So earlier today I was walking through downtown Bessemer, Alabama—a once-thriving mini-metropolis trying to work its way back after far too many years of neglect and economic downtown. My eyes were drawn to an abandoned movie theatre, and as I stared at it a man in a red hat said, “It used to be popular.”
“What happened?” I asked.
“Not sure,” he said. “I’m pretty new here.”
The man was Ron Cook—aka Chef Ron.
Chef Ron owns a little restaurant besides the vacated theatre; opened about 1 1/2 years ago. It’s called “The Back Porch,” and if you blink you’ll miss it. Truth be told, I wasn’t actually hungry. I wasn’t looking for food. But Chef Ron asked where I was from (California) and what I was doing (writing), then invited me in for a meal [He offered it for free. I insisted on paying].
The place was crowded. The line about eight people deep. I asked the woman before me what I should get—”Ohhhh,” she replied. “The chicken with the sauce is so good.” So I ordered the chicken with the sauce. And the mac and cheese. And the collared greens. I had iced tea (unsweetened, south be damned) and a slice of cheesecake. Then I plopped down at a table outside.
The chicken was outstanding. So was the mac and cheese and the accompanying cornbread. All terrific. But the greens—the greens were just spectacular. Earth-shaking. One-of-a-kind. I used to live in Tennessee. I’ve had greens. But not like this, where the flavor just melts atop your tongue in this sweet-yet-not-overpowering manner.
As I ate, I chatted with Ron, an Alabamian by birth who spent about seven years living near me in Southern Californian. He received a culinary degree out there, then worked for several years as the chef at an assisted living community. “You really learn how to cook for people in that environment,” he told me. “Because they know exactly what they want.”
Ron’s a delightful man who greeted every patron with, “How you doin’?” and “Hey—great to see you again.” It goes down as one of my all-time favorite dining experiences.
I didn’t expect to eat.
I left wanting more.