Local Folks Foods

Excellent Kosher Food

July 31, 2012

Cafeteria Dining: The Endangered Species

Here's a question for you. How many of you can remember cafeteria-style dining? I'm not talking about your days in school. It doesn't seem that long ago that K-Mart had full service dining (and the food was actually very good). Some of you might remember K-Mart's Blue Plate Specials. It was cafeteria in the way that you would  in school. You look at the food, pick the items you wanted, grabbed a piece of pie or cake, pay, and off you went. As I think about this, this experience is a dying breed especially where I live. Don't get me wrong. There are a few in the Chicago area but they're much harder to find than years past. Of those that are still around locally, there's BJ's Market (Chicago South Side) and MacArthur (Chicago's West Side) are just two that come to mind. Many have closed and some have reinvented themselves. I'm of the believe that if it's not broke, don't fix it.

Over the last 5 months or so, I re-acquainted myself with a place I really liked and forgot was still around. In Hillside, Illinois, the cafeteria dining experience is alive and well with soul food excellence found at Priscilla's Ultimate Soul Food Cafeteria. If you're not looking for it and not familiar with the area, you could easily miss it. So you go inside and it's pretty much basic fare. Just like the cafeteria-style dining you'll see in the South, that's what awaits you when you get inside- clean and comfortable. You then will see the menu for the day, since the menu rotates by day. But before you place your order, there may be some instructions given up front, You'll see that as well.

 But before you place your order, there may be some instructions given up front, You'll see that as well. 
Again, just so everyone is clear. If you miss this, don't worry about it. You will be directed to the right place to place your order. 

Now comes the big payoff. You can see all the goodness right in front of you. All the hype you've heard or everything I remembered is right in front of you. Since this is a soul food restaurant, there tends to be a lot of smothered stuff on the menu. Trust me, this place doesn't disappoint. If you think I'm kidding, take a look below. One warning though. If you're hungry or craving soul food, you proceed at your own risk .As I touched on earlier, the entree menu rotates daily (they're closed on Monday and Tuesday). OK. Now you've been warned so let the show begin. Here's what the spread looks like on any given day.

From left to right should be pretty obvious. Fried Chicken (Left), and some serious Mac & Cheese (right).

You want oxtail, you got it- right in front of you. Stewed to perfection. I'll come back to this later.

A familiar friend and a new playing partner. Fried Chicken (left) and smothered pork chops. More later!!

So now is the real payoff. Meal # 1 is Oxtail, cole slaw, and green beans w/ a cornbread muffin to book. As you see on the pictures below the main course, you see my surgical dining skills at work.

So how tender was this oxtail dish. Notice anything?  I took off the bones. Notice how clean they are? I made one mistake here. Next time, I'll order rice instead of cole slaw. Imagine how good that sauce would have tasted with rice.

Now on to meal #2 listed below. Smothered Pork Chop, mac & cheese, and green beans. NOW do you have an idea why I made this post? Tell me this doesn't jump off the page and say dinner is served. Now for the record, I am pretty conscientious about my diet but with that said, I cheat every now and then.  I think this is just another example of how to cheat. OK, so I threw out the food serving chart that day. At least I ate very well. 

Now that you made it this far, let's go to the final meal I'll feature here. Yep. When I want smothered stuff, I don't hold back and below is another example. Smothered chicken (baked) with Mac & Cheese & green beans. You get all the meals I bought for under $10.00. In addition, you can also get a meal made of side dishes. Four choices, $13 at this time and as you can see, this place doesn't skimp on portions. You get what you pay for and I've never had a bad meal.

Let's say I have a knack for finding off the path dining. In this case, I wouldn't call it off the path since it's pretty close to where I live (closer than I realized). SEVERAL local food writers and programs have featured Priscilla's as well. It's always nice to visit a place like this. Why? I brings back a way of life not seen as much as we once did. I just hope places like this will survive and prosper. Every time I eat a a place like this, I REALLY feel a personal touch to it.  I guess if all else fails, maybe I'll move to the South. OK, not so fast.  Knowing what it takes to make a meal like this I appreciate the effort a chef takes in pulling off a meal like this. I really hope more come back and more importantly, do it right. Job well done, Priscilla's. Keep up the good work. I'll be back sooner than you think. You're always worth the trip.

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