'Cooking from the heart'

Southern Comfort serves up takeout full of soul

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PITTSFIELD — For Trina Alford, soul food means "cooking from the heart."

"When somebody asks me, 'Oh, my God, what did you do to the collard greens? They taste so good,' I say, 'I blew two kisses over it,'" the owner of Southern Comfort Soul Food said Thursday.

Alford was sitting behind the counter of the takeout establishment on Columbus Avenue in Pittsfield. Up front, customers could feast their eyes on some collard greens, along with the rest of the menu items — barbecue ribs, fried chicken, beef stew, candied yams, macaroni and cheese, cabbage — presented in the display that day. Jackie White took their orders at the register. Meanwhile, Pete Hawkins moved between the ovens, grill and fryer in back. Though Alford cooks on Saturdays, her two employees are usually running the joint the rest of the time.

"If I didn't have them, I wouldn't have the restaurant," Alford said.

The Pittsfield resident started the business almost two years ago after uprooting from New York City. She had a restaurant there, too. But that isn't where she draws inspiration for Southern Comfort.

"I cook like this at home. I cook like this when we're having birthday parties. When we're having cookouts, I cook like this," Alford said.

Alford lives in Pittsfield, where White, Hawkins and many of the business' regulars also reside. But customers hail come from as far as Springfield and Vermont for Southern Comfort's specialties. The bestseller is oxtail, which, like jerk chicken and meatloaf, isn't served every day. Fridays are usually a good bet for a fix of the rare offering.

"There's not a lot of places that have them. We have to order them," Alford said.

Fried chicken, barbecue chicken, fried fish, macaroni and cheese and various Alfredos are staples on the menu. Rasta pasta is, too.

"It's a little spicy. Some people like it real spicy; some people like it a little spicy. It's made with heavy cream and Parmesan cheese," Alford said.

For the full experience, customers can add meat to it. But don't you dare call it meatloaf, which is Hawkins' top dish.

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"They'd call me at home," Hawkins said of his meatloaf's supporters.

And what's White's specialty?

"Jackie's is everything," Hawkins said before she could answer.

White was humble, noting that Alford had to show her a recipe or two. The three of them used to serve breakfast, but that changed recently. Once open Tuesday through Saturday, Southern Comfort is now serving from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, as well as 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays. Tuesdays and Wednesdays were slow, they said of the schedule change, while Sundays presented an opportunity to capitalize on other restaurants being closed.

Some customers get their Southern Comfort delivered to them through Grubhub. Others will stop into the brick-and-mortar building to order or pick up their food in-person. And if they can't wait to bring it home, they are welcome to dig in at the lone table occupying the waiting area. Nobody will stop them.

"We're real simple here," Alford said.

Potato salad, green beans, corn — there's nothing fancy about what's being served up at Southern Comfort. (Menu items are between $6 and $15). Instead, familiarity is the attraction; visitors can usually find something they like.

"You name it, we do it," Alford said.

It's the type of food that not only settles growling stomachs, but also cuts to the core of Alford's being.

"When you're cooking like you mean it, it's always going to be good," Alford said. "And that's exactly how we cook."

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at bcassidy@berkshireeagle.com, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.


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