Known for its countless restaurants and diverse set of foodie residents, Worcester has for the past 10 months been given a glimpse into the culture of Southern hospitality through the flavorful and hearty dishes of Addie Lee’s Soul Food Restaurant, 596 Main St. — a place many are calling a “home away from home.”
Inside the bright space with the large windows wrapping the corner eatery, and stretched fully across the open-floor concept, stands a line of patrons bombarding the counter with countless lunch orders.
“The sweet potatoes are to die for,” says Krysten Demello, an early and loyal customer of Addie Lee’s. Krysten and her friend Stephanie Reynolds-King explain their love of the homestyle cooking and the satisfaction they feel after eating a dish for lunch. “If you try anything today, let it be the yams,” they say.
With fried chicken, homestyle mac and cheese, and the infamous cornbread options on the menu, it is hard to believe Addie Lee’s, blocks from Worcester Common, has conducted business for almost a year under the radar. Indeed, its pricing is as down-home as its food; add in offering an a la carte menu and Addie Lee’s is a pure rarity. Robust side dishes, such as their classic yams, start as low as $3.
The expressive sounds of Aretha Franklin fill the air and collide with the laughter of owner Rob Evans. A born-and-raised native of Worcester with deep roots in Mississippi, Rob’s charismatic smile is the welcoming gesture for every incoming customer.
Inspired by the cooking of his grandmother, Rob embraces his family structure and values through his adaptation of Addie Lee’s. “I wanted to include everyone in the family. The recipes are not my grandmother’s, per se, but they are recipes that have been handed down from generation to generation,” he said.
“So are you the master chef?” I ask, while devouring a delicious slice of pineapple cheesecake – a sliver of heaven is what they should call it, I think to myself as I look around for a second serving.
Rob laughs and adds that his family members take turns in the kitchen. “Today I have my mom, Ola Evans, and my cousin, Debbie Stevenson, helping with the cooking and serving.” It is evident that the food created at Addie Lee’s is blended with the love, devotion and dedication of a family union. No dish seems uncared for as the flavors pop with every bite.
A U.S. Army veteran with little to no culinary background, Rob had a vision of preserving the history of his family and that of his roots in Sunflower, Mississippi. “I want this place to maintain its mom-and-pop feel,” Rob said as he described the importance of remaining a reflection of home for his customers.
It is the place to go to dine if you are looking for a warm reminder of your auntie’s famous BBQ chicken or if you are simply trying to enhance your palate with a little Southern touch but without hopping on a jet to Tuscaloosa. These home-cooked meals are uniting a culture and community effortlessly.
“This is the best Southern food around,” said customer Mike Smith with a smile. “This is actually the only Southern food place around.”
From speaking with Mike, I learned that Rob and his family have deep roots in the city through their participation at the Second Baptist Church on Hammond Street. He talked about the family, and their devotion to the church and the community for more than 20 years. And he talked about how he was thrilled to see “Addie Lee’s open for business.”
Before opening last November, Rob says the concept for Addie Lee’s came to him overnight. It was something that sparked a domino effect and before he knew it, he was leasing a commercial space.
“It was a godsend,” he says when describing to me the day he drove by the lease sign for 596 Main St. “I was surprised the space was available again. It had turned over different businesses within a five-year time span but the location was perfect.”
Rob attempted the traditional method for starting a business in the city by writing a business plan and meeting with folks at Clark University’s Small Business Development Center. Ultimately, though, he embarked on his venture with $35,000 in personal funds between himself and his cousin, an investment that continues to increase.
“My cousin has been a big supporter and has helped fund my restaurant privately and it has worked for us so far,” Rob said.
While opening his business in the blink of an eye, Rob was unable to host a proper grand opening with all the bells and whistles, but is planning an open-mic night to celebrate the upcoming one-year anniversary.
“I still can’t believe we have been here for close to a year. I want to involve the community with a big open-mic night in November,” Rob said ‒ as he excitedly dreams on plans to establish Addie Lee’s as one of the newest additions to the Worcester restaurant lineup.
Now my only question is, when can I get back to try those yams?
Addie Lee’s Soul Food
596 Main St. (corner of Austin Street)
11:30 a.m. – 9 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday (closed Sunday, Monday)
This article was originally published in the Sept. 13, 2015 edition of the Sun.
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