BY DEIDRE SCHIPANI
Thursday, October 20, 2011
The Page family, whose parents established Page’s Thieves Market on Ben Sawyer Boulevard in the ’60s, branched out into the restaurant business in 2006.
Siblings Linda and Tony Page along with Tony’s children, Ashleigh and Courtney, opened the Okra Grill on Coleman Boulevard.
Early last summer, Alex’s Restaurant closed after a 40-year run at 302 Coleman Blvd., and the Page family saw an opportunity. Faster than an okra could sprout, a new and improved Okra Grill took root at the site.
More property has allowed for outdoor patio dining and a spot to park the rigs used for their in-house smoking of pig and poultry.
The restaurant itself is now home to a “media room” to view local sports teams. Its walls are papered with ads and phone book pages They also have plenty of spacious booths and tables for crowds that begin each morning with the friendly Okra staff.
They have mostly kept to the same menu. An expanded kitchen has given veteran baker Ashleigh Page more room to produce her half-foot-tall cakes, pies, puddings and desserts ($2.59-$3.99). All good, all homemade.
The counter sits well with the locals whose orders are known to the staff before their coffee is poured. At the time of our visit, it was great to see a local shrimper, white boots and all, take a seat and enjoy a cold glass of milk and a decadent slice of chocolate cake ($3.99).
Expect to see fried chicken livers ($8.59), meatloaf Mondays ($8.59), homemade she-crab soup ($2.99, $4.29) and housemade pickles and relishes.
Linda and Tony Page also offer “healthy choice” selections, including salads ($6.99), simply grilled chicken breasts, salmon filets and shrimp.
Each day of the week features a daily lunch and dinner special, and if something catches your appetite, order it quickly, as they do run out.
They are committed to local and seasonal; they offer in-house ground Certified Angus Beef for their Burger Bar ($5.99-$7.59). The seafood is local and seasonal; the fresh catch, when not the former, is individually quick frozen.
The vegetable sides change with the season, and only the fried okra appeared out of the freezer case.
Butterbeans are cooked to the tender surrender of their flesh; okra and tomatoes are cooked together to the point that their flavor boundaries are missing. The slaw and potato salad hold to their freshness, and only the mac and cheese was dry and dull.
A pod of pickled okra accompanies the fried platters, and the namesake vegetable is fried and used to top a signature salad ($7.99) of greens, cheese, applewood smoked bacon and buttermilk ranch dressing.
The chicken and pork chops are brined before frying and the frying method is “pressure fried.” The prevailing wisdom on the latter is less grease to go in the crease. You can order the chicken all white ($7.99) or all dark meat ($7.59). We selected dark and found it juicy and well-seasoned. The chicken parts were on the small size (all the better to fry).
A flounder fillet ($7.99) is available “lightly fried” and it wore its batter well. Do try the redneck rolls ($6.99): Asian spring roll wrappers are filled with pulled pork, pimiento cheese, then deep fried and served with a mustard-and-vinegar-based barbecue sauce.
Their signature shrimp and grits ($5.99, $9.99) can be had as an appetizer or entree. Andouille sausage flavors the white sauce base and the shrimp are served over crisp, cheese-flavored grit cakes. Tasty but mild in seasoning. The BBQ pork ($8.59) is slight with the tang of smoke but tender and juicy.
Simplicity is the constant of the Southern appetite and Page’s Okra Grill honors that.
The service is friendly and the prices, well they have a lot to do with the “Thieves Market” philosophy — so low, you think you stole it!
So when you are hankerin’ for a taste of home, drape your appetite on the tablecloth of plenty served up with a smile under the blooming okra at Page’s.