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April 28, 2014

Miss Lee’s serves up better-than-Good Food on Garfield

“They’re grrrreat!”

Truth be told, I always thought that the character of Tony the Tiger was a bit of a jerk. Kellogg execs are correct in touting Frosted Flakes as a tasty breakfast cereal, but great? Sugared corn flakes are not LeBron. It’s just pretentious.

By name and by character, Miss Lee’s Good Food, a soul food and BBQ joint located in the heart of the Washington Park neighborhood, has no such pretensions.

Miss Lee’s sits at 203 East Garfield Boulevard—about two blocks west of the Garfield Green Line stop. As a reviewer, I try to follow the creed of “don’t judge a restaurant by its surroundings,” but I was initially skeptical of Miss Lee’s—it doesn’t have much in the way of competition. The surrounding few blocks are home to a couple of liquor stores and a Hollywood-themed McDonald’s, but that’s about it; given the lack of other businesses in the area, I doubted that Miss Lee’s had any incentive to be particularly good.

The experience proved that my suspicions were quite stupid.

Upon entering the restaurant, the owner, Miss Lee Hogan, personally greeted me and told me that she was happy that I had come to eat at her place. This was striking; I felt as though I was more than a hungry mouth with a dollar sign on my chest.

After the introduction, Miss Lee guided me through the menu. The offerings are Southern through and through; in addition to a multitude of chicken and rib dishes, adventurous customers may be inclined to try the neck bones ($10, of unknown animal) or the pig ears ($10). There are certainly worse ways to experiment with $10; for the purpose of this review, I went with the grilled herbal chicken with rice ($10.75). The plate included two corn muffins, a container of Great Northern beans, and a side of collard greens.

As I was waiting for my food, the cashier came around to the front and offered me a Styrofoam cup full of Miss Lee’s homemade “jungle juice.” I have no idea what this beverage is made of, or even what it tasted like—unlike the “jungle juice” served in fraternity basements, which is of indiscernible taste because of $11-per-handle vodka, this drink is a genuine mystery—but that’s not the point. Rather, the point is that it was sweet, it was on the rocks, and it was free. That’s customer service.

Upon receiving my food, I promptly left—Miss Lee’s is carry-out only. So, I channeled my inner bum and conducted the tasting from a bench at the corner of East 55th Street and South Cottage Grove.

Tasting Impressions

Food quality should not be dependent on temperature, but on some level, it is. Anyone who has been to a McDonald’s and had the fries right out of the fryer knows what I’m talking about. Miss Lee’s wins a few points due to the fact that everything was piping hot.

The chicken is executed well—cut into small chunks and heavily seasoned. I suspect that the high surface-area-to-volume-ratio accomplished by dividing the chicken into chunks (as opposed to whole pieces) allows more seasoning to seep into the meat. No complaints on this front.

The sides, too, are proper soul fare. The collards were greasy, with visible bacon bits, and the beans were slightly (but not sickly) sweet.

The only part of the meal worthy of criticism were the corn muffins. Side note: “muffins” do not resemble the breakfast food; rather, this word is interchangeable with cornbread. Miss Lee’s got the texture right—buttery, flaky, slightly crumbly—but the corn flavor was weak. Superior corn muffins may be found at Daley’s Restaurant (809 East 63rd Street), if this particular point is of importance to you.

Despite the lackluster corn muffins, I was pleased with what Miss Lee’s offered—two pounds of good food for under $11. I would like to state that while I finished the herbal chicken at 2 p.m., the food was filling enough that I had no desire to eat dinner. All without the indigestion of Harold’s.

That, friends, is economy.

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