Soul Food in Fresno
Great place for soul food you can go to the Smokehouse on Van Ness and Merced in Downtown next to the Bank of the West. Great fried wings (biggest ive seen), good smoke ribs, and a decent cheap lunch menu. I happen to bartend on Sat nites when the club is going on.
The Sturdy Wench and I ate lunch at the Smokehouse today. We arrived at about 12:30 and there were about 8 other customers in the large and nicely appointed dining room. We split the Smokehouse Platter and *still* had food for 2-3 people left over. It can easily feed 5 people for $28.
On the platter were two deep-fried chicken wings, 8 slices of sausage (4 hot, 4 normal), 3 pcs grilled chicken, a scoop of pulled pork, scoop of grilled and braised beef brisket chunks, 3 beef ribs. We picked 2 sides: mac & cheese and red beans & rice.
Overall, the food was satisfactory. Give it a B-.
Fried chicken wings: Biggest wings I've ever seen! Twice the size of what I see in grocery stores. Standard crispy coating, good chicken flavor.
Sausage - Nice grainy texture. You felt like you were eating real meat, not baby food. The sausage had a great slightly charred exterior and showed definite signs of grilling. This was a highlight food item. The hot link had pleasant, strong pepper bite to it but the heat didn't overhwlem the flavors and render it (get it? Sausage? Render?) into a one-note flavored piece of meat.
Grilled chicken - This was the most disappointing item. The skin was a weird combination of flabby and crispy in spots, and the meat didn't taste like much of anything.
Pulled pork - This was good, nicely charred where the meat was attached to the skin and had a satisfactory porky/smoky flavor. It was a bit dry and needed to be served with more sauce.
Grilled and braised beef brisket chunks - This was a cooking style I've not seen before. I'm guessing on the technique, but the brisket chunks had the pink smoke ring but were very moist, almost wet, and looked as though they'd been braised for some time. Good beefy flavor, one of the better items.
Beef ribs - One of the best items. Massive, beefy goodness and small bones. The ribs were moist and flavorful.
Mac & cheese - A nice efffort, elbow mac ina yellow cheese sauce; bog-standard but better than what I usually find.
Red beans & rice - This was a winner. Great bean taste, plump beans well-cooked for hours. The rice was a bit sparse but that's personal preference and I won't ding the Smokehouse for that.
The only negative comment I have is on the service, and it's a big strike against the Smokehouse in my book. I give it a D bordering on F.
Our waitress was Meisha, and she seemed to be everywhere but at our table. The first time we spoke to her is when she came by to take our order. Her first words were, "You ready to order?" No greeting, no smile until at the end when I told her it was my birthday and we were trying the Smokehouse for the first time, and that I had high standards (said in a joking manner.) Her attitude seemed to be "give me your order so I can go away and do more important things." She ran off so fast after our order she never took our drink order. I watched her during our 25 minute wait for food and she did not leave the bar where she was on the telephone unless the pick-up bell in the kitchen rang.
When she moved, she did so quickly, but it seemed to me she wanted to be somewhere else than at this restaurant, serving these people. We sat without drinks for at least 20 minutes, tried to flag her down a few times but no success until she walked past to attend the single diner to my right and I stopped her and asked for drinks. She said "Okay," no apology or anything.
Our food finally came and it was as described above. Meisha dropped off some extra napkins and I had to flag her down again for a soda refill. She returned to her position at the bar telephone and ignored us for the remainder of lunch until I had to flag her down again for to-go boxes so we could leave.
Now, here's where she shined. As she handed me the boxes and the tab, she asked me if it was really my birthday and I said yes. Then she smiled and the sun came out from behind the louds! She had a marvelous smile, absolutely wonderful, and how I wish we had seen more of it. She asked me of I liked the food and I said I did.
She left and I never spoke to her again because she'd gone back to her telephone call(s). I waited for several minutes to talk with her about her service (Yes, I'm an interfering old fusspot) and offer her some suggestions of she wanted to increase her tips and improve customer retention, but she remained parked on the phone until I had to leave.
Here's what I would've said to her:
"I' worked for years in customer service so I have some experience dealing with people. I think a few small changes will earn you more tips and more repeat custoners here.
First off, you have a dynamite smile. It lights you up like a searchlight and pulls people to you. If you use it more often, you help people like you and enjoy their experience at this restaurant. Happy customers are repeat customers.
Secondly, your customers have to be the most important people in your life while you're working. You can't have a bad day on the floor that affects your mood with your diners. Whatever's going n in your private life, leave at the back door, Paying more attention to the phone, or to rolling silverware in napkins, or filing your nails sends the diners the message, "You're unimportant, buzz off."
Thirdly, pay attention to your diners. When their drinks are low or empty, refill them. Stop by and ask how they're doing, can you get them anything? Don't hover, but don't leave them in Siberia.
When I go to a restaurant, I want to be taken care of for an hour. I want a respite from the world that's always demanding more and giving less. I can more easily tolerate less-than-stellar food if the service is outstanding. But if the service is bad, I won't return even if the food is four-star.
Lastly, smile. Act happy. Not fake or plastic, but happy. Mood is portable. If you're happy, you can help your diners feel happy as well. If the diners are having a bad day, you can help lighten it. See the good in what you're doing and relax into it.
You have an absolutely killer smile, Please share more of it with us."
Ken, it is so refreshing to read such an eloquent and proactive response, not to mention most timely in our current economic state of affairs. This is the last place on my "best cheeseburger" list to try and I plan on taking a printed copies of your comments to share with Meisha and the manager. IIRC, she was my waitress the one time I popped in shortly after their opening, your description is spot on.
Having been in the business, this is the type of feedback a place needs to hear, that is if they wish to stick around. Keep on houndin'
Ken, you are so right about the importance of caring and service. However, I don't think genuine friendliness and customer service is something you can "teach"... you either have it or you don't. If you don't have it and you try, often it comes off phony, even with the killer smile. Perhaps she is a family member and working for minimum wage, who knows? By her actions, I think it's a good bet.
Hmmm, I disagree in part. You're right, I can't teach someone to care. But I can teach someone the techniques of good customer service and how to best use them.
When I was training for one service job, I learned I had to always be positive, even when I felt like shoe scrapings. In that sense, yes, my outward tone didn't match my inner feelings. But I learned I can "fake it 'til I make it."
If the server is putting the needs and wants of the customer ahead of her own, then even if she's smiling when she wants to scream, she's not being insincere. But if she's smiling solely to get more tips or to score points or whatever, then that smile is insincere. (This may be a distinction important only to me.)
>>>But I can teach someone the techniques of good customer service and how to best use them.<<<
You bet you can! But you'll only be successful *if* they care. Sometimes, along with techniques, you can teach them to care which is the ultimate success. Sorry, I'm an ex teacher.
Forgive this hijacking into a philosophical discussion.
Bumping up and updating. Sadly noting that Mama Lo's had closed her doors, an article in the Jan 26, Business section of the local paper reported that the space has been taken over by the Myles' Family Kitchen.
I first noticed the change a month or so ago, waiting for staff to arrive at Smokey's BBQ around the corner. At the time (and a very short glance at the window info) it appeared to be geared for the T'giving and Xmas family designed take out whole dinners. After reading the article further sniffin' is in order. A few excerpts of interest...
Down home fare is the norm, a specialty is grits and homemade biscuits and gravy for breakfast, and the Two Ribs, Hot Link, and a side Business Owner's Lunch (7.25)
They liked the location because of the historic nature of F St. in old Chinatown.
I share their opinion that revitalization is coming to the area, just hope it's soon enough to let these brave entrepreneurs survive.
Myles' Family Kitchen
952 F St (@ Tulare, actually slightly off)
Your post reminded me that I wanted to revisit Miss Ashley's on Van Ness Ave. downtown. I'd had lunch there several months ago after reading an article in the Fresno Bee. Noticed people inside, found a parking place close by, fed the meter and strolled up to.... a new tacqueria. RIP Miss Ashley.
I Googled Fresno Soul Food earlier today and managed to drive by one of the three hits on the way into the office and another after the Miss A disappointment. Both appeared to be MIA. Called the phone numbers (Granma's Soul Kitchen on N. Hughes Ave and Mr. Ed's BBQ on Merced St. downtown) both rang with no answer and no out of service message. Decided to call Tomiko's that RG referred to, answered by a young girl, definitely not a restaurant. Checked the current phone book and all three are no longer listed.
On an up note I got wind of Savannah a little over a year ago when she was at the Chandler airfield and stopped in for lunch, had the catfish dusted in cornmeal IIRC, very tasty. I'll definitely look forward to checking out her new venture. According to the article in the Bee she's opening up on one side of a new book store (Centaur) that just went in on the ground floor of the old hotel, and an Italian place called the Olive Press is going in on the other side.
Hey, PolarBear, Just wanted to comment on the restaurant Miss Ashley's. They had like the best food ever. I used to frequent that spot. I loved that they offered real soul food. I used to have breakfast there. Grits, and country potatoes. I also used to enjoy their scrambles. Had you ever eaten their pork rib scramble? It was delicious. anyway if you ever get information on another great soul food place in Fresno, please let me know. I'm getting hungry just remembering how good the food was there.
I can think of a couple I have heard of but have not tried myself.
Savannah's used to be located in the terminal building at the Downtown/Kearney airport but I heard it wasn't there anymore. Then I saw in the news that it will be opening in the Virginia Hotel building near the convention center and county courthouse. Not sure when it will open there.
Tamkio's Soul Food is near Cedar and Clinton. I've heard good things from people who have eaten there.
I can't think of a place like that at all in this area. The Lime Lite (rated #1 on Tripadvisor for Fresno) has catfish on their menu.
It's located at Palm & Shaw, I haven't been there yet. I'll have to try it sometime. We used to grow collard greens in our garden, love em'! ***kim***