By Steve Alcazari
5:00 PM EDT, October 30, 2013
At this rate, Windsor will be giving West Hartford, Glastonbury and Middletown a run for their money in the destination-dining department. I say this after visiting the newly relocated and re-opened Dorothy & Leroy's, a southern/soul food restaurant with Cajun touches. (Add soul food to the list of good barbecue, diners, Indian restaurants, bakeries and breakfast spots in the area.)
Fans of vegetable plates may recall that there was a Dorothy & Leroy's in Bloomfield, which closed a few years back. I was happy to see the name return and eager to chow on some southern fare, washed down with sweet tea. Often, when restaurants relocate and reopen it's in conjunction with an expansion. But that's becoming less the case these days, and that's probably good.
Following the fiscal crunch of the economic collapse of 2008, many restaurants folded. And some are only just now starting to come back to life or try a chance at resurrection. (I recently visited MMumbai Spice in Rocky Hill, a sort of scaled-back mostly take-out version of what was once the much larger Ambassador of India.)
The new Dorothy & Leroy's is similarly slimmed down to fighting weight. There are about seven booths in the little restaurant. (Windsor restaurant-goers will remember this as the former home of The Whistle Stop Cafe, a restaurant that has made the reverse journey from small to big in recent years.) Rustic touches abound — quilts, old kitchen utensils and a dark vintage-barn-style paneling in the dining room. The tables have glass tops over intricate doily cloths. Joyful gospel plays on the stereo. Not the old-school gospel of Mahalia Jackson or Marion Williams, but contemporary gospel, fueled with R&B touches, synth, slap bass and plenty of backbeat. This is a living tradition, and I guess I saw a connection to the food, which has ties to a venerable history, but which isn't trapped in amber or stuck in the past. Which isn't to say that you'll find a lot of radically re-imagined classics or quirky twists on standards. Who wants nouvelle meatloaf anyway?
Dorothy & Leroy's serves barbecue, fried fish, pork chops, veggies, fried chicken, and Cajun dishes like etouffee, jambalaya and po' boys. There's an extensive list of pies and cakes, the availability of which change throughout the week.
An order of smothered fried chicken, one of the daily specials, was deeply satisfying, slathered with sauted onions and peppers, and savory brown gravy. Most entrees come with two sides, with a list of fried okra, mac 'n' cheese, potato salad, slaw, cabbage, black eyed peas, collard greens, green beans, fries, rice, salad and more to choose from. Back to that chicken: Many would view the whole point of fried chicken to be in crunchy exterior. And that is slightly masked or lost when the chicken is doused in gravy. That's all true, to a degree, so I can't fully vouch for the crackly crispness of the chicken, but there were suggestions of crunch mingled with the thick gravy, which added to the dish's comfort-food charms.
The flavors of southern cooking and soul food (terms that tell you more about who's cooking than what they're cooking with) are not generally assertive or flamboyant, at least at first. One of the trademarks of excellent southern cooking is a skill with the most basic, but oft-misused, seasonings: salt and pepper. (Some have expressed concern about the sodium-heavy nature of these cuisines and the possible health effects when eaten regularly.) Talk to any chef and they'll tell you that the secret to good cooking is knowing how to use and balance salty flavors, fats and acids. Southern cooks lay down that salty bass note confidently and the flavors of the other ingredients tend to shine from there. Liberal use of vinegar-heavy hot sauce is a popular way of adding on those high-contrast accents after the fact.
Sides of green beans, mac 'n' cheese, and collards didn't necessarily require hot sauce, but they were all livened up with its color, heat and acidic jolt. The beans and greens were tender. The mac 'n' cheese was cheesy and creamy, but not overly dense or gooey.
I had ordered an extra third side, and this was plenty for a grown man to eat, but the prospect of pie inspired me to clean my plate and plow ahead. There was no pecan when I stopped in, so I opted for sweet potato pie, which, if you've never had it, is not much different from pumpkin pie in terms of sweetness and spices. But I find the texture to be more satisfying. This was overkill, the good kind.
Dorothy and Leroy's
199 Broad St., Windsor, (860) 285-0533