A soulful alternative to fast food

Eats

March 15, 2001|By Robin Tunnicliff Reid | Robin Tunnicliff Reid,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

AS THE mother of three young children, Lisa Reveley is acutely aware of how easy it is to succumb to a fast-food dinner at the end of a long day. So, she decided to tackle the problem in a novel way; in September she opened a small cafeteria in Randallstown and started turning out traditional soul food.

Symone's Soul Cafe serves very reasonably priced things dear to the heart of anyone who's lived in the South or grown up around a Southern cook. That's no surprise, because some of Reveley's recipes were handed down from her grandmother, a native of the Eastern Shore.

Black-eyed peas, collards and cornbread are a few of the famous soul-food staples that Symone's does right. But Reveley and her chefs aren't afraid of improving the flavor of their Southern fare with a little spice. The fiery bite of a tomato-based barbecue chicken was a pleasant surprise.

Also pleasant were the greens. The folks at Symone's do not cook them into an unrecognizable state, which anyone who's ever had to consume a school lunch in the South recalls with a grimace.

The broccoli draped in cheese sauce had the right amount of crunch. My tidy mound of salty, dark-green collards was delicious, devoid of the bitter, stringy stalks that cooks often forget to remove.

Collards move fast at Symone's, as do the smothered pork chops, covered in thick, brown gravy made the old-fashioned way with pan juices, small sliced onions and flour. Another hot item is the lake trout, fried in a well-seasoned mix of cornmeal, flour and Cajun spices.

My husband liked the consistency of the candied sliced yams, which Reveley's grandmother taught her to make. Unlike so many yam dishes, this one doesn't get bogged down with marshmallows or excessive amounts of brown sugar.

Our only real complaint was with the chicken meat, which was too dry either fried or barbecued.

The fried leg quarter also lacked much meat, but the bird itself might have to share in the blame in that regard. We also found the mashed potatoes uneven, ranging from watery-thin during one Sunday-night dinner to that slightly chunky consistency that means homemade during a weeknight visit.

All food served is made from scratch with the exception of the corn, Reveley says, because "nobody in the back wants to shuck all that." Homemade desserts include coconut cream pie with a moist crust, rice pudding and the ultimate comfort food - cobbler (apple or peach).

Symone's is a bright, clean place. It's also small enough to make you feel cozy at a table for two near the windows framed in fluorescent purple lights, or big enough to accommodate a large family.

The staff is as cheerful as the Motown tunes Reveley plays during the week. On Sundays, the selections switch to gospel, and things kick into high gear as the staff prepares to handle the line of people that starts forming after church around 2 p.m. This is, after all, a most excellent place to feed the body after you've done the same for the soul.

Symone's Soul Cafe

8700 A-2 Liberty Road,

Randallstown

410-655-8500

Hours: Open Tuesdays-Thursdays 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Fridays-Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sundays 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Prices: Appetizers $1.95 to $2.45; entrees $4.95 to $11.95

Credit cards: All major cards except Discover

Food: ***

Service: **1/2

Atmosphere: **1/2

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