— Laura Kaiden
I pretty much jumped out of my pants the other day when I was invited to the opening of Sweetiepie’s Chicken and Fish Fry, 624 12th Ave. SE, in Cedar Rapids. With the introduction of Sweetiepie’s to the flood-damaged Oakhill Jackson neighborhood, I’m fairly sure this is the official unveiling of soul food to Cedar Rapids. Perhaps it is being done somewhere else around here, but I’ve just never come across it. The restaurant sits just outside of New Bohemia, another flooded neighborhood that is making great strides to get on its feet and Sweetiepie’s sits snugly on the eastern border. At this pre-opening opening, the small, renovated gas station (it was also an ice-cream parlor, barbecue restaurant and a dry cleaner at various times) was jammed with people. Sweetiepie’s will seat about 20 inside and another 15 outdoors, once tables and landscaping are in place. We were greeted by friendly faces and our choice of sweet tea or lemonade. No offense to our greeters, but even Brad Pitt couldn’t stop me from getting to the pitcher of sweet tea. I filled up and headed to a buffet full of soul food goodness. The friedness, the sauces, I wasn’t sure where to even start. So, of course, I started with a bite of everything. And this is how it went: Fried chicken: Delicious, but I hate eating things off bones, so I jumped immediately to the chicken fingers that were breaded and seasoned the same way. Cornmeal breaded catfish: Awesome. Breaded in cornmeal with just the right amount of salt, but no grease, so I wasn’t reaching for my napkin before I could shove the whole thing in my mouth. With a selection of five different sauces, the Fin & Beak sauce was at the top of the list until ... Sweet potato fries: These were accompanied by what I will lovingly refer to as Brown Sugar Honey — a sticky, beautiful light brown sugar drizzle for the top of crispy sweet potato fries. Hush puppy: A delicious little seasoned nugget that wasn’t dry but caky, and upon challenging myself to which sauce I should dip it in, I chose none. It was enough on its own. I skipped the coleslaw, rice and beans and fried okra. All of the things I heard about them was great, but I was saving room for dessert. I went straight to the red velvet cake with the cream cheese frosting. Not being a fan of the cream cheese frosting on its own, I ate around the edges of this homemade beautiful treat and then wanted to move onto the monster or oatmeal cookie. Before we left, we stopped to meet the owners. Kacy Smith and his wife also own the Tic Toc restaurant, 600 17th St. NE. The name and the recipes come from co-owners Carol Simmons and her husband. The restaurant takes its name from Simmons’s childhood nickname. A newcomer to the restaurant business, the Georgia native, who now lives in Coralville, said she’s no stranger to the fried chicken, fish, okra, sweet potato fries and other Southern staples that Sweetiepie’s will offer. She had “a lot of cooks in the family,” Simmons said, noting that Sweetiepie’s potato salad is her grandmother’s recipe. I should mention, too, that the buffet was only for the pre-opening. The menu consists of dinners and baskets that feature chicken and fish and a choice of sides. Sweetiepie’s officially opened on March 19. I’m sure I’ll see you there.