Joni Woolf: Gladys’ Kitchen — 19 years and going strong
The business card says “Gladys’ Kitchen, Best Home Cooked Meal in Town.” I would not argue that point with the owner, Tracia Tullis, having just enjoyed a delightful meal on Monday — not my first there, of course. My son was in town briefly, and, having business in town, I suggested meeting him and taking him to Gladys’ Kitchen, a restaurant I had chosen many times, but he had never visited. We arrived in the middle of the lunch crowd — comfortably busy, but the staff always has times for every customer. No one is hurried along, or urged to make a quick decision. In fact, you can stand on the customer side of the lunch counter having a discussion about just which dish you might like best.
So it was that, when I paused over a second vegetable, the young man serving me suggested the tomato salad, which was not in the serving line, but on a table behind him. That sounded good, and healthy, so I said yes. Oh my. Though the fried chicken was perfect, and the string beans were the best I had had in a very long time, it was the tomato salad that I wanted to take home with me. It featured chopped tomatoes and onions, and from there, I tried to determine what the dressing might be — perhaps a little olive oil, maybe some kind of vinegar, and something sweet — a pinch of sugar, or sweetener, and a tad of other seasonings. The truth is, I have not the slightest idea, since it did not taste quite like any tomato dish or salad I had had before. So I decided I would ask.
Later this week, I had a fine interview with Tracia Tullis, daughter of founder Gladys Jones (for whom the restaurant is named), and now the owner of this most successful business. It is a business that has succeeded on many levels: first and foremost, of course, is the food, which is consistently good and may I say in a complimentary way, predictable? By that I mean the customer always knows what he’s getting when he orders a specific item. The fried chicken is always the same — which is excellent. The vegetables are well-cooked — and Tullis says cooking vegetables is her favorite task in the restaurant. The desserts are tasty, and another recipe I would like to have one day is the butter roll, a sinfully delicious dessert that my entire family loves and reminisces about after a long absence from the restaurant. This dessert was created by Tullis and her mother.
Tullis is reasonably proud of the family operation: it includes her children, brother, cousin, aunt — and though the children are in college now, they work around their schedule so that they can do both — work at the restaurant AND continue their education. In addition, a son is in the National Guard and serves our country each month in that capacity. They are a busy, active family, and after 19 years, Gladys Jones still comes to work every day. They all respond with true hospitality to each customer, and when the restaurant closes for the day, they take part in the ritual that has kept the restaurant one of the most desirable places in Americus to eat: they wipe every table, mop every floor, clean every bathroom, freshen the flowers, and make sure that every corner of the pristine restaurant is sparkling clean and fresh.
“I enjoy talking with customers,” Tullis remarked, and of course she is pleased with all the good reviews the restaurant garners. She works hard to guarantee a pleasant atmosphere with excellent service and from all the glowing accounts that one finds on the Internet reviews, she appears to have succeeded. Gladys’ Kitchen is one of the most popular places in Americus for folks to gather, whether it’s for a special occasion or just that it’s lunchtime and you are hungry for delicious, home-cooked food.
The only downside of my visit was when I asked if they ever gave away recipes for special foods, like that wonderful tomato salad, or the butter roll. Tullis smiled politely and said, “We don’t give away our recipes.” This means I may have to resign myself to never knowing how to make that salad. Instead, I may just have to visit Gladys’ two or three times a week, hoping it will be on the menu and ordering it as the side dish that makes everything else taste just about perfect.
Having owned a restaurant (briefly) with my daughter, Carey Wooten, I have learned that most people don’t come to your restaurant for your recipes anyway. They come to enjoy someone else’s cooking, something they did not have to prepare and something they might not have at home. So for now, I’ll give up on my quest for that perfect recipe. But when summer comes and fresh tomatoes and onions are spilling over my kitchen island, I may just begin chopping and tasting and testing, and throwing many things together looking for that illusive taste that came very close to perfection. In the meantime, I’ll keep looking for it at Gladys’ Kitchen.
Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at email@example.com