Dining at Sweet Peaches is akin to going to a family member’s house for lunch. The small restaurant is abuzz with activity and is an unquestionable family affair. With owner Pam Haines’ sister working the register and her son in the kitchen, Pam herself flits back and forth between the front and back of house, exhibiting all of the trappings of a jack-of-all-trades, pausing often to grace her customers with her gregarious laugh and infectious smile.
On a recent visit to this relatively new restaurant, located on the corner of 18th Street and Muhammad Ali in the Russell neighborhood, I was lucky enough to steal a few moments of Pam’s time, and she generously shared her story with me, including her big dreams for the future of the neighborhood she loves so much.
Born in Louisville’s West End, Pam is one of 12 children, a sibling group made up of eight boys and four girls. Pam learned to cook by doing. Her family had to make the most of their limited resources, and she said you simply cooked with what you had, whatever that may be. Her restaurant, Sweet Peaches, boasts “Sandwiches, Soups, & Specialties,” with the various desserts on display a clear indication of where the “Sweet” in “Sweet Peaches” is derived. When I asked her where her recipes came from, she simply pointed toward her head and let out a big, hearty laugh. “They’re just recipes I come up with,” she says smiling, “ … just things I know.”
The day I visited happened to be a Thursday, which is officially Soul Food Day at Sweet Peaches. In addition to her menu of sandwich classics like the BLT, tuna salad and pulled BBQ chicken, Pam’s sister recited a lengthy list of specials when it was my turn at the register, a list consisting of every Southern soul food classic one could desire. I decided it was impossible not to order the fried chicken for my meal, but asked Pam’s sister for assistance in selecting my sides. She nodded without hesitation and told me I would be having the mac and cheese and greens. I moved aside and found a table by the window while my friend, Courtney, ordered the pulled chicken BBQ with a side of spiced sweet potatoes, one of the daily specials. From the moment we arrived, there was a steady stream of customers lining the wall of Sweet Peaches, and the sense that this area of Louisville appreciates both Pam’s cooking and her desire to provide fresh food to the Russell neighborhood was evident.
While the majority of diners placed carryout orders, there are a handful of tables making up the small dining room. The space began to fill with the unmistakable sound of oil frying, and Courtney looked at me and said, “There’s your fried chicken!” She was proven correct when an overflowing box of piping hot chicken was soon delivered to me, a piece of crumbly cornbread set alongside what was clearly a perfectly creamy, homemade mac and cheese and a generous serving of greens. Courtney quickly proclaimed her BBQ sandwich to be the best pulled chicken she’d had in the city, the rich sauce covering the chicken plentiful and well-balanced.
My fried chicken was also on point, kept classic in preparation and cooked to absolute perfection. The greens are what stole the show for me, however, forgoing the greasy qualities slow-cooked greens can sometimes exhibit and maintaining instead a freshness that one does not generally associate with a dish cooked for more than 12 hours.
Indeed, time seems to be the secret ingredient in many of Pam’s dishes. She shared with me that she whips the icing encasing her signature caramel pound cake for six hours (yes, HOURS!), letting it come together in her stand mixer in the early hours of the morning as she preps for the day. We sampled this insanely tasty pound cake along with Pam’s strawberry upside-down cake, which I spotted as soon as we walked in the door …it exceeded my expectations must to my delight!
Since Pam opened the doors of Sweet Peaches in February of 2014, she has viewed her restaurant as more of a community space rather than a place to simply pick up breakfast or lunch. She is passionate about bringing love and attention to a decidedly overlooked and under-appreciated corner of our community. Fridays now play host to fish fry nights in the neighboring parking lot, Pam relishing in the groups of families that come to break bread with one another. This same space will be home to community movie nights as well, and Pam has big plans for the influence she hopes to have over her hometown and the Russell neighborhood in particular. Ninth Street has acted as a divide in our community for far too long. A happy afternoon spent at Sweet Peaches and in the company of Pam and her neighbors is further proof that getting outside of our everyday geographical boundaries is a worthwhile and meaningful venture. And it just so happens that the food is downright delicious.
Sweet Peaches is located at 1800 West Muhammad Ali Blvd. (at Ali and 18th St.), Louisville, KY 40203. Hours are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; they are closed Saturday and Sunday. Also, Sweet Peaches is a cash only establishment. Learn more on their Facebook page.
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