The spirit of Christmas present is alive and living quite well at Downtown Southern Blues. You might not actually see the curly-haired fellow from Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. But if you go for Sunday brunch here, you will see a feast on par with the lush repast that the infamous old miser Ebenezer Scrooge found in his parlor on that pivotal Christmas Eve.
I found the feast by mistake. Normally, I review dinner for Eats. But because of a scheduling mishap, I wandered into Downtown Southern Blues during brunch.
And what a brunch! It was far superior to others my dining companions and I have tried, and better than the dinner we later had at the restaurant, which features an upscale soul-food menu.
The kitchen brings out just about anything anyone could want for breakfast, short of a box of cereal. We went back and forth between the heavily laden tables four times, girded into action by the rousing gospel music playing in the background.
First, we hit the omelet and waffle station, where a cheerful chef prepared a puffy cheese omelet and vanilla-scented waffles that we topped with hot maple syrup and berries.
Next, we picked up a few small ribs, gooey with tangy barbecue sauce and so tender that the meat slid right off the bones. From an adjacent chafing dish, we got small pieces of a firm white fish in a creamy, cheesy white sauce sprinkled with paprika.
A large roast beef was pink enough in some places for those of us who prefer rare meat, and cooked enough in other spots for those who like meat well-done.
We grazed from station to station, picking up succulent fried chicken breasts, creamy macaroni, meaty crab legs, perfectly cooked shrimp, sweet cornbread muffins spread with a cinnamon-laced peach butter, and warm, rich peach cobbler. The only misses were some overdone, smoky green beans and slices of bacon that did not really look or taste like bacon.
Our dinners were uneven. We loved the sweet taste of a coconut-crusted shrimp appetizer but were not so keen on the overly breaded fried oysters served with a pistachio-green tartarlike sauce that looked garish.
An entree called body and soul (crab cake and blackened catfish) was delicious in every way; the seafood was broiled to perfection, and the Cajun spices were sprinkled on judiciously. Our other entree - pecan-crusted pork chops - fell short of expectations. If there were any pecans underneath a lake of brown gravy, sliced onions and cold apples, we could not find them.
Sides included excellent mashed sweet potatoes, a slightly soupy bowl of coleslaw, good, pungent collard greens and mashed potatoes that, like the pecans, got lost in the overly abundant pork-chop gravy.
For dessert, we went back to the peach cobbler that we liked so much at brunch, and we also tried a strawberry shortcake that disappointed; it would have been better described as poundcake slices served with strawberries.
The service at Downtown Southern Blues is genuinely sweet; the staff is quite keen on waiting on you and getting feedback on the food.
The rooms are wonderfully cozy, done in dark blue with brick trim and low lighting. Our dinner was festive, mainly because of a jazz trio that played in the bar a few feet away.
Festive enough to brighten the spirits of the most jaded of Scrooges.
Downtown Southern Blues
Where: 889 N. Howard St.
Open: For lunch and dinner Tuesday though Saturday and for Sunday brunch
Prices: Appetizers $3.95 to $9.50; entrees $15.95 to $28.95
Credit cards: All major cards
Excellent ****; Good ***; Fair **; Poor *