Mattie Royal didn't invent anything on the menu at the New Soul Sandwich Shop. She just pushed it closer to perfection.
In a world that seems to reward passing fancies, sometimes it's a good thing to remind yourself there are still some eternal cooking truths. That smothered pork chops are good. That they're better with collard greens and northern beans and a fist-size hunk of corn bread. That more of all these things is better still.
Royal, "Miss Mattie" to all who know her, tells the truth when she cooks, and she doesn't believe in doling it out in small portions.
With cooking wisdom from her mother and some encouragement from restaurateur Bern Laxer, in whose home she once worked, Miss Mattie opened the New Soul about 24 years ago this month.
"I love this little place," she said.
While commercial and industrial development has crowded out the homes that once dominated the neighborhood between Kennedy Boulevard and Cass Street, the New Soul has endured. And Miss Mattie's reputation has swelled, too.
Her fried chicken prompts liberal use of superlatives. The curried goat seems mild at first, but has a cumulative effect. The corn bread is palest yellow, moist and the large chunks are still twice too small. The iced tea is sweet, very sweet, but with a lot of lemon it's the just the right balance for Miss Mattie's seasonings.
Her customers, working men and women and the occasional jacket and tie, travel from as far as New Port Richey and Clearwater.
"Sometimes you can't even get in the door," she said.
Mind you, it doesn't take too many people to pack the New Soul, which has four tables with chairs for about 16 diners. But no one will ever turn you away, and when you've mopped up the last of the meat loaf gravy, the check will be the smallest thing you've seen since you walked in.
_ BILL DURYEA
New Soul Sandwich Shop
508 N Willow Ave., 251-3720
Hours: 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Mon.-Fri.
Atmosphere: Home-kitchen relaxed
Prices: $2.75 to $5
Menu highlights: Fried chicken, oxtail, smothered pork chops, curried goat