July 15, 2015

Teriyaki 101 and Niece’s Soul Food Surpass Expectations

Grub Notes

Photo Credit: Joshua L. Jones

Teriyaki 101

POLISHED: It’s not that easy to find something to eat when you’re out on Epps Bridge Parkway, and you’d rather give your business to someone local. Catch 22 is good, and although Keba and Barberitos have franchised themselves, they still count as options. Chef Ming is hiding over next to Kroger and is reliably tasty. But, on the whole, the pickings are slim.

Teriyaki 101 (1805 Epps Bridge Pkwy., 706-353-0823), located in the small strip mall in front of Lowe’s, between Aspen Dental and Visionworks, resembles a chain in its focused concept, slick interior and cute logo, but is, in fact, a unique business. Open for about half a year, the place is easy to miss, but, while its offerings are far from revolutionary, it’s not a bad spot to grab a quick meal.

The teriyaki section of the menu, available as either a bowl or a wrap, allows you to assemble your meal Subway-style: Pick your delivery system, your rice (steamed or fried), your protein (chicken, pork, beef, shrimp—no tofu, surprisingly), your veggies (green peppers, onions, mushrooms, lettuce, tomato, steamed mix of broccoli, carrots and cabbage), toppings (cheese, sour cream, nori) and a sauce (spicy Korean, yum yum, teriyaki or wasabi mayo). The shrimp is cooked to order on a small grill in the back, but everything else is ready to go. Choosing a wrap may seem a little weird, but it means you can assemble a pretty tasty Korean burrito, the kind of treat otherwise unavailable except for from the Streets food cart.

The folks behind the counter are adept at explaining what’s what, no slack-jawed slowpokes to be found. If you want to venture away from the most important part of the menu, you can also get fried rice (the beef is perhaps the best, but it’s all decent), chicken tenders, Buffalo wings (available in a wide range of flavors and as a combo with fried rice, blue cheese, celery and a soda), fried shrimp and very well-executed fried fish (whiting or tilapia, lightly battered, fried to order and available in the same kind of combo as the wings, minus the blue cheese/celery).

The decor is clean and simple in a long, narrow space with a couple of flat-screen TVs tuned to ESPN. There are kids’ combos and hush puppies, as well as an array of sauces with which you can doctor your food (sriracha, duck sauce, soy sauce). It is, on the whole, clean, well put together and a step in the right direction for the area. Teriyaki 101 is open Sunday–Thursday from 11 a.m.–9 p.m. and until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. It does take-out and serves no booze.

LOCAL: In no way comparable to a chain, on the other hand, but delightful in its own fashion is Niece’s Soul Food Cafe (50 Gaines School Road, 706-850-6696). Venture into the Gaines School Shoppes, where Lighthouse Seafood Palace is also serving tasty food, and look for the African-Asian market. Niece’s, which is named after its proprietor—nicknamed “Niece” after her middle name, Denise—operates a small steam table in the back of the space, with two meats and four or so vegetables, plus a daily dessert. The atmosphere at the few tall tables clustered just inside the store’s entrance isn’t exactly formal, with “Judge Mathis” on the TV and a couple of cute children running around.

Nothing is made to order, and yet it all tastes good. Baked chicken, smothered in gravy, isn’t healthy like its name suggests, but it is flavorful and tender enough to eat with only a fork (luckily enough, as the plastic utensil dispenser contains only forks and spoons). A fried pork chop must be picked up and chewed on but isn’t so greasy that doing so is a hazard. The greens are a little too finely chopped, but the candied yams aren’t nearly as sweet as at most places. The lima beans are very soft, dissolving into a kind of tasty, savory mush when subjected to any pressure, but they don’t suffer for it. The macaroni and cheese is good stuff. And a clearly housemade pink-lemonade layer cake with yellow frosting is intensely sweet and sour and Southern, sitting on a stand to be sliced when you ask for it, rather than pre-portioned on sad Styrofoam plates.

Niece’s is open Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m.–4 p.m. It posts its daily menu on Facebook, which might include spicy cabbage with sausage, fried fish, BBQ ribs, oxtails, goat, meatloaf or pot roast, but does not include the burgers and wings advertised elsewhere in the store (made by another party during different hours).

The desserts appear a particular point of emphasis, with apple dumplings, tall layer cakes and pies available, depending on the week. A plate of meat, two veggies, sugary cornbread and a big cup of sweet tea will run you $8.50.