On Perkins Road along the edge of the Garden District, the parking lot of Zeeland Street Market (Map it!) is already full, and it's not even noon.
Inside, the breakfast and lunch spot is buzzing as patrons sit in the booths, waiting for owner Stephanie Phares to call their name.
Today's special is pecan-smoked brisket, with five sides—carrots, sweet potato soufflé, cornbread dressing, green beans and a cornbread muffin.
"All right, I'm a call y'all by name so y'all don't all come at once," Phares declares from the counter.
Her hands are full of plates, and those booths full of patrons ready themselves to quickly pick up and dive into the delicious soul food that's been a not-well-kept secret in the area for more than 20 years.
"Some of these guys I know," Phares says. "I've been feeding them through college."
Fans and patrons will have reason to celebrate as Zeeland Street plans to expand its hours, offering "Mama Made" suppers-to-go from 4:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays. Each night will feature a chicken and seafood item as well as the restaurant's signature pot roast, brisket and red and white beans. Tonight's items are shrimp Creole and Jamaican jerk chicken. The items are hot and ready to serve.
Phares and her cook, Mama Nell Thornton, say they are providing the suppers as a healthier option for locals who might not have time to cook.
"I'm not going to point the fingers, but some of these places have food that's frozen and it's coming from bags," Phares says. "I grew up on vegetables. My grandmother raised me, and a lot of these dishes we serve are her recipes. Slowly, though, the industry has turned to this mass-produced food. We basically only cook enough to serve each day. We thought we'd offer fresh, nutritious plates for everyone, single guys or families of four.
If all goes well, Phares says she's currently working on a brunch menu and has plans for sit-down dinners in 2014. Both the brunch and dinner menus could offer those soul food classics as well as new spins on favorites like French toast and yogurt. She calls it Southern food with a healthier flair.
"I want to work on a few things before I come out and say what we're going to do," she says. "Right now, I just want everyone to know my face and Mama Nell's. We want them to know that we love you, and we'll cook for you."
For more information, click here or call 387-4546.