by Chef Mick Brown
Oh come on- admit it- whether you watch the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) or not… When you see those commercials for “Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s” on any channel, don’t you just want to inhale a huge platter of Soul Food? When it’s my “Hall Pass” or “Cheat” Day (from healthier eating), I choose my indulgences very carefully. Why waste hours of exercise on typical fast food when you can get Southern Down Home cooking just North of Universal Studios? Yes, tj’s Sweetie Pie’s is now open at 5230 Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood (NoHo), CA. Ready to taste some of the best Fried Catfish around? What are you waiting for?
Opened this past August, the new location is a spin-off from the popular restaurant featured in the OWN Network show Welcome to Sweetie Pies. The new season premiered last week and tonight we will see food from the new NoHo Menu for the first time.
New to the Sweetie Pie’s story? Here is a bit of background. The original restaurant was opened in St. Louis by Miss Robbie. She was actually a back-up singer for the Ike and Tine Turner Revue back in the ’60s. Her son Tim is responsible for bringing the new branch to North Hollywood, and adding his son’s name “TJ”to the marquee. Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s premiered in October, 2011. The show is now in it’s 6th Season.
I went expecting to encounter a long hot table full of Soul Food, as seen in St. Louis episodes of Welcome to Sweetie Pies. Instead, the West Coast satellite location is a cozy railroad Diner Car, occupying the space formerly held by Phil’s Diner- a NoHo venture that took 10 years of planning to stay open for all of 9 months. But that’s another story… The Greater Los Angeles Metro area- North of Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles (in Hollywood)- is a virtual “Soul Food Desert”. Bringing Sweetie Pie’s to the North Hollywood area was a stroke of genius.
OK, Yada Yada- what we really care about is the Food. Right? Let’s start with the culinary bright spots of my visit. Having tried to call several times in advance (only to get a busy signal), I had to show up in person to place a rather large order “On the Fly”. The goal was to sample much that is being offered with my Peeps. Our hands-down favorite was the Fried Catfish with Hot Sauce. This dish is found almost everywhere in the South, but is sorely missing around Los Angeles area Restaurant Menus. Sweetie Pies’ version of the tender fish is seasoned and fried perfectly. It is so light and non-greasy, that it almost seems like it is baked.
The highest highlight of Sweetie Pies is their Desserts. No contest! They offer arguably the best Peach and Pear Cobblers to be found anywhere. The hint of Cinnamon in the sauce and velvety smooth Pastries will make you want to jog extra miles to have Seconds. The Banana Pudding tastes fresh like it was just picked from a nearby tree. It is finished with intoxicating Whipped Cream.
I also got to sample Sweetie Pie’s Fried Chicken. It was also cooked at a perfect temperature, and seemed to be grease-free. Paired with the Hot Sauce makes for a winning combination. Jumbo Belgian Waffles are also available as a Side Dish, and are served with Maple Syrup and Butter.
The Side Dishes I tried were also worth coming for, starring Mac-N- Cheese, two different ways. The traditional Mac is nice and creamy, hitting all of the right flavor notes. The Deep Fried Mac-N-CheeseBalls are huge, and boast a slightly spicy Cayenne Pepper coating. The Slow Cooked Greens taste fresh from the field with Smoked Turkey, but may be a bit on the tart side for some. The Southern Style Green Beans are adorned with tender chunks of Potatoes and Turkey Tails. Sweetie Pie’s Buttermilk Cornbread is among the best I have ever tried.
Finally, about the BBQ… As a fellow Grill Master, I try not to judge local BBQ, unless it is from my favorite Smoke Houses that are included in the Private BBQ Tours of L.A. At the end of the day, Barbecue is all about the love and care put into the preparation, and how much diners enjoy it. With that said, feel free to try some of tj’s Sweetie Pie’s BBQ Ribs and Smoked Half Chicken. They are prepared in a real Smoker, which Miss Robbie quipped “Is bigger than the Restaurant!”.
Another big highlight of my visit was meeting Miss Chloe, the Manager. Hailing from St. Louis, she has been featured in previous seasons of Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s. A total Sweetheart, bubbling with Southern Hospitality and Charm, I was thrilled to receive her Autograph! Miss Chloe was really helpful when a new employee overcharged my credit card, and was very receptive to the issue I had with my batch of BBQ that night. I will definitely be back again for the Fried Catfish, and may even sample the BBQ again.
In the meantime, tune in tonight to Welcome to Sweetie Pies on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). I’d like to see if they reveal more about how they procured the super Smoker, or more secrets to frying the Catfish.
For those who can’t make it to Sweetie Pie’s (St. Louis) or tj’s Sweetie Pie’s (North Hollywood), here are some of Miss Robbie’s Recipes from around the web, along with links to the Show. I am sure these would be more than welcome at your next Barbecue, “Cheat Day” or Holiday Dinner.
“Hooray for (North) Hollywood” Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s– Season 6, Episode 1
Welcome to Sweetie Pies– Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN)
Recipes- Sweetie Pie’s Fried Chicken and Catfish
Recipe- Sweetie Pie’s Mac-N-Cheese
Recipes- Sweetie Pie’s Candied Yams and Green Beans
Recipe- Sweetie Pie’s Banana Pudding
Recipes- Sweetie Pie’s Peach Cobbler
Recipe- Sweetie Pie’s Pear Cobbler
tj’s Sweetie Pie’s website (5230 Lankershim Bl., North Hollywood 91601)
Sweetie Pie’s website (St. Louis)