Lady C&J Soul Food is a small, over-the-counter joint with bins for holding fried chicken and fried beef patties. It's geared mostly for takeout but has four well spaced tables, half of which can view an overhead TV.
Lady C&J has an odd menu for a soul food joint: ribs, BBQ chicken and fried chicken? Yes. Smothered pork chops, whiting, catfish, oxtail? No. Collard greens and cabbage? Yes. Okra and black-eyed peas? No. Burgers? Yes, but not too unusual, as burgers are everywhere. But chicken parm, pasta, subs and mozzarella sticks? Surprisingly, yes.
I checked out Lady C&J Soul Food for a Saturday lunch with a barbecue amigo who's every bit a fried chicken aficionado.
Coco Bread: A Jamaican style beef patty housed in what seemed to be an ordinary sub roll with cheese. The meat in the patty was lightly seasoned, very moist and very tender—not always a guarantee. But next time, I'd just get the patty and skip the non-essential bread.
Ribs: A rib dinner ($14.50) gets you a quintet of long, thin pork ribs with just enough meat that there are no complaints. They're well charred and only lightly sauced, with the many unhit spots showing off some uncharacteristic (but very welcome) red tint. Surprisingly, they have plenty of bite to them—unlike the soul food standard of ribs immersed and stewed so long they fall apart at first glance. The biggest surprise of all? They're smoked. There's some charcoal flavor in there too, probably from the grill finish and maybe a little more than necessary, but the smoke compoment is out in front, unmistakable and pleasant. Rub flavor is prominent as well, though a tier down. If there's something missing, it's juiciness, as these were an obvious reheat. Someone who likes fall-off-the-bone tenderness might be disappointed in the borderline firmness, but distinct flavors from seasonings, smoke and sauce make these ribs at least doable regardless of preference.
Fried chicken: The dinner ($10.00) included three large pieces comprised of wing, breast and humongous leg, all served hot and crisp. A side note: these were prepared fresh, since we arrived fairly early, but I'm guessing that many fried chicken orders here are stocked from a holding bin on the counter. The meat wasn't super juicy; I'd even say it was a little on the dry side. The mitigating batter was simultaneously crisp, thick and light; perhaps of greater importance was that it was abundantly seasoned.
Fried wings: Supplied in a dinner with fries ($8.75), these had the same positive attributes as the larger pieces but with more reliably moist meat.
BBQ Chicken: On the day of our visit this was unavailable as originally constituted, but the proprietor suggested BBQ wings ($6.75) as an alternative. With Groupon dollars to burn, we went for it. This wound up as basically fried wings with barbecue sauce, but I'm guessing the actual BBQ chicken has more of a grilled (or maybe even smoked) flavor.
There's no sauce on the tables and no sauce choices. The house sauce is a tangy tomato based version that's similar to store-bought but a little spicier. The ribs and chicken both come coated lightly enough that you can still taste the meat.
Fries: Nothing special here, nothing surprising, nothing disastrous. Simple frozen fries served up crisp enough and hot enough.
Cabbage: A generous pile, simply prepared, with just enough moisture and faint heat.
Mac and cheese: It's billed as a baked version, which has a tendency to be dry, but not the case here. This kid-friendly rendition has plenty of liquid, with as much flavor from butter as cheese.
Candied yams: Pie filling disguised as vegetable. A little firm.
Collard greens: Another simple version, with the shredded, well-past-wilting vegetable taking lead over other flavors. There's much liquid here, infused with the essence of the greens themselves and very little else.
Cornbread: Cakey, fluffy and by far the closest to a Twinkie I've ever tasted. If you added whipped cream filling and did a blind taste test, many would think it an actual Twinkie.
Big portions, nice people.
They were out of a few different items we wanted, so it might be a good idea to call ahead if there's something you can't live without.
I'm not so sure that the photos on on Yelp and the restaurant's website are representative of the food you'll get at the restaurant.
The Bottom Line
Those ribs had more smoke and more barbecue flavor than a number of full fledged barbecue joints nearby. That said, I'll say the same thing about Lady C&J Soul Food that I did about now-closed P&P Soul Food: it's not exactly a barbecue joint, and I can think of a few other soul food joints that have displayed a little more wow factor, but it's simple, honest cooking that fills the belly with minimal investment. Not worth a drive, but if you're already around it's worth a look.
Yelp reviews of Lady C&J Soul Food
Urbanspoon reviews of Lady C&J Soul Food
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