It was a beautifully, balmy February day in Birmingham, Alabama, a day I will always remember, as my goddaughter gave birth to the most beautiful little angel making me an official GiGi. February 6, 2015 was the date eternally etched in my heart and mind as we welcomed a blessed, bundle of joy into this world to two wonderful parents and scores of others who loved her before even meeting her. While preparing my things to return to visit the next day a thought came to mind. I want some fish. Hoping the thought would disappear I tucked it away at the back of my brain. Call me crazy, but not too soon after relocating that thought to the rear of my mind I made the mistake of mentioning that I wanted some fish to my sister, also known as my FPIC…Food Partner in Crime. She echoed the sentiment of fish being the order of the day, and topped it off with her signature food move which is a skillfully, perfected combination of lip smack, hip shake and head bob.
We hit the highway toward the hospital to throw my grand-godbaby her first ever party. It was a Blast with a capital B! In casual conversation we referenced going to get fish from a Birmingham staple named Leonard’s. Still under the effect of pain medicine, and still basking in the glow of her newfound reason for being, my goddaughter lifted her expertly woven braids from the covers where she was resting and said, “uhhhhhhmmmmmmm….be sure to get some macaroni and cheese too! It’s soooooo good.” As if I needed another reason to return to Leonard’s she sealed the deal for me.
Leonard’s and I have known each other for a while. It was the first real restaurant I dared to dart across the street for as a mere tot attending kindergarten Our Lady of Fatima in the mid-1970’s. (shhhh…don’t tell my Mama.) Known for soul food delicacies like bologna sandwiches, big, ol’ hamburgers, pig’s feet and ears, fried pork chops, steam-bar veggies and meats and the likes, in a “come exactly as you are” super casual environment, their fish has always been a friend of mine. Leonard’s and I had not been in each other’s company in decades so I felt a reunion was long over do. And so, on February 7 we connected by way of three hot, flaky, almost buttery pieces of fried (hard) whiting fish, nestled a top two soft slices of white bread (plus the piece I stole from my sister), adorned by ketchup out of one of those red bottles made famous through Tupperware parties of old, partnered with that ooeey, gooeey macaroni and cheese which did not disappoint, and made better by an ice, cold Grapico.
Upscale? Nope, not hardly. Fancy fare? N-to-the-O. Haute cuisine? Not on its finest day. Good, old-fashioned food cooked with love and packed with memories in a longstanding, Western Birmingham, neighborhood-esq gathering spot with a cast of characters and customers as intriguing as the food from the steam bar? Yes, indeed. That’s the Leonard’s I love! Now pass me some fish please. Hold the hot sauce.