Faith. Some have it; others lack it. In this line of work, a leap of faith can mean the difference between an ordinary and an extraordinary meal. To wit: Adventurous forays into exotic cuisines have, in my experience, resulted in many favorable outcomes (the plate of porcupine in a Cameroonian restaurant in Paris notwithstanding). In a twilight venture into a 'distressedâ?� neighborhood for a plate of meat-and-three, a similar leap ' in our case, a stutter-step ' of faith was taken, so that when we arrived at Fish 'N' Loaves' Pine Hills address, a little angst tangled with our ever-growing appetites. But where an intrepid palate trumps a timid heart, encounters of the unexpected are, in a word, expected. It appeared that faith didn't just radiate off the Scriptured walls of the restaurant's colorless dining room, it radiated off the good folks who served us as well. Behind those benevolent smiles appeared to be a deep belief that a thoroughly gratifying home-cooked meal was as sure as the setting sun. And that feel-good, positive mood was palpable ' the experience here so closely replicated the feeling of eating at mom's that we both marveled at how comfortable and at ease we felt, a sentiment underscored by the dishes we sampled.
The restaurant's name is a Biblical reference to the miracle of Jesus feeding thousands of followers from just two fish and five loaves of bread. The allusion wasn't lost on us, and we thought it fitting to order two fish dishes. The selections ' catfish ($9) and whiting ($8.95) ' were both crusted in a light, granular batter that yielded nicely when pierced. The mild catfish served as a counterpoint to a more full-flavored whiting, but neither was greasy in the least. Two other fishes ' tilapia and snapper ' were also listed, but not available on the day we visited.Â
Loaves came in the form of two sizable squares of corn bread, liberally buttered, of course. Of particular note was the side of fried okra, a delightful indulgence. Also on the list of must-haves: black-eyed peas cooked in smoked turkey; macaroni and cheese not unnaturally orange in color; crisp and doughy hush puppies; and mashed potatoes (real mashed potatoes) ladled with gravy. Astonishingly grease-free fried chicken ($6.36) reflected a kitchen intent on shying away from the clichÃ©d. Here excess is nonexistent, but that in no way suggests portions are lacking. Even meaty turkey wings ($7.16), dressed until glistening, fit comfortably into the large compartment of a foam takeout container. After a good turkey-gnashing, my thoughts suddenly drifted to Thanksgiving, and I lamented the absence of sweet potato pie ($2.50) from the display case. Opting for cream-cheese pound cake ($3.50) and coconut cake ($2.80) placated the pang, but just barely.
Owners Earl and Sharon Savage (he's a pastor and she's a minister) see to it that faith remains a central facet in running and operating their restaurant. Having faith, after all, produced Fish 'N' Loaves, but keeping the faith will feed the multitudes for years to come.