I have a theory about soul-food restaurants: The bigger the restaurant is, the worse quality food you'll get. Fancy menus and big dining areas may work well for other forms of cuisine, but Southern cooking is akin to home cooking. Part of what makes the food so good is the intimacy of the area in which you eat it. If a kitchen is close enough that I can smell food still simmering on the stove as I sit and wait, then we're getting close to home. All of this is an important part of what makes Ginny's Family Diner such a heartwarming experience.
Located in the heart of Parramore, this tiny establishment has been a refuge for lovers of soul food since it first opened its doors in 1969. The neighborhood has changed considerably since then, but much of the menu is still the same. Collard greens, sweet potatoes, fried fish and chitlins are all standards, but there's room to get adventurous with your selections if you think it through. Even a vegetarian who shared my table was quite satisfied despite the limited offerings.
On my first visit to Ginny's I devoured the stewed beef ($6.95), and it was delicious. Stepping into the restaurant I could feel the essence of down-home cookery at work; the smell of collard greens and pork maws hit me at the door. Usually that's not the most welcoming scent for a non'swine eater such as myself, but I must admit it was tempting.
All meals come with three side orders, and I chose sweet potatoes, yellow rice with gravy, and macaroni and cheese ' all cooked to perfection with the texture and taste that only comes from hours of preparation. The stewed beef was so tender that it barely had to be chewed. The macaroni and cheese was on point, as were the sweet potatoes and yellow rice, which are hard to mess up without trying. A generous portion of corn bread comes with the meal, and there are free refills on not only corn bread but beverages as well: impressive in a Bush economy.
There are Bible verses and a portrait of Jesus hanging on the walls ' don't be alarmed if part of your time at Ginny's makes you feel you're in a house of worship. There's always religious music or a gospel play being shown on the television, but none of it is intrusive, although the six-page menu with only one page for food and five pages of Bible scripture does seem over-the-top.
Despite the religious overtones, I later returned for a second helping of Ginny's with a big appetite and waddled out 45 minutes later as full as a tick. This time, my order was meatloaf ($5.95), mashed potatoes, yellow rice and black-eyed peas, which were almost as satisfying, except the meatloaf was lacking in the taste department. The texture was there, which is important with meatloaf, but it was blander than I expected. The black-eyed peas were savory and thankfully not drenched in salt, and the yellow rice was flavorful. Overall it was a positive experience. Just steer clear of the meatloaf; there are better items to choose. I finished off the meal with a slice of pound cake ($1) and it instantly made up for the meatloaf. As soon as I forked into it and tasted the sugary goodness, I was hooked. Each bite was a treat, and all for a measly dollar.
As mentioned, the menu at Ginny's is small, and that's a good thing. In the restaurant business, it's easy to be a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none. The folks at Ginny's have prepared the same food for a significant amount of time and their expertise is evident.