You don’t have to be in need of comfort to appreciate a plate full of comfort food. And killer comfort food doesn’t need a reality show to make hungry folk line up out the door. But a hotspot in St. Louis offers both, with a side of cornbread.
Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s.
Perhaps you’ve caught a glimpse of the 70-something (and drop-dead gorgeous) owner Robbie Montgomery on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN Network in the hit show with the aforementioned title. Miss Robbie spent her early years singing backup as an Ikette for the Ike & Tina Turner Revue and various other acts, but after a lung collapse – as she explains in the show open – “this soul sister turned to soul food.” She opened the original Sweetie Pie’s in a strip mall on Florissant Avenue about fifteen years ago and now has two St. Louis locations.
The show is mostly taped at the newer location in the recently refurbished Mangrove building in the Forest Park neighborhood, but we chose the original strip-mall location to get a feel for the restaurant’s history. It’s a family affair, and the atmosphere here is as much family reunion as it is bustling eatery.
At Sweetie Pie’s you won’t find a hostess and a menu. It’s cafeteria-style, with a menu board posted on the wall. Each day of the week has a different entrée special and sides – several to pick from, but not too many to overwhelm.
I choose baked chicken, with the agreement that my husband will allow me at least a bite of a fried wing. As for sides, we choose Macaroni & Cheese, cabbage, green beans and corn. Hubby chooses a roll. I can’t resist cornbread.
We tote our trays to the modest dining room where a gentleman offers to bring our drinks. He introduces himself as George, Miss Robbie’s brother. Later a lovely woman named Janice comes around to greet us. Turns out Janice is Robbie’s sister, the Florissant Ave. restaurant manager, and the mother of one of the show’s featured characters Little Charles – the nephew who, according to Miss Robbie, “works hard at hardly working.”
This is soul food at its finest. You can almost taste the history of these family masterpieces as they’ve been handed down through the generations. The fried wings are homestyle crispy, the baked chicken fall-apart tender. The sides are seasoned just right, and the drippings left behind in the individual side-dish bowls cry out for a dip of my cornbread. There’s no way to describe the buttery Mac & Cheese except to warn that if you miss it you’ve screwed up in epic fashion.
As the post-church crowd assembles on this Sunday, conversation and laughter escalate. A rousing rendition of ‘happy birthday’ echoes from the serving line through the dining room, diners pausing mid-bite to celebrate the anonymous reveler’s occasion. Friends reunite and hugs are as warm and sweet as a dish of Robbie’s peach cobbler.
Sweetie Pie’s isn’t just a taste of home. It’s a delicious, nostalgic escape to Grandma’s house. And regardless of how you feel about reality shows – based on our experience – Sweetie Pie’s is the real deal.