The Taste Bud: Soul food by the Downs

You gotta like soul food. It always takes me back in time, reminds me of my grandparents and the home cooking my grandmother did. Sure, it was usually fried, fatty and unhealthy for the body, but it truly was warming for the soul.

Enter Cook N’ Company Restaurant. It opened back in the summer at 947 Central Ave., right across from Churchill Downs. When these folks say “home cooking,” they nearly mean it literally — the dining room is what used to be the living room in the house, complete with a fireplace, hardwood floors and even paneling. There are three small tables with a few chairs for dine-in, but it’s mostly a carry-out business.

You order via a small window with a menu taped above it. Yes, it’s a succinct menu, to say the least, but what do you need? It’s straight-up soul food: chicken wings, fried fish, fried pork chops, salmon cakes and plenty of American sides.

I dropped in one afternoon with my buddy Kirk, who had told me about Cook N’ Company, and found the special of the day to be a cheeseburger. Hey, I can get a cheeseburger anywhere — I wanted something I don’t typically find in the Highlands or Crescent Hill.

And that’s why I ordered fried catfish. On the side, I got greens and macaroni and cheese. If that’s not homestyle, I don’t know what is. Kirk, meanwhile, got a “small” order of chicken wings for $5.49 with the house special sauce, “kickin’ honey glaze,” on them. He got sweet potatoes to complement them.

And then we sat as the place began to smell like — well, like home. The friendly woman who took our orders apparently also is the chef, unless someone else was hiding back there. A few minutes later, she appeared with our food, all packaged up in plastic foam.

I should note that I put the word “small” in quotation marks because whereas Kirk was supposed get seven wings, he got at least 10. Maybe more. Not sure if the lady gave him the large order by mistake or if that’s just how they roll at Cook N’ Company, but Kirk wasn’t complaining as we sat there in the living room and munched while paid television programming hummed in the background.

I did manage to snag a wing, and I could see why he was happy — the glaze wasn’t overly sweet and actually had a hint of spice (thus the “kickin’”). They didn’t blow my mind, but it was still quality stuff, and the chicken tasted and looked fresh as well — these weren’t the frozen chain wings. Kirk also applauded the sweet potatoes as a fine side.

For my $8.75, I got an ample piece of catfish that was fried perfectly in classic peppery cornmeal batter. The fish was as fresh as Kirk’s chicken, or at least tasted that way; the edges were crispy and the experience was as promised. 

Meanwhile, the mac and cheese was creamy and rich and would satisfy kids of all ages. The greens, meanwhile, were well seasoned, delicious and moist. Really moist. As in, I had trouble keeping the juice inside my mouth when I chewed — that moist. I know that’s a gross image, but they tasted so good that I couldn’t make myself chew slowly and carefully. So I gleeked a bit. Luckily, Kirk was well out of harm’s way, across the table from me.

Anyway, let’s just say I really enjoyed the greens. I would have personally spiced them a bit more, but that’s why restaurants have pepper. So that’s what I used.

All in all, it was a solid lunch experience and satisfied not just a curiosity but a soul food craving. My guess is that Cook N’ Kitchen is going to do a very nice business given where it’s situated; it will be the perfect walking-distance, carry-out option for track workers or trackgoers who might have had a bit too much bourbon while losing their money.

Who says soul food can’t also be hangover food? It’s always worked for me.