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Saint’s Paradise: An Exercise in Christian-Like Behavior, by Jaclyn

Posted Nov 01 2009 12:00am

Kareem's Catfish, Greens, and Mac

Food Adventures: An Ongiong Series

The author shares a few things with Padma Lakshmi, two being luscious dark hair and a love of all things culinary.  Jaclyn initiated a tradition with HaySayers Doug and Kareem to expand their DC restaurant horizons beyond the current confines of convenience while maintaining a level of fiscal responsibility (we in a recession, ladies and gentlemen).  Since the adventure is part of the experience, you’ll notice that the adventures are about the overall experience in addition to the meals we enjoy.

We are always looking for new ideas for future adventures, so if any place in the DC area really gets your taste buds in a twist, please feel free to drop that knowledge on us whenever the spirit moves you.

God often chooses to bless a broken road instead of leading you straight down an easy path to fulfillment.  Well, at least that’s what they tell you in Sunday school when things don’t go your way.  Our path to Saint’s Paradise and the meal that it gave us is one more point on the big scoreboard in the sky in favor of vacation bible school teachers everywhere.

Doug, Kareem, and I had no intention of getting soul food in the District.  We set out to go to Gladys Knight and Ron Winans’ Chicken and Waffles in Largo, Maryland.  Fortunately for us, someone decided to look up the address online to confirm exactly how to get there and after much discussion, a frantic internet search, two disconnected phone numbers and one informative phone call to a corporate office in Atlanta, we learned that the Largo location had closed for good… a week earlier.  (Mr. Winans – I am from Detroit.  Expect a strongly-worded letter.)

With a craving for fried chicken and nowhere to go, our trusted friend Kareem suggested we try Saint’s Paradise in Shaw.  It was billed as “a cafeteria-style soul food restaurant in the basement of a church.”  A cafeteria?  In a church?  What is this, 1955 in Milwaukee?  It would suffice to say I was curious.

Hungover on a Sunday morning, the three of us somehow held it together long enough to get there and our efforts were not in vain.  Walking by groups of people in their Sunday best holding takeout containers, things looked promising.  We made our way to the basement of the United House of Prayer and found a room full of long tables and one huge, winding line.  As we took our place at the back of the line, we instantly felt a small pang of guilt as we realized that we were the only group of people eating lunch who had not attended church before this meal.   Men wore suits that match from head to toe (socks and glasses included) and women sported hats with coordinating high heels and handbags.  Standing with them in line, my fellow HaySayers and I shuffled a big in our jeans and sneakers.  Like the Redskins say, next Sunday.

If you choose to make this your own personal food adventure, one thing you must prepare for is the wait.  We waited… and waited… and waited for what felt like a decade but was realistically about 45 minutes.  The small child behind me squirmed and fussed the whole time, but I didn’t mind because I shared his pain.  Fortunately for us, we had an Oktoberfest party to rehash from the night before, so we could occupy ourselves for most of it.

When we finally got to the front of the line and saw the chafing dishes full of fried and buttered goodness being spooned out by kind-faced women in aprons, I knew that God was shining down on us yet again.  I got my soul-food gold standards of fried chicken, collard greens, macaroni & cheese, and cornbread.  While it was not cheap, the portions are far more than a lady should eat in one sitting, so you get more than your money’s worth.  The fried chicken was slightly greasy, but when I got it, my drumstick was piping hot, crispy, and tender.  My sides held their own, the macaroni and cheese incredibly rich and melt-in-your-mouth gooey, the cornbread sweet and moist.  It might have been Jiffy mix, but I didn’t care at that point. I am a huge fan of greens and these weren’t necessarily my favorite (slightly on the salty side) but the chicken certainly made up for things this meal lacked in other areas.  I stole a bite of the sweet potato pie that Kareem ordered for dessert, which was decent.  I prefer mine a bit sweeter, but it was still worth ordering if you need a pie fix.

After all was said and done, we walked back out into the beautiful Sunday sunshine with full bellies and smiling faces, reveling in the meal with which God rewarded us for our patience and perseverance.

Next time, I promise I’ll go to church first.

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