Fred's Southern Kitchen, Lakeland
The group that talks about my hometown had a post from one of the members about 'taking back' Raay Nor's from the maws of the Mediterranean restaurant that now resides in the building that served up the best fried chicken on Long Island. Oh, and the best pot pie, too, as I was just as much a fan of that wonderfully flaky crust over a nice thick stew.
Then, I moved to a group of a dozen or so online friends, and one is traveling and stunned at the delivery choices where she is. Her hometown only has pizza delivery. We talked about steak (btw, Steak Out does a fine job-had those in the DC area), Chinese food, and then I mentioned the chain that we had in my hometown, Chicken Delight. Their slogan "Don't cook tonight, call Chicken Delight!" As a teen, I looked forward to babysitting gigs where the parents left me money to order food-I'd order the chicken instead of pizza!
After two things talking about good fried chicken, I wanted some-and not the heavily breaded, greasy stuff that they serve at the fast food restaurants. I wanted the real deal, authentic southern fried chicken. Hell, I live in the south, I should find it, right?
Thinking on it a bit, I thought of the local restaurant that I know does it right, Buddy Freddy's. Well, I didn't want to drive over to Plant City, but I realized that another one of the restaurants started by the Johnson family is nearby, Fred's Southern Kitchen. It was on the list of places to try when really hungry, because I usually get a salad and one plate of food. However, I wanted chicken.
Here's where I went afield of what you'd expect-I asked my vegan friend to join me. We have been working on a project together and it made sense to see if he wanted to go to lunch. The menu featured enough veggies that I figured he'd be fine. Fortunately, he agreed.
If you're familiar with the Johnson family restaurants, Fred's Southern Kitchen is a more subdued version of Buddy Freddy's-medium woods, lots of plaid, a more homestyle buffet and a dessert station that is staffed by a server who prepares exactly what you want. No candy novelties in the lobby, either.
That said, the buffet was ample, even at an off hour, fresh and tasty. The salad bar had plenty of vegetables and an assortment of cold salads. I tend to ignore those, but there were a dozen choices if you go for Waldorf salads and the like. I got some mixed greens, plenty of tomatoes, peppers, and onions and all were crisp and fresh. Normally, I don't go for ranch dressing, but there's something about this dressing at their restaurants, it isn't thick and heavy like it tends to be out of a refrigerated bottle.
The first trip to the buffet, I found a nice chicken breast that was lightly breaded and not a bit greasy. It was juicy and their breading isn't something that it is at all the fast food joints-salty. It was nice to taste the rest of the flavors without being beat over the head with the salt! I also got myself the sweet potato casserole, carrots, zucchini, rutabagas, and a little bit of mac and cheese. The second trip, I tried a little bit of the new potatoes, one piece of the stew, a small piece of the fried catfish and the pole beans.
The food definitely feels like grandma was cooking for the family in her kitchen all day. It is not haute cuisine, just simple southern food, which may or may not be heavily buttered. In this case, only the carrots were sauteed in butter, the others were lightly seasoned. For me, the hit was the pole beans, I love them and if I'd gotten them on the first trip, I would have stuffed myself silly with them the second time around.
Another star is that catfish. It was dredged in cornmeal and fried. Not a bit greasy and just a bit crunch. It was nice. The rutabagas were chunked and slightly sweet. Those and the zucchini are something that I am the only one at home who likes, so if they're on a buffet, I am all over them.
Dessert called me, and even though it made me over full, I had a lava brownie with a little bit of vanilla blue bell. It was so good, the creamy ice cream nice against the slight crunch of the brownie that was prepared in a muffin tin.
Now, you're probably wondering how a vegan fares in a place like this. The answer is surprisingly well. He recently found that he can tolerate small amounts of dairy, but still has to avoid all meats. He got two full plates of selections, as the vegetarian choices at most restaurants around here are lacking. Honestly, this was kismet, because another Fred's location is near his family and now he has a dining out option that everyone will like. The only item he repeated was the mashed potatoes, probably because he hadn't had any homestyle made in several years!
Fred's does vegetarian pricing, they also have a soup and salad price and on weekdays, a one trip through the buffet price. That one makes more sense for me in the future, because I'm definitely going back. I suspect I won't be alone, either.