Phyllis Cabe Blevins, a.k.a. The Biscuit Lady, grew up just across the street from where she now commands the kitchen at The Big Biscuit Barn in Rossville. A graduate of Lakeview High School, she recalls going to the grocery store every Friday night and, as a young girl, couldn't reach high enough to touch the top of the produce counters that also held big boxes of toy kitchens.
"I've loved cooking since I was little and always wished I'd get one of those toy kitchens for Christmas, but I never did," she recalls. "But then, as a grown-up, I know God blessed me with my heart's desire — a restaurant!"
Blevins opened her Big Biscuit Barn in 2007, and it quickly became the go-to place in Rossville and beyond for bodacious biscuits and other breakfast fare, as well as country-style lunches and mouthwatering desserts.
Here, she tells what prompted her to go from cooking at country fairs to opening her own restaurant.
Q: Do you come from a family of cooks?
A: My mother was a wonderful cook. She made biscuits every morning of my growing-up years, and we always had homemade meals.
Q: What was your favorite dish that your mama made?
A: Her pork chops with cream of chicken gravy.
Q: What's one of your earliest cooking memories?
A: Helping my mother make homemade fudge and divinity at Christmas, and so many other delights, like chicken and dumplings.
Q: At what point did you transition from home cooking to cooking professionally?
A: Before my husband, Tony (Cabe), passed away, we did food vending at crafts fairs and other festivals. It was kind of like being gypsies every fall with our food ventures. I always thought if I could just settle down in one little spot, it would really work. So I put my heart and soul into The Big Biscuit Barn.
Q: So has it worked as you thought it would?
A: Be careful what you pray for, because when you get blessed with it, you have to manage and take care of it. Of course, everything in life is like that — anything that's worth having, that is.
Q: What makes your biscuits different from other places known for their biscuits, like Hardee's, for instance?
A: The biscuits we make are not my mother's biscuits. As we painted and renovated this building, I would experiment on recipes and would make different kinds of biscuits every Saturday. Then I'd test them on salesmen and contractors asking, "Is this the biscuit?" And they would always say yes, but when the recipe was the right one, I knew it. My biscuits are made from scratch. They're bigger, fluffier and just better. Ask my customers!
Q: Do you have a biscuit philosophy?
A: I always say, if you eat a strawberry shortcake biscuit for breakfast, all your troubles go away. At least for a little while.
Q: Many locally owned small restaurants didn't survive COVID-19. How did you manage, particularly when you and your new husband, Buddy Blevins, had your home destroyed by the April 2020 tornado, right as the pandemic was taking hold?
A: I pulled my team together and told them that I had decided we were going to keep going and working. And God brought us all through it healthy.
Q: What's the one tool in your kitchen that you can't work without?
A: My hands and a bag of flour. As I teach in my classes, learning to "feel" the dough is a gift you have to practice to perfect. It's not just what you put in the bowl that counts. It's how you handle the dough.
Q: What's your favorite restaurant in the Chattanooga area, besides your own?
A: I love to go eat at Home Folks in Soddy-Daisy. And I've driven many miles for a good hot dog.
Q: What's something people may not know about you?
A: My husband (Tony) and I danced on a clogging team, the Country Connection, representing the state of Georgia for 16 years. It was so much fun!
Here's one of Blevins' favorite meals to prepare in a hurry. It's good and easy, she says. Best yet, use your leftover chicken or get a rotisserie chicken.
Chicken and Rice Soup
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
2 packages dry Good Seasons Italian salad dressing
80 ounces chicken broth
6 cups cooked rice
6 cups chopped or shredded rotisserie chicken
3 cups half-and-half
3 tablespoons lemon juice
Make a roux with butter and flour in Dutch oven. Add seasonings, Italian dressing mix, broth, rice, chicken and half-and-half. Simmer 20 minutes, then add lemon juice. Serve with crusty bread.
Contact Anne Braly at firstname.lastname@example.org or annebraly.com.