7 diners where the locals go: Soul food
Where Everybody Knows Your Nickname
Big Mama's Cafe
Where: 1802 Stringtown Road, Evansville
What to order: Catfish platter
When someone will serve you: Monday - Saturday 5 a.m. to 8 p.m., Sunday 7 a.m. - 12 p.m.
The name on her birth certificate means nothing to the regulars she calls family. When the diner opened three years ago, it was her children's idea to name it Big Mama's Cafe, because that's what everyone calls her.
Owners Rodney and Linda "Big Mama" Daugherty offer a homey atmosphere that brings back for great food at low prices. A typical breakfast special of two eggs, toast, potato, choice of sausage or bacon and coffee or tea is only $2.99.
Her "family" wanders in all day long, making music with the bell hanging above the two doors. Big Mama believes diners will stick around for many years because too many older people don't like fast food.
Regulars Grumpy and Wanda come in every Friday for the catfish platter, which includes your choice of potato, a salad and a roll. Big Mama has known the couple for four years. She still doesn't know his real name - he's always been Grumpy to her.
"He's gained 11 pounds since we opened back up," Big Mama says. The diner was forced to close for almost a year due to Rodney's heart attack.
After paying the waitress, Grumpy and Wanda get up from their table. Placing his hand on Big Mama's shoulder, he says, "Her and her husband are two of the nicest people you'd ever wanna meet." He looks me in the eye. "Now don't tell her I said so." Big Mama has tears in her eyes.
"Look, I even got takeout!" Grumpy jokes, glancing down at the food spilled on his shirt. As he heads for the door, Grumpy says, "If you want a restaurant, this is the one. This is it."
Ray Ray's Fish, Chicken and More
Where: 1000 Washington Avenue, Evansville
What to order: fried chicken, chess pie
When someone will serve you: Monday 11 a.m. - 8.m., Tuesday - Thursday 11 a.m. - 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. - 11 p.m.
Ray Franklin, 57, didn't know anything about running a restaurant six years ago. He learned the trade in three days and, with the help of his family, has operated a successful soul food diner since. He says you never know what can be built from dreams.
According to Franklin, soul food isn't necessarily spicy, but it is seasoned, everyday American food. Ray Ray's offers golden brown fried chicken that "tastes so good it'll make the Colonel cry." The secret blend of spices in the batter gives the juicy meat a touch of salty goodness.
"Honey, you put your foot in this," is a compliment people in the fried-chicken business strive for. Ray says it keeps you coming back for more. The best thing about this chicken - it's made fresh to order. No heat lamps here. You also get a list of nine sides that includes coleslaw, mashed potatoes with gravy and spaghetti.
You will melt over Ray's chess pie. The creamy center sits below a crispy, sugary topping. When the friend who sold him the recipe comes in to get a piece, she says it doesn't taste like her recipe. Ray smiles and says, "I know, it's mine." Now she wants to buy his recipe.
"I call it a pie from heaven," Ray says.
Ray splits his time between the restaurant and being associate pastor at New Horizon Baptist Church. The diner's motto is, "Honor God in all we do." Ray says they stand for that; God is their driving force.
Ray enjoys running the restaurant and being associate pastor because he likes nourishing people.
"I like feeding the physical body and the spiritual body," he says.
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