After last week’s post about terroir, a fun word for the mash-up of flavor and place, we got to thinking that local flavor isn’t the only thing that develops a hyper-local economy. There’s another piece of the puzzle, one that entails the sharing of different perspectives and traditions with our neighbors, one that constantly introduces new flavor into the local scene in a fun and welcoming way. The sense of connection that comes from walking in a new door is a key element that helps communities from getting “stale.”
So that’s why I was excited, on a drive down Main Street in Green Bay, to see the the words Homemade Southern Cuisine on the window of a new restaurant in a building I’d driven by numerous times. I was excited because prior to living in Chicago, I lived for several years in Birmingham, Alabama and developed a taste for the greens, beans, pulled meats and tasty fish dishes that make up true Southern cuisine. I was also a bit surprised because, let’s be honest, few people (besides Yoopers and Canadians) associate the word “south” with Green Bay.
“I serve what I want to eat,” owner Sarai Buie says when asked what prompted her to open the spot. “And create community.”
“We’re the kind of place where people at different tables talk to each other,” Sarai states with a smile. “Everyone has a story about why they came in, for some it’s a memory of eating on a vacation down south, for others it’s time spent in the military or a family tradition. But people just start talking.”
Sarai, who has lived in Green Bay for nearly 15 years, is also veteran restaurateur. She shared how the tables, classic formica, interspersed with red leather booths, fill a dining space that actually arose as a bit of an afterthought. When Sarai and her partner started this venture, their goal was to find a commercial kitchen where they could prepare food for a catering and food truck business. It was the space, with its classic mirror-backed bar and stools, and stage in the back that’s perfect for music, that made them say “what the hey” and start serving food in the space.
“We’re cooking anyway, so why not open doors and create community in-house?” says Sarai.
And that’s a really good thing. In the two times I’ve visited, there’s a steady pace of carry-out and diners that sit, or hang at the bar to enjoy a sweet-tea, and enjoy savory aroma of southern food. When I asked her about her recipes, Sarai makes it clear that she’s not cooking her mom’s or grandma’s food by rote, she’s cooking for taste and flavor. This is clear in some of the choices she’s making to suit her own modern taste. The greens, for instance, are purchased whenever possible from a local grower that specializes in organic collards and are cooked with smoked turkey tail so they have a delicious smoked taste without grease. Same goes for her chicken, which she chooses to fry lightly battered rather than double or triple dipped in coating. The food is fresh, with the selection of available sides changing based on availability.
With their presence at the Howard Farmer’s Market, the Titletown Night Market and the Farmers Market On Broadway, we suggest that spots like Homemade Southern Cuisine are setting a new standard for what, where and how folks eat in Greater Green Bay. In a world of chain restaurants aimed at providing a reliable, consistent meal that tastes the same in any number of places, the unique offerings of passionate cooks and community members like Sarai make more than food, they make connections. And that is well-being.