A taste of Soul Food heaven in Sandfly

Owner Caroline Hendley with a photo of her grandfather Cyrus McKiver, who was chef at Bethesda Boys home; the photo is set to be framed and displayed at her restaurant, A Taste of Heaven

Four generations, living on faith, finding strength in family ties, with the need to feed others on that glory, have expanded that hope into a brand new soul food haven in Sandfly: A Taste of Heaven.

Caroline and Anthony Hendley set up their first restaurant at Waters and 40th, served up the good stuff for two years, then changed over to catering for a couple more, but they knew that opportunity would come knocking at their door again , and sure enough it happened in March this year.

Ma Randy’s had moved out of a sweet lil’ spot at the corner of Eisenhower and Skidaway, and there it was: the perfect place to open an eatery that offered a menu replete with soulful meals the Southern body craves.

Sometimes that flair for good cooking just runs in the blood with a strength that must express itself beyond the household confines. Caroline knows all about that.

Her grandpa Cyrus McKiver served as chef to Bethesda Home for Boys for decades; her momma Johnnie worked at Shoney’s Big Boy (with the actual Big Boy out front holding up The Burger).

Her grandmothers on both sides were renowned for their extraordinary skill in the kitchen, not to mention her Aunt LoLo—and all of these fine cooks have their names enshrined on the menu at A Taste of Heaven.

Even her son Anthony Jr. lends his expertise to dishes like Candy Sauce Wings or the T-Griddle Breakfast: two big, fluffy pancakes stuffed with eggs, cheese and your choice of meat.

Caroline believes in giving credit where credit is due, and cites the names of old Sandfly residents of Pin Point, known for its famous son Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who have lent the area a long and delicious history.

Names like Richard and Norman who sold fish and shrimp, caught fresh from Moon River, for so many decades, or Mag’s famous deviled Crab or Caroline’s own unique Crab Salad, bursting flavor and chock full of shrimp, fragrant green onions and hand-picked blue crab meat.

Caroline’s particular about her food too, and she’ll tell you, “I don’t serve any ole thing—it’s gotta contain that special taste I’m lookin’ for. I won’t let it cross that counter until it’s got the right flavor!”

Savannah certainly has its share of down-home cookin’ joints, but she’ll stress that each dish has love cooked right into it, and that care really shows in the results.

“Not to mention,” she declares, with a twinkle in her eye, ”it’s gotta have that lil’ kick to it that brings you back for more!”

Her patrons are glad to confide that her way with herbs and spices is a major reason they keep her busy. One shy lady related, “I just love her food! I eat here every day now because everything is seasoned just right and tastes so good. Especially the chitlin’s!”

I have to add here, that during the hour I was there eating and observing, no less than five people walked in eagerly requesting that quaint Southern dish.

The flavors here are richly amplified by bacon fat, rendered fresh each morning, her secret array of spices (don’t ask, Caroline will just smile and look mysterious), and the portions are generous.

One gentlemen took his box of hot wings and veggies home for a late lunch with the statement, “After this meal, I’m done for the day.

This is not a place for those of bird-like appetite or vegetarian inclinations; you want a hot, hearty and well-seasoned meal, full of intense flavor with plenty of Southern style, you’ll get it here. Chef salad is probably the lightest item on the menu.

The recipes all have a personal twist that sits well on the tongue. Many meat-and-3 places offer up white rice, but this is the only one I’ve seen that gives you four different flavors: plain, shrimp rice, rice with blue crab, or Caroline’s own red rice (developed from her momma’s recipe), made with plenty of meat and her secret seasonings.

Sandfly is on friendly terms with Moon River, Skidaway Island and the plentiful marshlands, so the fact that A Taste of Heaven carries excellent seafood combos and fresh fish each day should come as no surprise. Those who like their meals simple can choose from a fresh-made hamburger, sausage dog, chicken sandwich or hotdog, with fries—or, veggie lovers can make a meal out of selections like cabbage, string beans, summer squash, broccoli, and black-eyed peas, among others.

I was interested to note the sign painted on the front window indicating a specialty was Red Velvet Cake; upon inquiring I found A Taste of Heaven is yet another restaurant that gets their cakes from “Red Velvet Palace,” aka James Jackson.

This older gentleman seems to be well-known in certain circles for having the best Velvets around. Caroline also creates her own banana pudding—the sample I tried had me wondering what that illusive flavor was that enticed so many—but she’ll never tell!

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