Honoring the lunch ladies in J-town

by Brian Clarey

Sometimes I poke a little goodnatured fun at the lunch ladies, those stalwart noontime noshers that populate every halfway-decent restaurant during the midday meal in any community in America. They defy age, racial and religious classification — there are lunch ladies of every stripe — but what they have in common is a penchant for splitting salads and ordering off-menu, and also a deep fondness for sweet-tea refills.

I made fun of the lunch ladies when I worked the night shift and used to eat lunch before I went to bed. I made fun of the lunch ladies when I waited tables during the lunch shift and had to rely on their meager tips for sustenance. I make fun of the lunch ladies now in my capacity as a professional eater.

But I’ll tell you this about lunch ladies: They know something about lunch.

And this place, Southern Roots on Jamestown’s quaint main thoroughfare, is boiling with them.

They’re sitting by the window, sunlight bathing their ice-tea glasses.

They’re on the banquette, talking as their hands flutter like small birds. They’re taking bags of food back to the office, and lingering over their cars in the back parking lot, finishing their conversations.

It’s perfect for the lunch ladies, with china and wicker on the walls, burlap sound panels to keep the conversations to a muffled din, wine of you like and plenty of sweet tea.

And they’re here because Southern Roots may have dinner service and a catering kitchen, but it does lunch like nobody else in this stretch of the county.

The menu is built from locally sourced products and modern takes on Southern cuisine. There are hot entrées like shrimp and grits, pasta, catfish, meatloaf, pulled pork and spaghetti, and the quiche of the day is made in house.

And there are sandwiches that utilize apple-smoked bacon, housecooked turkey and corned beef, brie, a traditional shrimp burger with ketchup, a fine burger and vegetarian options. There is a quesadilla of the day and a soup of the day as well.

And the salads are clearly designed with the lunch ladies in mind: 11 to choose from, including a Greek salad, a granny-apple selection, an oyster salad, a Caesar and a classic iceberg wedge.

I order the Southern Roots salad, with greens, apples, walnuts, goat chese, cranberries and bacon. There is no need for dressing. I pair it with a lunch special: half a chicken-salad sandwich and a cup of soup.

The seasonal soup is tomato basil, but I opt for the day’s special, a seafood chowder. Now I know that in a restaurant, seafood chowder is generally made with whatever fish is left over from the weekend. And as long as we’re on the subject, the difference between a bisque and a chowder lies in texture. Ingredients in a bisque are generally pureed or minced, while a chowder holds big chunks of meat and vegetables.

This is truly a chowder, holding generous pieces of salmon and shrimp, a few errant oysters and cubes of potato. It’s fabulous.

As for the chicken salad, served on grilled whole-grain bread, laced with walnuts and apples and nary a trace of pickles or dill weed, it is enough to make a lunch lady lean back in her chair and fan herself with her menu.

wanna go?

Southern Roots 119 E. Main St. Jamestown 336.882.5570