Cheap Eats - Like father, like son?

Son's Place: debatable lineage, undeniably good food

Fifth grade immediately replayed through my head upon walking through the doors of Son's Place. The blue serving trays with their individualized compartments steamed with vegetables and fried chicken. Just add pint-sized whole milk containers and the vision would be complete.

But the people seemed to be smiling a lot. They were enjoying themselves much more than I remember enjoying fifth-grade lunch. And that's because there's one major difference: the food. Lenn Storey has made it his restaurant's business to serve good food and make people feel at home. The regulars keep coming back for more and bringing their friends.

Storey's story: Son's Place is next door to the original Deacon Burton's (now the Patio). It takes its name from the fact that Storey swears he is the Deacon's son. A bit of family wrangling went on years ago, and Storey put Burton's out of business. But he still uses the same black cast-iron pans that were found next door, and he's won over the patrons who return for his pure Southern fare with a touch of soul.

What we ate: On a Tuesday, entree choices were pork chops soaked in gravy, chicken and dumplings, fried catfish and fried chicken.

Sides (you get two) included mashed potatoes and gravy, stewed squash, rice and gravy, collard greens and green beans. Some days, macaroni and cheese and sweet potato souffle are offered. All this for only $6.

Two strips of crispy, filleted catfish were great doused with the Louisiana hot sauce found on the table. The pork chops were tender, but plenty messy. Then there was the fried chicken. Ah ... the fried chicken. The choice of dark or white meat is irrelevant — it all adds up to good. The fried chicken is available every day and prepared the same way the Deacon made it, soaked overnight in seasoned saltwater and fried in soybean oil.

As to vegetables, the regular who brought me along couldn't say enough about the squash. The collard greens kept their texture instead of being boiled to a pulp, and there was plenty of pepper vinegar to pour over them for extra kick. But the creamy mashed potatoes were the best. I should have skipped my rather plain green beans and gotten a double helping of potatoes.

If you're jonesin' for something in particular, call ahead to find out what's on the menu for any given day. You might find meatloaf, ribs or whiting waiting. And of course, there's sweet tea every day.

Service: "Hons" and "sweeties" are quick to escape the lips of the female servers behind the row of pans and ladles. The men also are pleasantly welcoming and want to make sure you're happy. "So you like the squash?" the guy said to the regular in front of me. "Then you can have my helping. I never could stand the stuff." I wish my dad had been so understanding.

The crowd: You'll find just about everyone hanging out here for lunch or breakfast: cops, business people, politicians, alterna-teens, you name it. Take your Yankee friends for a taste of the South. They won't get the same kitsch value that some made-for-tourists places contain, but there's nothing like the real thing.

"V is for virgin: When I reached the end of the line to pay, the guy next to the cashier talked to me by name. "How did you know my name?" I asked. "Oh, I have my ways." My tablemates denied having told him anything. My ego got a boost. Wow, was I now being recognized simply by walking through a restaurant's door?

Then the loud clang of a bell sounded behind the counter. "We want to welcome Jerry. Where are you?" I waved from one of the dozen or so tables. Another newbie was singled out near a bank of windows. "It's their first time at Son's Place. Give 'em a big welcome." The claps, hoots and hollers echoed around us. God, I'm gullible.??