Cleo’s Southern Cuisine in the Bronzeville area of Chicago is delicious. That is all. That’s my review. Naw, I’m just kidding. Some of our followers highly recommended we visit this tiny, beautifully decorated take-out spot and am I glad we did! Not only is it delicious, but it also has a beautiful queen who is a beast in the kitchen. With a mix of Chicago soul and New Orleans spice, chef-owner Kristen Harper has created some of the best fried chicken in the neighborhood.
We sat in the small eating area and enjoyed several menu items, beginning with the fried chicken and waffles. One bite into the fried chicken had me sitting up straight and staring into the abyss to collect my thoughts. My mind was beginning to open from an edible I had earlier, but I had not yet descended into the food beast. Edible or not, I needed to know who the hell created such an amazing batter. Crispy and seasoned to perfection, the batter was dry and crisp, starkly contrasting the moist and flavored protein hiding inside each bite.
The chicken was so tasty I expected a combo of Juanita Moore, Mahalia Jackson, and Gladys Knight to emerge from the kitchen with a big smile and a hearty “hey baby.” Instead, out walks a mini Phylicia Rashād, probably younger than me and so fine she could have been there for a photo shoot. Nope, this beauty is the chef.
Chef Kristen did not come to play with that kitchen or anyone else for that matter. She learned how to make her homely, scrumptious creations from her late grandmother, who passed down authentic interpretations of Black American ancestral cooking. The waffles were the fluffy soft type with hints of cinnamon that paired wonderfully with chunks of fried chicken thigh meat, which I prefer because it’s meatier and more flavorful. For that same reason, if you’re ordering chicken and waffles, I recommend the thighs instead of the wings.
My next stop was the fried fish topped with crab meat and house-made good God almighty remoulade sauce with a mild, sweet-sour flavor and a hint of mustardy vibes. It was so good I started drenching the entire fish in it, the perfect way to enjoy it.
Each meal comes with cornbread dubbed the 24-karat gold muffin. It was jazzed up with an in-house honey butter glaze that had me licking the top of it before using it to sop up my collard greens old school style.
I completed our visit with their Wild Caught Pan-Seared Scottish Salmon and let me tell you there was no sampling going on. I sat my fat ass out there and ate it all on the street corner. That edible had kicked into overdrive, heightening my palate’s ability to taste the seasonings on a molecular fourth dimensional level that had people looking at me like I was crazy. Especially when I started pontificating to Jason, my nephew and cameraman, about how this cuisine promotes the yin and yang philosophy via its creole-soul food flavor balance.
The true conceptualization of dualism was exemplified in the way the contrary forces of the sweet, savory, and spicy flavors interconnected and complimented each other. YES, LORD! THE FOOODDD!!! Jason and I washed it all down with some goddman jazzed up GRAPE/CITRUS LIME KOOL-AID.
All the sides were amazing. I would recommend the Brussel sprouts, mac and cheese, candy yams, and string beans. Cleo’s was an unplanned but welcomed stop during our tour. I didn’t know much about it and was just there to order food. Thankfully, the chef happened to be there. I will be back. For chef and her food. Just joking. Or am I?
Check them out at 4248 S Cottage Grove Ave, Chicago, IL 60653 or call them at (773) 575-7120. Due to COVID-19, they only accept orders via their online ordering (www.eatcleos.com) and call-in orders.
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