IF YOU GO
• Where: C&W Cafe, 1501 E. 23rd St.
• Phone: 423-624-6431.
• Hours: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, 1-5 p.m. Sunday.
• Price range: $2.50-$10.50.
There’s nothing fancy about C&W Cafe, a red brick building on East 23rd Street. But this mom-and-pop business, owned by Carl and Willetta Hill, is where the magic happens at mealtime six days a week, drawing hundreds of customers for good times and captivating home-cooked soul food.
Carl Hill worked in the textile business for 26 years before the plant closed in 2009. Instead of getting another job, he opened C&W Cafe. Willetta was nervous at first, Carl says, but as he got the business license, purchased equipment and made other steps toward opening, his wife saw his vision.
They started out with a carry-out diner in an old Golden Gallon store on Fourth Avenue near East Lake Courts. They are now at Highland Park and East 23rd Street in a building twice as large.
C&W specializes in the home cooking Hill says he’s been preparing since he was a child — the same dishes that earned him merit badges in Boy Scouts, he says. Carl does most of the cooking at C&W, while Willetta charms and greets guests.
Ox tails, real barbecue ribs with bones, fried fish, baked chicken, macaroni and cheese, fried green tomatoes, cornbread muffins and thirst-quenching lemonade are among menu items Hill prepares that give a routine lunch break the fanfare of a Sunday feast.
I’ve heard customers rave about Hill’s lip-smacking ribs and seasoned chicken wings, served in hot, mild or lemon-pepper flavor. Hill also prepares Southern favorites such as chitterlings, ham hocks, liver and onions and beef tips and noodles. The menu also includes cheeseburgers, pork chops, garden salad and a host of vegetables including candied yams, turnip greens and cabbage.
Prices range from a $2.50 hot dog to the $10.50 rib plate. Daily lunch specials, a meat, two veggies with cornbread or roll sale for $8.50 plus tax.
I ordered a fish plate. My friend Virginia Poree’ ordered the same but with different vegetables.
On my plate, tangy, barbecue-flavored baked beans with chunks of hamburger brought pleasure even before I got to the fried fish. Two chunky pieces of whiting filled me so much I left some on the plate. I also ordered coleslaw to make my own fish sandwich. All was well with me, but Virginia had a problem.
Her fish and macaroni and cheese tasted good. But the collard greens had too much salt, so much that she didn’t eat the serving, fearing it would trigger her high blood pressure.
A mixed drink — lemonade and tea — got the meal back on track.
I was too full for desert, but Hill credits his wife for the cafe’s homemade banana pudding, peach cobbler and the popular Kool-Aid Pie, made with cream cheese and the flavored drink mix. C&W also has a contract baker who prepares some cakes and pies, Hill says.
C&W is a neighborhood hangout, the place where politicians, police officers and preachers plan community improvement while eating lunch.
On the Friday afternoon I was there to write my review, C&W was also the destination for Dr. Rozario Slack, pastor of Temple of Faith Deliverance Church of God in Christ; Al Chapman, president of Front Porch Alliance; and Chattanooga Police Capt. Edwin McPherson. I saw other people who worked with gang and violence prevention, city employees and social workers.
Customers often leave business cards and entertainment advertisements, which are neatly lined on a table near the doorway. C&W is the place where people network. It’s also the place where several women congregate and get plates after church.
The cafe seats about 70 people. The back of the room is lined with high bar stool tables and chairs. I sat in the high chairs first so I’d have a good view of everything, but by the time I spread out my notebook, recorder and camera, I needed to move to a regular table for adequate space.
In six years, C&W has established itself as a restaurant that serves good food in a good atmosphere. Even elderly church ladies vouch for the food being consistently good. I called it magic, but Hill says its hard work. He has helpers but tries to prepare most main dishes himself to make sure that customers get the same quality every time they visit.
Contact Yolanda Putman at firstname.lastname@example.org 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 ...