If you have lived in Charlotte for some time, you will inevitably collide with some disappointing truths about the city. There is no good way to get to Lake Norman during rush hour. Charlotte loves trees, even paves around them for sidewalks, yet allows the local utility to disfigure them by cutting all branches near power lines. And last, but not least, some storied eateries -- like The Coffee Cup -- are more about hype than the food. Places change, and though the media would prefer to convert ink, or pixels, to stone after an assessment, restaurants are anything but static.
The side effect of the community's spotlighting of one place -- like The Coffee Cup -- is the neglect of other places serving a similar cuisine. Such is true for Sadie's Soulful Southern Experience. Owners Tamara Thompson and Joseph McGuire opened this small, 40-seat restaurant in January 2006. This eatery is their first venture into food: Both are bankers. However, Thompson recently took a leave of absence to concentrate on this enterprise.
Sadie's is named for Thompson's grandmother, although the recipes are not from family sources. The concept here is Southern, but Southern in this century -- not the last two. The South, and all its regional cuisines, has changed, too. "Many people have been told to clean up their eating habits," says Thompson. "People cannot eat fried foods every day so we created a mix. That way, people can stick with what they know or choose to eat healthier."
Many of the traditional dishes of the South were fried, flavored with animal fat, or contained copious -- as in "smothered," a common descriptor on a Southern Country menu -- amounts of cheese or fatty sauces. Southern Country -- or Soul Food, a term originating in the North to describe the foods of the South -- is as close as Charlotte gets to the foods which are remnants of our collective past. In a sense, traditional soul food is akin to the "Old Country" restaurants of the immigrant enclaves in the northeast, since the recipes had not changed much in the past two hundred years -- until now, that is.
Ingredients and preparations which were de rigueur have been newly created. Collards without the fatback are becoming the norm. Don't like fried? There are baked meats and frequently sauces come on the side. But what has always been the healthier aspect of Southern Country cuisine is the abundance of side dishes, and many of these were freshly picked vegetables, simply steamed. With that said, though, Sadie's signature side dish is fried corn on the cob, not exactly 21st century stuff.
The interior of Sadie's is cleanly appointed in a no-nonsense manner with light oak furniture and without any Southern kitsch.
Sadie's kitchen is in the competent hands of Wanda Berry, who learned her skills in the kitchen of the legendary McDonald's Cafeteria, a West Charlotte institution for decades that closed years ago. The menu is no-nonsense, too, with the exception of the whimsical sweet potato waffles. The appetizers are mainly fried -- chicken strips, wings and shrimp -- but the vegetarian Que-Sadie is a nod to the Latino-infused South.
While sides are the mainstay of the traditional Southern palate, desirable entrées at Sadie's include the expertly fried chicken, cooked to order (which takes 20 minutes) and crispy on the outside and tender within. The wind-chilling warding-off chicken and dumplings is carefully seasoned and accompanied by a warm slice of corn bread. This entrée comes in such a large portion, you will take some home. Less pleasing was the feisty red beans (kidney) and rice dish with thin slices of turkey sausage, more reminiscent of chili -- perhaps a nod to Louisiana where McGuire grew up. Berry's full-flavored approach extends to the sides, such as the marvelous mac and cheese flecked with morsels of melting cheddar, and the pork-free collards.
Entrées range in price from $7 to $9 and most of those have a choice of two sides and bread. The side roster includes squash and onions, sautéed sweet carrots, slaw, fries, fried okra, cabbage, potato salad, sautéed apples, pinto beans, and rice and gravy. Parents of children under 10 should note that child-sized portions of any entrée are offered at half price.
It you want a sweet ending -- and who doesn't -- the prepackaged pecan and sweet potato pies (actually individual tarts made "by ladies for us," says Thompson) in a basket by the cash register are a welcome finish. But be warned if you buy one on the way out and sneak a bite in the car: They're quite Southern -- sweet and flaky.
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Sadie's Soulful Southern Experience, 5708 N. Sharon Amity Road. 704-532-5570. Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 8 a.m. until 9 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. Closed Monday. Catering.