FRANKLIN PARK – Southern food — and people — both have one thing in common when it comes to their reputation: comfort.
Traditional Southern foods, such as collard greens, cornbread and fried chicken, are known for making you feel right at home and Southern people tend to do the same. Those are also two of the reasons why Down Home Cookin’ and Catering, a new restaurant and catering business in Franklin Park, seems like it was dropped in Central Jersey straight from the South.
“Someone commented on our Facebook page and said, ‘The food is amazing but the people are better,’” said Ariene Wilson, an East Windsor resident who co-owns the business alongside her husband, Arman. “I think they go in hand, which keeps people coming back. This is where we grew up, so we feel right at home.”
The 30-seat bare-bones restaurant, at 3029 Route 27 in Dabs Plaza, opened officially on Jan. 7, but Ariene Wilson, who grew up in South Brunswick, said that the response has been “crazy” since they soft-opened on Dec. 22. Even without any signage, tons of previous customers from when they operated out of the Wilson home as a catering business for about three years trekked to see the new eatery and now, about 50 people come each day and lunchtime hours are also starting to get busy.
And for good reason — they’re hungry for the Wilsons’ Southern dishes, such as fried chicken, fried Cajun shrimp, fried catfish nuggets, po’boy sandwiches, candied yams, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, cornbread and more, most of which can’t be found anywhere else in the region.
“When we opened, there were no other soul food restaurants within a 10-mile radius,” said Ariene Wilson. “There was a Chicken Holiday, but that was it, so there was still a need — everyone wants that hometown food that tastes like what your grandmother made.”
At Down Home Cookin’ and Catering, where everything is homemade and made-to-order and has been perfected by the Wilsons’ personal recipes, platters of items such as fried whiting and barbecue chicken that include two sides and cornbread range from $10 to $13, baskets of items such as fried catfish nuggets and fried Cajun shrimp that include french fries and cornbread range from $7 to $10, po’boy sandwiches cost $8 and family meals range from $27 to $30.
“I love soul food because it has a really distinct flavor and seasonings versus if you went to Popeye’s and got fried chicken,” said Ariene Wilson. “Plus, I really enjoy all the side options, like candied yams, macaroni and cheese and other comfort foods.”
Ariene Wilson, a self-proclaimed picky eater, said that she was interested in finding a new hobby about five years ago so she began cooking, and since her father is from New Orleans, she always enjoyed soul food and thus started cooking those dishes. About a year later, she and her husband started Down Home Cookin’ and Catering out of their home, serving mainly families for about four years until the Franklin Park eatery opened.
“I’ve learned some soul food cooking tips from going to New Orleans more times than I can count,” said Ariene Wilson. “Plus, I learned some things from watching my dad cook, but I also like to add my own touch to all of the dishes that we make at Down Home Cookin’ and Catering.”
Down Home Cookin’ and Catering
Where: 3029 Route 27 in Dabs Plaza, Franklin Park
Cost: Range from $8 for a po’boy sandwich to $30 for a family meal
Contact: downhomecookincatering.com, 732-940-4001