If it feels like you're in the kitchen of Julie Turner and Rich Walton, it's because you're in The Kitchen, the duo's nod to the former Dutch Kitchen and purveyor of "hand crafted comfort food," inspired by life in Tennessee and Arkansas. It's still a small space, but with Turner's recipes and Walton's help, it's turned into an incredibly soft place to land.
For instance, Turner, 48, immediately treats you like a beloved co-conspirator. Walking around in jeans and sneakers, she dropped off a lunch that included a plate of cochon de lait, a new-to-me Cajun meal The Kitchen had translated into a unique blackened pulled-pork sandwich. "They're gonna hate you by the time this is over," she gleefully warned a dining mate, noting first that she had eaten two of these the day before; and second, that the meat had been brined for three days in a recipe she would kill us before telling more of. "Although, you're going to hate them, too." She then turned to walk back to the kitchen, nearly shouting, "There's gonna be a lot of hating going on!"
The service is still hit-and-miss, though. We watched multiple tables walk out after sitting for a spell only to be told the food can take a while. And similar to a place like Adam's Mountain Café, wait times do run long. Turner says more staff is coming in April, a relief to those in the dining room with somewhere to be. "I feel bad they don't always get the service they deserve," she told one table, but added that there was never compromise about the quality of the food. You could tell this mattered when Walton came back after boxing my meatloaf ($10.95) — a textbook example, spiced perhaps with nutmeg (they don't share recipes) next to sautéed kale with bacon and peppery mashed potatoes — to say he'd added more gravy for when I heat it up at home.
I liked the "K"uesadilla ($5.50). Like everything else, it was served on scalloped white plates edged with gold that the couple found in the building when they bought it post-Dutch. (They later leased it to Serranos Mexican Bar & Grill for a spell.) A play on the BLT, the trio of buttery slices of tortilla filled with crisp lettuce and thick bacon really worked with the homemade blue-cheese dip. Or you could start with a tart, creamy artichoke dip ($6.50) with a black-olive twist.
Ordered from a section called "Morning Hodgepodge," the "K"uiche ($8) was also delicious, if over-salted, with its thick layers of egg, sausage, cheddar cheese and green onions in a soft crust. A slice of cinnamon-covered apple pie ($7/à la mode) next to homemade banana and Voluptuous Vanilla ice creams, tasted equally simple, fresh and delicious.
More classics arrive with a picture-perfect plate of fried chicken ($10.95) — paper-thin skin, the crunch of finishing salt, the lava-hot juices — complete with misshapen biscuit and baked beans full of three different varieties plus hamburger chunks. And that cochon de lait may have been a little watery and over-mayonnaise-ed, but the pickled jalapeños were an inspired addition, and those onion straws ...
A hamburger with pimento cheese ($9) was plain, and a little overdone, and they didn't include any of the vegetables the first time out, but it was probably the only lowlight, if even that. It's very easy to become taken with Turner, who might warn you the cinnamon rolls are sold out and she forgot to make the potato salad, but all else is ready to go.
"All right, y'all," she'll say. "We'll get that rocking for you."