Miss Moon Pie visits Helen’s Kitchen

Story Cherri Golden

The subject of Helen’s Kitchen has long been a sore spot with me. This soul food restaurant, owned and run by Helen Karriem, is a local legend; and whenever restaurants are discussed by my circle of friends, everyone raves about her food. Helen’s fried chicken usually makes the top of the list and is mentioned with hushed reverence. I fell silent in these discussions, embarrassed to say that I had never eaten there. When I admitted this shortcoming, my friends looked at me in disbelief as if I had confessed to stealing from the church collection plate or murdering kittens.

In my defense I must say that on several occasions I did set out to find Helen’s Kitchen and give it a try. However, because I have the attention span of a gnat and am easily distracted, I never actually made it there. This time, armed with the purpose of writing this article, my resolve was renewed. Experiencing the cuisine of Helen’s Kitchen was now my mission.

I enlisted the aid of my sister, and on a cold, dreary Saturday morning, we made our way to our target location. We resisted all temptation to “just pop in and check out” stores along the way. This was how I had gone wrong before.

We arrived at the small red brick building, and as we stepped inside we were immediately greeted with a cheery “Hello! Come on in.” from a voice from behind the counter. This turned out to be Helen Karriem, herself, or “Miss Helen” as she is called by all who enter her establishment.

Miss Helen is a lovely, elegant lady of undetermined years, who clearly knows her way around a kitchen. She should. She learned her art from her mother, Sally Mae Jones, who operated a restaurant for many years in the very Catfish Alley from which this magazine takes its name. Jones Café, the most recent incarnation of Sally’s, still carries on the business in the “alley.” Helen’s Kitchen has been in its current location since 1988.

The restaurant’s interior is painted a warm Tuscan yellow and the floor is covered in red and white linoleum. About a dozen tables are scattered throughout; on each table is a bottle of Trappey’s Pepper Sauce and a bottle of Louisiana-style hot sauce. Both sauces are mandatory condiments for true Southern soul food.

We had the choice of having either breakfast or lunch. My sister and I both chose breakfast and were soon devouring our selections. Sister ordered the chicken and waffles while I opted for the enormous “Presidential Breakfast” — three eggs cooked to my liking (scrambled), French toast, a slice of bacon, a sausage patty and a salmon croquette. My menu choice also came with cottage-fried potatoes cooked with bell peppers and onions. And coffee, of course.  Everything was delicious! The crust on the fried chicken was amazingly delicate and crispy, and it definitely lived up to its reputation. Before Sister and I left we had already decided to return soon to try the lunch offerings.

We returned the very next Saturday and were once again greeted warmly. I had meatloaf with tomato gravy, turnip greens, candied yams, corn muffins and sweet tea — and finished off with sweet potato pie. I generously doused my turnip greens with pepper sauce and added a tiny drop of Louisiana hot sauce for good measure. Sister had a smothered pork chop with macaroni and cheese and green beans. She chose peach cobbler for her dessert. The pork chop was so tender that no knife was needed, and the gravy was creamy and full of flavor.  The meatloaf and vegetables were all they should be. It is the kind of food my grandmother and my mother made. Every mouthful brought back memories from my childhood. I’ll be back soon to try Thursday’s chicken and dressing.  It’s clear that I will be a regular at Helen’s Kitchen.

Helen’s Kitchen is located at 708 15th Street North in Columbus. Visit helenskitchenonline.com or call 662-328-3063 for more information.