The best part about exploring and throwing caution into the wind is the fact that you will find the best places merely by taking a chance or by what would be described as total accident. That was the result of the drive Christine & I took on Saturday and Gloria's Soul Food, along East Main Street, was our accident.
After working up a sweat losing to Christine (again) on the tennis court, we hit the ground running scavenging the Memorial Day weekend barrage of yard sales and various bicycle shops in hopes of finding a decent set of leisure wheels for summer cruising. Around mid afternoon we found ourselves on Columbus' Near East Side. This area has some great history and architecture, but unfortunately portions of the neighborhoods have fallen into unsatisfactory condition. Working up an appetite from playing tennis and searching yard sales, we set out to find some grub.
Riding along East Main Street we decided to assist in what looked to be a new venture, Gloria's Soul Food, as their "Grand Opening" banner swayed in the wind just below the main sign along the top of their building. Now many people would be turned off if a place wasn't easy on the eyes or didn't give you that feeling of "come on it, we'll take care of you", but looks can be deceiving as we all know. I mean no disrespect, but Gloria's had just recently opened and was still working on getting their eatery up to par. The place at the corner of East Main and Berkeley Road needs more than just a little TLC. They know it, but looking pretty will only get you so far. That's the phrase they pride on.
Step inside and you can see the remnants of previous establishments that once inhabited the place (a little character never hurt anyone) . You arrive at the counter and find a wide range of meat dishes, soul food staples and house specialties. Once you select your cuisine you take a seat and wait for your meal to arrive. Waiting for our food and talking with the wife of the cook/owner we discover that Gloria was the late mother of the chef. The chef had always wanted to open a place of his own in her honor. Now Special, the wife of the cook and, yes, that was her name (though it could have been a nickname), tells us that they had been open for about four weeks and had seen a steady flow of customers. Though with it being Memorial Day weekend many people were grilling or just enjoying the unofficial start to summer which meant Gloria's crowd was a little thinner than usual.
She apologized for it being a bit humid inside the dining area as she detailed that they didn't find out until after renting the place that the copper pipes connecting the air conditioner had been removed. It was slightly humid, but not enough to deter anyone from enjoying themselves. Besides Gloria's was about the food, not the atmosphere. For example, your choice of beverage came in a can chosen from the refrigerator sitting behind the counter. It was the type of sliding glass door fridge normally seen at the beverage aisle at your local convenient store. Your choice of condiments came in the same container you would find in a grocery store for such things as ketchup, mustard, relish and others. You had to request them. They were not at your table and there were only so many of them to go around. This, Special says, are how they keep their prices affordable and their costs down. The food is the key, not the amenities. The interior needs work, but you are greeted with pictures of Gloria and family photos of Special, her husband (the cook) and their daughter.
For our meal I order the smoked turkey leg with a pair of sides: mac & cheese and fried okra. Christine went a bit more adventurous by selecting the "House Special" chicken (two pieces) and a pair of sides: collard greens and potato salad. We had to wait a little while for the food, but it wasn't a ridiculous amount of time. We enjoyed ourselves by taking in the unique scenery. When our orders arrived Special made it a point saying she was sorry for the wait, but wanted her clientele to understand that they are not a fast food operation. In her words, "We fry when you buy." In a nutshell, whatever you order is made when you order it...and isn't sitting waiting to be revived in a microwave or wilting under a heat lamp. The food is fixed when you request it. That's a good thing folks.
The food is not for the full-on health conscious. This was soul food cooked the way it was meant to be. The kind that would make your arteries wave the white flag and surrender. My turkey leg was a nice size, savory, fall off the bone, slightly crunchy on the outside and full of that great smoky flavor. The fried okra had a wonderful crunching coating, but still had that okra tang on the inside. It wasn't over done. The mac & cheese was buttery with enough cheese to satisfy most fans of this childhood staple.
The "House Special" Christine ordered was rather unique. This was chicken that was fried, then barbecued and smothered with gravy. Just reading the description would make your heart skip a beat. Special assured us that it may not sound appetizing, but it was something we wouldn't regret trying. And, of course, she was right. All the flavors intermingled well and it came across robust & juicy. Both of us were taken back at how different, yet well conceived, Gloria's "House Special" was. This is something you have to try in order to understand it. Aside from that, Christine's collard greens were tender and bathed in a broth with a great ham flavor. The mustard-based potato salad was chunky and tasty, no complaints here.
Remember Special's details on what they do in order to keep prices to a minimum? Well that was obvious as our bill arrived. In all we had two entrees (one being the House Special), a pair of sides for each of us and two drinks (along with complimentary water). The grand total came to: $13.50. That was it! No more, no less and I nearly fell out of my chair. And the food was absolutely great!
Sure, Gloria's may not be easy on the eyes (inside or out) and they could use some sprucing up here and there. But if you are looking for good food at a price almost anyone can afford, you need to look no further. You can even order take out (which a few of our fellow patrons did), if you have the patience to wait for it. For those of you who want to eat healthy, this may not be the place for you. I know I definitely could not eat there on a regular basis, but it is a wonderful place when it comes to time to let your guard down and splurge.
You may drive by and thumb your nose up at what you see or have reservations about the neighborhood, but you would be missing out on a great chance to meet some "real" people who know how to cook and treat their customers with respect. If you would like to create your own Gloria's adventure you can find them at 1615 East Main at the Berkeley Road intersection (two blocks east of Kelton Avenue). You can also contact them at: (614) 252-3580.
Respect never tasted so good.