Sharon’s got soul

It’s a bit of New Orleans right here in Chico

LOUISIANA LOWDOWN Shala Abara offers a hungry Katheryn Schmelle a taste of New Orleans at Sharon’s Cookhouse, at Dayton Road and Pomona.

LOUISIANA LOWDOWN Shala Abara offers a hungry Katheryn Schmelle a taste of New Orleans at Sharon’s Cookhouse, at Dayton Road and Pomona.

Photo By Tom Angel

It’s got history:
Sharon’s Cookhouse is located in the site of the former Wasney’s Barbecue, a Chico fixture for many years.

Back in the late-'80s, some friends and I drove down from New York City to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. We packed our favorite strings of beads, and I took a lovely peacock-feather mask that I saved for special occasions. I had just started seeing a wild young high-school English teacher, and we were going to party!

Unfortunately, Mardi Gras was over by the time we got there—they’re always changing the dates of the damn thing—so we had a week to explore the French Quarter and some of the countryside. And of course all the fantastic restaurants. No surprise: The highlight of the trip for moi was eating out every night. Of course, I love a good New York bistro. There’s nothing like a late dinner in the Village after an off-Broadway show. But then it’s always good to expand one’s horizons.

And what a trip it was! Black-eyed peas. Cornbread. Collard greens. Boiled peanuts. Chickpeas. Grits. Ribs. Blackened catfish. Gumbo. Peach cobbler. Andouille sausages, Brunswick stew and chicken-fried lots of things.

So imagine my delight at discovering Sharon’s Cookhouse, right here in Chico. It’s not Louisiana, but it’s probably about as close as you’re going to get in this area.

I headed over one Tuesday evening for an early dinner and could smell the ribs cooking on the patio as I parked out front. Inside, the walls were covered with a hodge-podge of thrift-store paintings, old metal ads for Coca-Cola, African masks, photos of basketball teams, and eight-by-ten black-and-white glossies of James Brown, Pat Boone, Michael Jackson and Marilyn Monroe. There was also a pea-green Naugahyde couch, a gumball machine, a lone string of Christmas lights and a big-screen TV. And I was the only customer. Perfect.

I ordered a Pale Ale and pondered the menu. Briefly. The decision was easy. The “Dirty Rice"—a jambalaya-like dish with shrimp, crab and sausage—was described as the specialty and, although listed under lunch items, was served “all day.”

“I’m sorry,” the waitress said, refilling my water glass. “No Dirty Rice today.”

I ordered the ribs with sides of collard greens and jalapeño cornbread and for the next half-hour was in bayou heaven.

I went back the next day for lunch.

“I’m sorry,” the same waitress said. “No Dirty Rice today.”

I asked her when I might be able to get some.

“Oh, we serve it every day.”

“But not today? Or yesterday?”

“I mean every day Thursday through Saturday. Usually starting at 5.”

I ordered the hot-links sandwich with potato salad and cole slaw. Very good, but I was still craving the Dirty Rice.

“You should call ahead,” she said. “That way you can make sure we have a batch.”

I called the next morning, and at first thought I had the wrong number. Just a muffled recording of a woman—I think it was my waitress—singing like she meant it. The only words I could make out were “the hem of His garment"—just before the recording cut off.

I finally did get the Dirty Rice, the next night. And it was good—perfectly spicy—though, truth be told, a rather small portion, and the crab was actually “krab.” Perhaps they use the real thing when the Dungeness are in season.

But I’ll be back. I love the place. There are three fried-catfish dishes I’m dying to try.

Sharon’s Cookhouse is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and is located at 1228 Dayton Rd., at the corner of Pomona. Lunches run $5-$7, dinner $6-$18. For availability of Dirty Rice, to pre-order a rack of ribs or to get religion, phone 342-0452.

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