Cost: $19 (including 20% tip)
What to wear: A nasty velour track suit with matching tennis shoes.
Guilt Element: Styrofoam to-go boxes.
Soundtrack: “Be Alone Tonight” from School Daze
Even though I went to school in the AUC, my queer, introvert more-artsy-than-thou attitude at the time stopped me from having some of the more common experiences that anyone who went to Morris Brown, Clark Atlanta, Morehouse, or Spelman. (Oh, and the ITC I guess?) I pretty much stayed in my little off campus apartment, walked to class and the cafeteria and went back home to lie on the floor and listen to Meshell Ndegeocello on repeat. That said, on a recent trip to the A, I was driving around the West End with my mouth open in shock at the gentrifying horror and stopped at Busy Bee because, well, otherwise there is no decent lunch in the West End on a weekday when school is not in. This is a fact. Someone fix this, my God. Anyway, The Busy Bee experience was a classic soul food in the hood restaurant with some history and allegiance experience which meant the food was going to be in the range of “okay” to “tolerable but won’t come back again.”
I don’t know, maybe I’m too close to the cuisine but something about soul food restaurants never and I mean never seem to get it right. It might help to know that I came to the Busy Bee after a failed attempt on the previous day to go to Glady’s Knight’s* Chicken and Waffles which I was more familiar with and glad they were doing the most by having NOTHING on the menu in stock. I’m just used to being disappointed by people who aren’t in my family on this front.
Anyway, Busy Bee was packed with all kinds of aunties and uncles that came to town to visit they nephews up at the college and was eating before they hit I-20. (I love us. I really do.) They seemed to be enjoying themselves and there were signed pictures of all of the famous Black people who had come through so I felt like this was going to be a solid, “okay,” experience with stellar uptowns as a bonus.
My first inclination is to go ahead and get fish because I know I won’t have much of a protein without it. I ordered the “fried fish” which was deliciously seasoned and lightly fried so the meat had some juicy give to it. The corn bread was classic white corn which I’m not a stickler about. I don’t really understand the rumor that southern folks are extra picky about whether or not the meal is yellow or white. My experience is that it is about whatever is on sale, but I digress. The cornbread was good but a little dense. You wanted something else in your mouth to make the chewing experience worth it. The fish worked well for that.
The menu was very college-student-finding-thier-dietary-political-consciousness-aware and listed what might be gluten-free or vegetarian, which if you’re familiar with soul food restaurants in the South, is a rare experience. Most of the veggies are seasoned with turkey (for those with no pork on your fork) so I ordered the cabbage which was not listed as seasoned with meat. It might have been overlooked to me which produced this overly familiar pork aftertaste. I’m almost positive it was pork. The mac and cheese is the gritty kind which if it’s your thing, it’s good and the mac and cheese is the gritty kind which if it’s your thing, it’s good.
But the main course, SWEET TEA: The half and half was extra sweet in the way you would expect in the South but not too sweet if you are from the South and familiar with how bad it can get. You know… diabetes but you can still decide to be surprised that you got it?
The sweetest thing about this place was the service. Extra familiar. Even though the restaurant is packed to capacity, Brittany remained friendly, sweet, and, well, familiar. She would tap me on my shoulder to get my attention which tickled the shit out of me but might turn off most customers (or me if I were less patient with life that day). She was bent on making sure that I was happy and took away the soggy ass cabbage to switch it out for broccoli casserole which was quite good. I think. Maybe I just like Brittany.
*And Ron I guess, but who actually says Ron’s name? Poor guy.