Thank God It’s Friday
Stevie’s is a brightly painted Creole restaurant near the top of the Crenshaw Strip, an immaculate, sweet-smelling former fast-food joint tucked into a corner that always seems too small for the cars that crowd into the lot. If you could sit at a corner stool here long enough, nursing a tall cup of pink lemonade, you’d probably see half of the city walk through the door for takeout. Stevie’s fried chicken, crisp, peppery stuff that tastes as if it is run through a smoker before it is coated and deep-fried, is a staple in South Central L.A.
Stevie’s used to be one of the biggest local advertisers on the late hip-hop radio station KDAY, and you can probably tell a true old-school rap fan in Los Angeles by her ability to hum old Stevie’s commercials--half-rapped, half-sung, the ads were better hip-hop jams than half the records on the rotation. Stevie’s is still a big advertiser on black radio, and it is not unusual to hear a Stevie’s promotion on the R&B; ballad station that always seems to be blasting in the restaurant itself. Smoky fried chicken, it says. Short ribs. Gumbo on Fridays. Register to win free concert tickets.
Stevie--Stephen Perry--likes to sell his food with a vigor some may think more appropriate to used cars.
“Look out,” he yells back to the cooks. “I see an order of gumbo getting out of his car right now.”
About 30 seconds later, a nattily dressed older man comes through the door and walks up to the counter. “Gumbo?” Stevie asks. “Lemonade?”
The man nods and reaches up to adjust his driving cap.
“See,” Stevie leers to the cook. “I told you.”
On Fridays, if you arrive before it runs out, Stevie’s has an extremely good gumbo, dark and rich, poured over a handful of rice and full of shreds of smoked chicken, plump shrimp, a couple different kinds of sausage, and crab legs that are cut so that you can get at the meat without spattering your shirt with the viscous black goo. The flavor is equally earthy and marine, heightened by the murky herbal complexity that only file can lend, garlic from the sausage, smoke from the chicken. The seafood is nicely poached in the broth, in contrast to the vast majority of gumbos--including most of the best ones in New Orleans--in which the shellfish is cooked to tough strings. The gumbo is quite salty and blisteringly pepper-hot. And a friend was once beaten out of a bowl of the stuff by an RTD driver who stopped his bus outside, ran in, and copped the last order. Denied!
“How is the gumbo served?” Stevie says to a customer, raising an eyebrow. “The gumbo is served real good.”
On days that are not Fridays, you might as well try the smoky fried chicken, or decent fried-oyster po’ boys, or chitterlings sold by the pint. The side dishes are almost all good--collard greens cooked down with meat, black-eyed peas sharp
with a bay-leaf tang, ultra-sugary yams, hand-cut French fries, rice ‘n’ gravy. Red beans and rice are somewhat underseasoned, served with a dryish fried pork chop or a hot link, but may be brought up to strength with a squirt or two of hot sauce; fried catfish are served bias-cut and fairly intact, which means they are delicious but bristling with bones. Short ribs are wonderful, dense hunks of meat, ruddy and chewy, tinged with char, and plenty fine enough to take you through the other six days of the week.
* Stevie’s on the Strip
3403 Crenshaw Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 734-6975. Open Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m, to 11 p.m. No alcohol. Cash only. Takeout. Lot parking. Lunch for two, food only, $10. dinner for two, food only, $16-$18.