Everyone who cooks has a mentor of sorts whose influence provides the secret sauce. For many, it’s a parent or grandparent, but for Darnell Reed, it’s his great-grandmother Luella, 91, originally of Morgan City, Mississippi. When it opens, Luella’s Southern Kitchen (4609 N. Lincoln Ave., 773-961-8196) will showcase Luella-via-Reed’s Southern cooking.
The menu at the fast-casual 45-seat restaurant features Southern comforts such as she-crab soup, shrimp and grits, catfish tacos, chicken and waffles, and a Lowcountry shrimp and crab boil. Reed worked up the dishes while traveling through the South and cooking at the Conrad Hotel, especially during a summer when the hotel ran a themed Southern menu, running food and questions past Luella. “She didn’t have recipes for everything,” Reed says. “She knew them in her head. [For example,] my cornbread was not as moist as hers. She said, ‘You want to use animal fat for your cornbread, not butter.’ I cherish those conversations.”
Luella’s will open serving lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch, the latter featuring dishes such as bananas Foster pancakes and chicory coffee French toast. And speaking of sweet things, Reed will start out making his own desserts, like vanilla bean ice cream sundae beignets and Mississippi mud pie.
Reed hopes to open February 3. In related news, watch for the opening of Darnell’s Southern Kitchen, helmed by his great-granddaughter, in about 85 years.