Comfort Food and Comforting Hugs at Alcenia’s
Alcenia's is a soul food restaurant in the Pinch District of downtown, and the owner, B.J., is just as famous for her hugs as she is her comfort food. I went for lunch yesterday with my coworkers and a friend. Here is what happened.
The first thing you should know about Alcenia's is that the food is decadent and delicious. More on that in a bit. The second thing you should know is that it's going to be a leisurely lunch. With a small staff and a focus on freshly prepared dishes, Alcenia's is not the place for a quick work lunch or anytime you're on a schedule. You can call in your order ahead, which we did, but still had a solid half-hour wait.
Alcenia's is on North Main, right around the corner from the pyramid. When we walked in, Betty Joyce “B. J.” Chester-Tamayo gave us all hugs and chatted with us. She seemed genuinely happy to see us and made us feel like old friends coming for a visit. We sat down at a table covered in an Easter-themed tablecloth that matched the colorful homegrown feel of the place.
The recommended beverage is the Ghetto-Aid, which is just as the menu describes – very sweet Kool-Aid. You'll want to try it, but unless you have a serious sweet tooth you probably need some water or tea with your meal.
For our main dishes we ordered fried chicken (one white meat plate, one dark meat plate), fried catfish, and the meatloaf special. We each got two sides, so between us I was able to taste the cabbage, mac 'n' cheese, green beans, and yams. All of our dishes were served with a crispy little hoecake that we proceeded to slather in apple butter.
Everything that I tried was seriously delicious, the portions were huge, and the plates are under $11. The mac 'n' cheese has a mix of different pastas and cheeses and is topped with more shredded cheese. I loved that the green beans were a little bit spicy. I don't know what B.J. did to that cabbage, but I've never had cabbage that tasty. How tasty? Like, get up late in the night to eat cabbage leftovers for second dinner tasty.
Another thing I have to talk about: the tartar sauce. It's homemade, full of chunks of dill pickle and other unknown goodness, and goes great on the fried catfish. And the fried chicken. Probably on fried anything. We ordered several sides of this stuff and then called B.J. over to tell her she ought to bottle it and sell it. She already sells her apple butter and famous cha cha.
Even though we were all stuffed and got to-go boxes, we had to try the bread pudding before we left. It was very moist, almost a literal pudding, with an ever-so-slightly buttery crisp on the top. There weren't nuts in the pudding, just candied pecans on top, so you really got to enjoy the texture. Guess what? You can also buy the bread pudding and have it delivered.
Alcenia's is open for lunch/early dinner Tuesdays through Fridays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and for brunch/lunch on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. On Saturdays she has chicken and waffles.
Final thoughts: go hungry, but be prepared to relax, socialize, and wait for a bit. People like to throw around the term "Southern hospitality" a lot but I think in this case, it's accurate and authentic. I left feeling better than I did when I got there and not just because of the food.
317 North Main Street