Saturday, September 23, 2006

Ma Beasleys

On Tuesdays I drive to Rockford to observe in the classroom for my ILAS 301 class. I have to observe 50 hours total this semester, 25 at Auburn High School and 25 at Rockford Environmental Science Academy.

I got an hour and a half lunch break and went to see an old drum corps buddy, Andy, who owns and lives in his childhood home about a minute from Auburn. I hadn't seen him in over a year and have seen him only once since being in his wedding in April 2005. He and his wife have a son, Bryant, who is just a couple months younger than Jon.

The visit with Andy was brief -- less than 15 minutes -- because he wanted to go to a union meeting, and I only saw his son for a minute because Bryant, like most babies (but not Jon) cries in the presence of strangers. But he's a cute kid, looks a lot like Andy, and has a lot of hair already. Lucy, Andy's Peruvian-born wife, stayed in another room. I never saw her.

So, I was on my own for lunch. I wanted to get some barbecue or soul food of some kind, and went to the best barbecue I remembered from when I lived in Rockford, a rib joint at the corner of Main and Springfield on the far south side of town. Alas, it was closed. I drove the main streets on the west side looking for a soul food joint. As I drove down West State Street, I saw on a side street a fish, ribs, and chicken place. The building looked like an old gas station -- sandstone bricks, a small glass front entrance with a counter, and a large corner parking lot. Three middle-aged black men stood out front. One had a huge knife in his hand that he sharpened on a dry stone pressed against his chest. Another was eating a bologna sandwich. This didn't bode well for my lunchtime plans.

The knife guy said they didn't serve lunch, but they had live fish for sale, and we was willing to clean one on the spot for me. I went inside and saw catfish, bass and carp in a tank. Where do you get these fish? I asked. Knife guy said the Rock River, Mississippi and "area waters," whatever that means.

I told them I was looking for some good soul food, but that I couldn't travel far. By this time, I only had about 45 minutes left before I had to be back at Auburn. All three of them got to talking -- jiving, disagreeing, back and forth, about what was the best soul food place in town. No no man, Box's closed a year ago. Dammit, Weezy's ain't open on Tuesdays. They only fire up the coals on the weekends.

Knife guy came to the rescue. There's this place called Ma Beasley's. It's on the right hand side on West State, just before you get to Central. I thanked them and was on my way.

Ma Beasley's was easy to find, but there is no sign out front, no welcome mat, come on in, visa stickers, or anything. It is an old storefront with a small Open sign in the window, faded curtains, and a poster of a black child that says Stop The Killing. I stepped inside to typical diner layout -- counter on the left, booths on the right. A cornrowed, beaded young man with baggy Fubu wear and spotless white Adidas shoes, stood behind the counter watching a small TV. One other customer (note this was the noon hour) sat in a booth. He never so much as looked up when I came in.

The menu is on a signboard. Some of the letters are missing. No prices listed. Below the menu and through a small window with a stainless steel counter stood a big black woman chopping celery at another steel table. Must be Ma Beasley. I asked Fubu cornrow what the lunch specials were. He said the only thing they had were chicken wings, which would take a while to fry up, hamburgers (i.e. not soul food) and oxtail with all the fixings. Bingo. He put the order in, laid out bottles of hot sauce and vinegar along with a glass of water and silverware , and within five minutes I had a steaming plate of vittles -- three ox tail segments, corn bread, collard greens, pork and red beans. The ox tail reminded me a lot of pot roast -- long, stringy pieces of meat -- but a little fattier. That didn't impress me as much as the side dishes. The greens and red beans were awesome.

I'm glad I went. I wish I could afford to explore more Rockford west side cuisine. I wonder if the Vietnamese place on 7th Street and the Laotian place nearby are still open. The Rockford Register Star has a dining/ eating out section where they review one new restaurant a week. None of these hidden, west side ethnic places, have been featured. Certainly not the non-descript soul food mecca, Ma Beasley's.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Greg,
You should try J.J. Fish on 7th Street or the one on Auburn Street. I had their fried chicken and it was the best. I think they have rib dishes too.
Shawn