Walking into Uncle Larry's Restaurant is like walking into an air-conditioned family fish fry.
Larry Torrence, a 53-year-old husband and father, owns the place. He and his brother, Kevin, do the cooking in the back. And Jermale Maffet, Torrence's 25-year-old nephew, takes orders and works the cash register up front.
Maffet said his uncles provide him employment and role models.
"They turned their lives around; now they keep me out of trouble," he said while taking an order.
The only helper not related to Torrence is Martha Adams, known to Olivet Baptist Church parishioners as Mama Adams, the Rev. Kevin Adams' mother.
She makes homemade desserts for the restaurant. She volunteers her service to the restaurant and said she's been cooking since age 10.
Torrence, who also owns the Jani King No. 9 office cleaning business, opened Uncle Larry's restaurant in March after his wife and other family members kept encouraging him to cook. He is the designated fish fryer at all their family reunions.
Uncle Larry's Restaurant offers pork chops, hot dogs, fried okra, fried green tomatoes, chili, turnip greens, macaroni and cheese and homemade desserts, but Torrence's claim to fame is fried fish. Catfish, whiting and tilapia are all on the menu.
The sign in the window says: "Fish so good it will smack you."
A whiting fish sandwich, which comes with white or wheat bread, is $5. A plate, which includes the fish and two sides, is $6.50.
The rest of the prices are good, too.
Hot dogs are $1. Chili or cheese is 50 cents extra.
The most expensive menu items are the catfish and pork chops, ($7.99), which are served with two sides.
All sides such as fries, coleslaw and fried okra are $1.19 for a small size and $1.99 for large.
Slices of the homemade cakes are $2.
I chose a whiting fish sandwich and a homemade dessert prepared by Mama Adams.
The fish came piping hot in a red picnic basket. It was so hot I burned the roof of my mouth, though I didn't realize it until I finished eating.
The fish was crispy, crunchy and light and was seasoned just right. It was only two pieces of fish, but they were so big you could make two sandwiches. You have to break one piece in half so it can fit the bread.
My whiting sandwich came with just the right amount of mustard and coleslaw. There's mustard, hot sauce and ketchup on every table.
I wasn't really hungry when I ordered, so I had planned to only eat enough food to check out the place. Despite my intentions, I ate the whole thing.
Then came the homemade carrot cake. By the time I started eating, Mama Adams was gone, so I couldn't ask about everything that went in it. But without question, you can see real strips of carrots and nuts. And, of course, the cream cheese icing. I ate it all, too.
Maffet and his uncles shake hands and chat with customers while taking orders and serving food. Mama Adams hugged a few customers while she visited. Everybody is friendly. Someone usually gets your order the moment you walk in the door. The fish is cooked when it's requested, but it doesn't take long. Less than 10 or 15 minutes after I ordered, I was eating.
Blue-and-white checkered tablecloths cover six round and rectangular tables set against a sky blue painted wall. And a flat-screen TV broadcasting the latest sports and news hangs from the ceiling.
The restaurant also has an unused steam table. Torrence said he'll use that to offer customers a cafeteria-style, meat-and-two menu when school starts. He said it will be his way of appealing to college students and working people who may not have a lot of time.
Another diner, Vivid Sands, had already finished eating by the time I was served. She first had Torrence's tilapia at the Bessie Smith Strut. She returned to the restaurant for lunch.
"It deserved a come-back," she said.
She described it as "really delicious" and complimented Torrence on offering customers more than one kind of fish.
"My Lord" and "off the chain" were other comments customers made about their food as they left the restaurant.
For me, the fish was good. It was hot, light and crispy. I wasn't disappointed. And I'll be back for more.
Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at 423-757-6431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
IF YOU GO
- What: Uncle Larry's Restaurant, 736 E. M.L. King Blvd.
- Phone: 423-757-5894.
- Hours: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday.
- Price range: $1 (hot dogs)-$7.99 (catfish or pork-chop plates).
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 ...