that will make you glad you came, were the people inside. Williams read the paper and then told me the story of L&G Store while I waited for my food. We talked about community events. Another person came in talking about a recent crime in the news. And Besley sat in the only other booth, occasionally chatting about the television show and answering my questions. Then came another customer, Atlanta truck driver Al Moore, who discussed how businesses like Greg’s Southern Soul Food could eventually employ more people and stimulate economic growth.
He compared the atmosphere at the restaurant to that of a barbershop where you can discuss politics and events specific to your community, among people who feel like family.
I’ll be back. I loved the baked beans, and I want to try the L&G. Service was good.
Besley has been in business as a caterer for more than a decade, so although there is room for improvement — such as more spaces for parking and outside curb appeal — he is doing a lot right. And his coleslaw is outstanding.
Contact Yolanda Putman at email@example.com or 423-757-6431.
Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...