Freddie Maeʼs ʻooeygooey ʼ dreamy sweet potato pie draws crowds at new Fontana hot spot
By Chris Levister –
Freddie Mae Fort has always considered her mother’s classic southern recipes priceless, but never anticipated the foodie rush that stormed the grand opening Saturday of her family’s new Fontana eatery - Freddie Mae’s Southern Cooking.
“People are coming out of the woodwork, families with children, young people, church groups, folks from Los Angeles, San Diego and Pomona. Every age, ethnicity and palette, the response is amazing,” said Ms. Fort.
“People can’t resist the tasty southern classics made from scratch prepared with lots of love and the best ingredients, just like grandma used to make,” she said with a trained eye on the army of red T-shirt clad servers and cooks dishing out hundreds of steaming plates, never losing their smile and pleasant manner.
“I was in heaven,” said Mississippi native Winston Isaish-Brown who dined on the menu’s “ooey, gooey” dreamy sweet potato pie. "This place takes me back to my grandmas’ house when I was growing up in the South,” Brown said.
“You walk in hungry and leave feeling ‘sho nuff’ good.”
“I came for the fish, she wants the Mac n’ cheese,” said India born Bobby Singh balancing his young daughter Amreen.
Vegetarian Sandra Alonzo “Belly Bustin” mainstays: mashed potatoes, cabbage and green salad.
“In an era when mashed potatoes are God help us – reconstituted flakes premade out of a package, this is food utopia,” she said.
Nestled in a community dominated by fast food joints, the restaurant is a celebration of 97-year-old Willa Bratton. Bratton the matriarch of the family’s secret recipes is seated at a table surrounded by several of the restaurant’s nineteen family associates. At times she appeared overwhelmed by the crush of diners chowing down on such delicacies as the restaurant’s signature Mac n’ cheese, the golden fried chicken, fish, cabbage, honey kissed yams, perfectly seasoned greens, grits, and banana pudding.
“All this coming from recipes cooking techniques and seasonings handed down from momma and generations stretching back 300-plus years,” said Ms. Fort.
Freddie Mae and her husband Willie Jr. have been tempting palates on their own for nearly a quarter of a century. Before opening the Fontana eatery the couple operated a successful southern cuisine catering service.
“Of course I’ve been cooking since I was old enough to reach the stovetop,” she said. “So it was a badge of honor when folks urged us to open a restaurant.”
“We need more family owned and operated restaurants among the glut of faceless nat ional fast food chains,” said Fontana business owner Alberta Oliphant. “For years we travelled to Moreno Valley or Los Angeles to get homemade soul food. The chance to rub shoulders and socialize with people in our own community is a big bonus.”
The helpings are generous. The average price for an entree meal is $8. The restaurant has a diverse clientele, including airport workers, truckers, students, law enforcement and medical personnel from nearby Kaiser and Arrowhead Regional Medical Centers.
Grand opening diners included Mayor Mark N. Nuaimi who cut the official ribbon, Vice Mayor Acquanetta Warren and a host of other area dignitaries.
Soul food’s southern slave roots celebrate the ability to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, to transcend hardscrabble farmland and wafer-thin wallets into bountiful love and nourishment. But don’t expect to find a sow’s ear on Freddie Mae’s menu.
“No pork, chitlins, beef, lard, pigs feet or artificial ingredients,” says the health conscious entrepreneur.
Freddie Mae says like any valuable idea, soul food has been able to reinvent itself and adapt to healthier cooking techniques.
For example, using smoked turkey instead of traditional fatback to cook greens, black eyed peas and add flavor to other foods.
Pan frying with lighter oils or baking instead of deep frying.
“We use fresh ingredients, a proprietary blend of southern flavorings and seasonings, less butter and sugar in some of our traditional recipes. We’re constantly looking for new ways to prepare our dishes without losing the taste and feeling of satisfaction our customers demand,” said business and marketing manager Catherine Fort.
That's the challenge says veteran cyclist Harris Booker who brought members of the Mt. Zion Baptist Church cycling team in for a taste of healthy soul.
“When you think healthy you automatically think tasteless and bland. That's the marketing challenge facing restaurants that specialize in food for the soul. The draw back of many soul food dishes is the health risk of over indulging and falling into obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes other health ailments.”
Healthy soul food seems like an oxymoron, but more and more creative cooks continue to turn this daunting challenge into a pleasant and health preserving reality for more people. The reward for their trouble? The sound of their cash registers ringing.
The restaurant located on the corner of Mulberry and Foothill in Fontana opened with the help and support of family members, friends and local businesses.
“We’ve got a lot of folks rooting for us. People get a good feeling when they walk in and see family members working together,” said Catherine. The restaurant employs six fulltime workers. She said the family hopes to gain additional capital to enlarge the space and hire more staff, but humbly adds all this "will come in time."
The legacy of soul food is bitter sweet in its history. It is now a multi million dollar industry which has spawned restaurants, books, videos TV cooking shows and more.
“Soul food helped build America,” said Freddie Mae.
“African-Americans and families of all races are looking back to the food that helped our race overcome the most staggering odds in recorded history,” she said.
“Yes, soul food is not only an African-American treasure…it’s an American treasure.”