Kevin Nelson, the new executive chef at the just-reopened Jay’s Cafeteria, got a few chuckles when he told a Courier-Journal business reporter, “My goal here is to make it the African-American Vincenzo’s.”
I’ve got news, folks: Based on the polished and professional service we received when we dined here at midday today, Vincenzo’s might just want to start thinking about trying to be the Italian-American Jay’s. The food was excellent, too: Urban soul food, served cafeteria-style – at least for now, it’s an all-you-can-eat deal at $10.99 a person for adults and teen-agers on Sundays – very well prepared by skilled chefs, several of whom I noticed proudly wear the Sullivan University culinary school logo on their whites.
1812 W. Muhammad Ali Blvd.
Thanks to fine down-home fare and a hospitable attitude, Jay’s has long been an inner-city landmark, attracting a diverse crowd of loyalists from far beyond its modern, inviting West End venue.
Bad news came Jay’s way over the past couple of years when bankruptcy proceedings briefly shuttered the popular establishment. But it’s up and running strong, reopened earlier this month in a fine demonstration of community action: Two West End churches – Parkland Church of God and Mount Hermon Baptist Church – came together to buy the business and reopen it as a community-development project.
The churches have formed a for-profit business called Five Thousand Fed Ministries, evoking the Gospel story of the loaves and the fishes. It’s a collaboration of the two churches’ community-development corporations, and its profits will benefit neighborhood outreach programs such as low-income housing, after-school and continuing-education assistance, counseling, rehabilitation and jobs creation.
Don’t go just because you’re supporting a good cause, though. Go for the food. Today’s fried chicken was golden-brown and delicious; ditto for a slab of fried fish the size of your forearm. OK, a small forearm, but still. St. Louis-style ribs seemed baked, not smoked, but were falling-off-the-bone tender and slathered with sweet tomato sauce. Side dishes were uniformly fine, from small shrimp salads to macaroni and cheese to long-simmered, savory green beans and mixed greens to tender, intensely fudgey chocolate cake.
All this and Vincenzo’s-style service too … you won’t often find that in a cafeteria.