Ingredients stand out at DeeGusto's 

click to enlarge dee_gusto.jpg

There’s so much great food out there these days that’s it’s sometimes easy to forget the simple pleasures to be derived from traditional regional cooking prepared with care and skill. DeeGusto’s, now in its third year of business, offers a great deal of pleasure for not a lot of money, turning out lively, fresh dishes designed to bring a smile to your face and a grin to your wallet.

Forget your contemporary comfort food with a twist. DeeGusto’s menu doesn’t need any twisting. It’s the real deal: classic southern soul, expertly prepared, served fresh and promptly by enthusiastic and welcoming restaurateurs who clearly care as much about their customers as they do about their food.

Situated a couple of blocks west of the zoo and housed in a former ice cream parlor, DeeGusto’s occupies a surprisingly small space, with seats for fewer than thirty inside and a few more al fresco. Be prepared to wait for a table at peak hours — in other words, whenever they are open.

Owned and run by brother and sister Calvin Davis and Diane (DeeDee) Washington, DeeGusto’s offers a short menu with nothing over $10. In addition to dinner dishes, there are a couple of breakfast items, and a short $5 menu featuring sandwiches, chicken tenders and the like. The dinner selections are generously proportioned and include cornbread and a choice of two sides. The restaurant isn’t licensed for alcohol, but the sweet tea— not too sweet as it happens—is admirable.

All too often, traditional southern cooking can be marred by a surfeit of salt, fat and sugar which combine to mask the true flavors of the ingredients and fool the brain into thinking it’s really enjoying itself. Not so here. DeGusto’s deft use of seasoning is a pleasant surprise: every dish we sampled (devoured, actually) was full of flavor derived not from salt and sugar, but from the raw materials themselves.

Especially impressive was the cornflour-dusted and deep-fried Basa, a type of catfish with a firm and fine texture and mild flavor. For $10 the two generous fillets were served with intense but delicately seasoned collard greens and some candied yams which had me seriously considering seconds. Perfectly prepared, the fish put to shame several comparable offerings I have failed to enjoy at far pricier establishments in recent months.

Also good were the massive chicken wings ($9 for a generous handful with sides), which we ordered with a very solid macaroni and cheese and a quite exceptional cabbage side dish. Slowly braised with okra, bacon and house-made chicken stock (the vertebrae were there to prove it), the cabbage dish was layered and hugely enjoyable, a terrific preparation of this much-abused vegetable.

If you have room, I strongly recommend the desserts, priced at an absurdly low $2.99 and made in house by sister DeeDee. These include a caramel-topped pound cake, an exemplary peach cobbler, and one of the best apple dumplings I can remember tasting — slightly sweet and a touch tart, with a crisp but tender crust. Dee-licious.

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