Cafe Reviewed: Wednesday, July 2, 2003
Gladys’ Soul Food Restaurant\r\nBaked chicken w/two veggies $6.99\r\nFried pork chops $6.99\r\nGladys’ Gigantic Burger $4.49\r\nKey lime pie $1.69
Healthy Soul Food?

Gladys’ bucks tradition and goes for lighter though no less delicious fare.\r\n


Gladys’ Soul Food Restaurant

1815 ELancaster Av, FW. 817-335-5980. Mon-Sat 6am-6pm, Sun 7am-4pm. Smokers welcome.

If Fred’s Cafe were situated on the East Side, and its wait staff turned down the Van Halen to crank up some gospel, it would become Gladys’ Soul Food Restaurant. Gladys’ sits on the lot of a seedy motel, replete with completely drained swimming pool, and Gladys’ regulars make the tattooed cowboys from Fred’s look like cabana boys at Joe T.’s. But don’t let all that put you off — take one bite of something, anything from Gladys’ kitchen, and you might end up being a regular, too.

Gladys’ is the size of a dining car. Fans buzz at full blast, nearly drowning out the radio, and the shades stay mostly drawn, preserving what little coolness there is. And while deficient in such luxuries as an adequate A/C unit (or room to stand and wait inside for a table on a busy weekend), this half-cooled L-shaped box maintains a picturesque and cozy down-home feel — and without a waitress named Flo. Owner Gregory Reed (son and beneficiary of the restaurant’s late founder, Gladys Reed) bakes homemade cakes and pies at the crack of dawn, and he decorates the walls with Freddie Jackson and Luther Vandross vinyls (he also owns two local record stores). Cooking is handled by Reed’s sister Diane, joined by long-time family associate Chuck Watkins, frying catfish and greeting phone callers with, “Gladys’ Soul Food. We make your mouth happy. This is Chuck.” The high-spirited family-business vibe really makes you feel at home.

Surprisingly, the soul food dishes are about as lean and clean as soul food dishes can get. My bubbie used to whip up the same kind of baked chicken at Passover — firm, maybe even a little dry, covered in tender (but lean) skin. But they’re both dishes you can walk away from without doubling over back at the office. The circumference of Gladys’ “Gigantic Burger” (weighing in at 8 ounces) roundly compares to Yogi’s oversized whole grain pancake. Big as Gladys’ patty is, it’s still no competition for the West Side’s gluttonous meat heaps — and that’s a good thing. Gladys’ lean patty is grilled carefully, and the buns are lightly toasted. The fries on the side, by the way, come dusted in Lawry’s seasoned salt and are good for crunching.

Same type of kudos go to the fried pork chops, the highlight of the menu. You’d think that a dish like this would just ooze fat and oil from one slice of the steak knife, but Gladys’ most popular dish proves quite the opposite. The Reed family methodically selects their meats and chooses the most low-fat pieces of poultry, beef, and pork available from distributors. Lightly breaded and crisply battered, the family chops are packed with succulent, smoky flavor.

The kitchen is pretty conscious of their sides, too — yams, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, cabbage. The yams, sprinkled with a taste of cinnamon, nutmeg, and sugar, were addictive — sweet but not cloying. The collard greens succeeded on a mixture of lightly oiled roughage and turkey bacon bits. And the fresh cabbage was cooked without butter, a fact that should make for a polite tip to Gladys’ competitors — shelve the butter, save a life. The macaroni, however, was a different story. It came out cold and runny, like a second grader’s failure at an after-school snack. Needless to say, it was left untouched after one bite.

My guest and I regrettably missed visiting on a Sunday — that’s when Gladys’ gang really turns it up. Sunday specials, which include neck bones, oxtail, Cornish hen, and chicken breasts with dressing, range in price from $6.99 to $8.99 and include two side orders. Breakfast treats were also saved for another visit — when we again expect to leave neither hungry nor busting at the seams.

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