by Mike Sula
Not long after the great Doggy’s S.S. Soul Eatery closed earlier this year, Friend of the Food Chain @THEPIGMON began wandering the desert again. Doggy's you may recall was the Reader's 2008 pick for best soul food, and one of four stellar but unsung soul food spots he and Peter Engler rounded up last fall. Before long he zeroed in on what he called a possible successor in St. Rest #2 Country Kitchens, a spacious two-steam-table setup on 87th Street that doubles as a Christian ministry run by owner Pastor L. Hopkins.
I followed him there last week with a few others, and while I'm not sure the eats beat the distinctive and carefully prepared plates at Doggy's, it is awfully good, and certainly belongs in the pantheon of quality home-style southern restaurants around town. We were dealt heaping plates of slow-cooked neck bones, oxtails, smothered pork chops, and chicken, with greens, beans, mac 'n' cheese, and spaghetti sides. Even less durable items like fried catfish and fried chicken looked pretty vital sitting under the heat lamps, boding well for things that weren't available that particular day, such as baked duck, meat loaf, and short ribs.
Lunch was dished out by Hopkins, possibly the most encouraging and enthusiastic booster of cafeteria line food I've ever encountered. We were steadily and happily forking away when he approached the table and told us he had something to share when we'd finished. I steeled myself for a postprandial sermon, but when the time came it turned out he wanted to make a proposition. Hopkins, who operates the ministry out of the banquet hall in the back of the restaurant, said he'd been in the business for too long. The now-shuttered St. Rest #1 began on the west side more than 30 years ago, and he's been simultaneously preaching ever since. Now he's building a church, and wants to devote all his time to it.
Did we, he wanted to know, want to buy the restaurant? No takers at our table, but he asked us to pass along the offer: one large, thriving soul-food restaurant for sale. Serious offers only.
St. Rest #2 Country Kitchens, 727 E. 87th, 773-962-0700