What is the Great Southern Food in Southern California Challenge? Click here for the low-down. (And click on any photo below to enlarge it.)
Our first stop on the GSFiSCC was Miss Peaches, 5643 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hollywood, CA 91601.
Miss Peaches’ grandson, Connell Moss, hails from Chesapeake Bay, VA, and learned how to cook from his momma’s side of the family, while learning how to adapt recipes from his daddy’s side of the family (although, his granddaddy took his BBQ sauce recipe to the grave, as his daddy says he’ll be doing). So, while he admits his recipes aren’t exactly the same as those his ancestors may have whipped up, he boasts a kitchen-eatin’ experience just like his grandma used to do.
He’s also adapted recipes to make ’em healthier. Yep. No meat in any of the side dishes. I cannot imagine how he got his greens to taste so good without a hamhock, but man, they’re good.
Lemme back up.
We arrived right about 7pm to the kitchen-sized restaurant (let me clarify: It’s a kitchen-like dining room. Tables are pulled around to accommodate how ever many folks happen to show up. There’s a counter. A kitchen sink. Dishes drying in a rack. Knickknacks. And then the restaurant’s actual kitchen is twice the size of the eating space. Turns out this used to be a Domino’s Pizza. Then, it was a Miss Peaches for takeout only. But people stood around in the “waiting for your order” area and ate their fried chicken standing there. So, since his brother’s restaurant–Angelena’s, named after Connell’s other grandmother–is a sit-down place, folks started coming in and expecting to sit there. “So, we put this table here,” Connell said, gesturing to a two-top, and that’s how it all began).
Joining me for the first stop on the GSFiSCC were Derek, Eric, Kathi, Marie, Ryan, Shirley, Tanya (and, briefly, Phoebe, whose visit was fodder for great comedic moments with Connell–who really could be a stand-up comedian–since Phoebe appreciated that the veggies were made without meat, but dared to ask Connell about the butter content–seeing as she’s a vegan and all. Connell’s response was a look that would chill your bones and make you laugh out loud at once). In fact, Phoebe and Tanya arrived a bit after we had placed our order. Connell asked, “Is you with them?”
They nodded, cheerily.
“Y’all’s late!” he responded.
Okay, so before we ordered, Connell asked if any of us had been there before. Nope. So, he gave us a little overview. The first most popular dish is the fried chicken, closely followed by the fried catfish. “After that, you’re on your own. It’s all good, but it’s up to you. We do serve Kool-Aid. Tonight, if you want to know what flavor it is, it’s red.”
I don’t think we stopped laughing at all during our visit… except for when we were eating. But I’ll get to that.
I had decided on the hot links, as my gluten-free guru Anna told me that would be the safest item on the menu for my gluten-free eating needs. But then I decided to ask Connell about the catfish. “How is your catfish battered?” I asked.
“Darlin’, where you from?” was Connell’s response.
“Atlanta,” I said.
“Well you know I’m from Chesapeake Bay, Virginia, and we do it just like you do it: with corn meal.”
That meant catfish for me! Along with black-eyed peas, string beans, and even some mashed potatoes.
“I like this woman,” Connell told the table, after I ordered. Sweet iced-tea, of course, which I usually don’t love, but how can you not get tea like your momma used to make when you’re at a place like this?
When Ryan ordered unsweetened iced-tea, Connell took a step back and said, “We don’t have unsweet tea.” That’s right. No booze (the wine on the “kitchen counter” is a knickknack), no unsweet tea, and no Coca-Cola products (which I find a bit offensive, but I’ll overlook it). Of course, there was the Kool-aid, which Eric ordered. “I’m a 56-year-old man drinking Kool-aid,” he marveled. They also had milk, which Derek ordered. From then on, he was known as “the milkman,” according to Connell. We suspect he’ll remember him by that name when Derek goes back (which he says he will). But, again, I’m getting ahead of myself.
After we ordered, Marie took a visit to the restroom, which has a keyboard and drumkit next to it. We’d learn why later. When she returned, she reported that the restroom had a “Tallahassee truckstop quality, with an obligatory touch of Hollywood: a poster from Stargate-1.” Awesome.
Drinks started coming around. In mason jars. Of course. The tablecloths were exactly like my grandmother’s (not in pattern, but in that they were plastic on one side, puffy cotton-like stuff on the other side). We ended up having a conversation with Connell about my grandmother keeping her newspaper articles and BINGO cards under that tablecloth (it was her vault; BINGO daubers lived in the windowsill) and it turns out his grandmother didn’t have a gambling vice, but he sure thought she could’ve used it. “Because her vice was WWF. She thought it was real!” Connell told us all about her cheering and squealing and believing in it all. “BINGO would’ve been better,” he said.
When the food started coming, no one waited for anyone else’s food to get there. Just like no one did formal introductions upon arrival. I s’pose I could’ve been a good host and taken care of introductions, but it just felt so much like my grandmother’s house that I went into another, safe, childhood world. And everyone just introduced themselves to one another. People shared food with one another. There was no more Hollywood. Only Miss Peaches’ dinner table.
Considering we slammed the kitchen by putting in eight orders at once–and we weren’t ordering light–they did great. Food was up quickly and what was forgotten was brought around to us also quickly, once recognized as forgotten (an extra side, a refill, more butter, extra napkins). If you wonder how eight people can slam a kitchen at 7pm on a Thursday, let me assure you, the entire restaurant seats no more than 15. A table of four was there when we arrived, and more people arrived after we did. Some stayed, some ordered takeout, some stood outside peering in, trying to figure out if there’d be room for them soon. There are additional tables outside, but no heatlamps, so that’d be for daytime use. Connell and Guillermo manned the kitchen. They sent their third guy home at 5pm, because it looked like it’d be a slow night.
Anyway, the food was awesome. Seriously. Things got quiet while we devoured our yummy goods off mismatched plates. “Mmm” and “ooh” and “aah” — those were the only sounds. And they were good sounds. The first full sentence I heard came from Tanya: “I’m devouring this like I’ve never eaten before.” Yeah. She wasn’t the only one. I think I inhaled my string beans. Shared my black-eyed peas. Shared my potatoes. Shared a little catfish but brought half of it home for tomorrow. It was all sooo good. “I’ll come back for the baked beans alone,” Derek said. Since both Derek and Tanya live very close to Miss Peaches, I suspect they’ll be back soon and often. I think I will be too!
When another table of guests finished up and settled their bill, Connell looked at their plates and said, “Y’all ate pretty good!” And then he said to us, “Everybody happy over here? Eat slow. Save room for dessert.” I think our table ended up ordering two items, which I didn’t sample, figuring there was no way they could be gluten-free (and I really was too full–and taking leftovers home–to have anything else). We asked about the sock-it-to-me cake and were quickly steered toward the gooey butter cake. Well… “steered toward” like a drug dealer offers up a sample before earning a customer for life.
“I’ll warn you. It’s crack. Don’t call me in the middle of the night trying to get it,” Connell cautioned.
So, that, plus some piping hot peach cobbler came to the table and got passed around. Tanya’s first bite of the butter cake yielded the following, “That is STUPID!”
Raucous laughter poured through the restaurant at that point. And Connell and Tanya may be engaged. It was adorable. Turns out the butter cake recipe was adapted from a piece Connell had while in Savannah, Georgia, years ago. He wasn’t sure anyone else would appreciate it, because it’s lighter and fluffier than a cheesecake, but tastes like sweet butter.
Um, yeah. Sweet butter? Not a problem.
I finally did stick my finger into a bit of the smush left on the plate by the end of its third lap around the table. Reminded me of the Gillespie household classic: Karo Syrup drizzled on butter, whipped into a creamy dip for hot biscuits. Yeah. That is stupid good food.
So, let’s see how Miss Peaches measures up, in the criteria I set out when issuing this Challenge.
- Is the eatin’ good?
Um, yeah. It’s good, it’s plentiful, it’s delish!
- Is the eatin’ authentically southern?
Absolutely. I would’ve loved some fried okra and I think someone else mentioned fried green tomatoes, but even so, there was plenty of yumminess to choose from, and it all represented the food of my childhood very, very well.
- Is the price right?
Eight people ate dinner, had a few extra sides, had drinks with refills, and shared two desserts for just over $150 ($190 with tip). Marie way overpaid, so I’ll make sure to keep her from doing that next time. Everyone brought small bills for check-splitting, which was very much appreciated. No one had a problem with the decision to overtip. The experience was so worth it. We really did get “dinner and a show.” Fun fact: Connell is a musician. He used to write songs for Burt Bacharach!
- Does the staff make you feel like you’re sittin’ at your grandma’s table?
Without a doubt. The whole place–with the exception of the music playing–was 100% authentically southern in vibe and style. But the music was still good! (Connell even replayed an Otis Redding song at a louder volume when he realized some of the patrons were really enjoying the tune, halfway through it.) Just not like home. Still, that’s a tiny thing. Everything else was right on point.
- Is the place worth visiting, if you grew up on the type of food they say they make?
Oh, yes. Definitely. But come hungry! The portions are huge! There’s plenty of street parking at Miss Peaches, but the place is small. Connell will admonish you for not calling before you came over to his house for dinner, but that’s his “thing.” It’s very cute. You don’t actually need reservations. They’re closed on Sundays and on any day it’s raining too hard, as the drainage on Lankershim Blvd. is so bad that you can’t get from the curb into the restaurant. That means Miss Peaches was closed most of last week! Luckily, Connell gets a lot of catering gigs from TV series and film production going on in the area, and that keeps him afloat when he can’t operate the restaurant for customers.
I have to tell you, if I showed up on a set and Miss Peaches was craft services, I don’t know that I would get much work done. I’d have to eat all day instead.
Absolutely, this place gets my highest recommendation. Yeah, yeah, yeah it’s the first stop on the tour, so there’s nothing else in the running for first place, but when we told Connell what it was we were doing, coming into his place and experiencing it so fully, he listened to the list of other places we’d be trying out this year and nodded along with each one, then said, “You go to all of those, then you come back to Miss Peaches and tell me who’s best.”
He knows he’s got that one in the bag. I have to say, the bar is set pretty dang high. Authentically southern, plentiful, delicious, affordable, and entertaining. Doesn’t get much better than that!