I swung by Doc. Witherspoon’s Soul Food Shack, unable to resist an opening-week visit.
This comes months after owner Stephan Witherspoon’s brother, Solomon, opened Spoon's Bar & Grill in Lincoln Park.
During week one, the new restaurant accepted only donations. “He just wanted everyone to try the food,” the cashier said.
Asked if people were taking advantage, she said folks were giving at least $10, which was a relief to hear.
The restaurant at 319 W. First St. was offering lunch hours, and I opted for the catfish meal over fried chicken or hot links. It came with two good-sized fillets, lightly breaded with a kick and smelling divine. Also included: a compact, donut-shaped piece of cornbread with a dollop of blueberry butter in the middle. (Choose between that or strawberry!)
One side dish is included in the lunch special, and they’ve got a mix of collard greens, dirty rice and BBQ beans. I went with the cornbread dressing — a staple in my mom’s soul food kitchen.
The dressing was on point, savory and sweet with shards of meat, celery and peppers. Dare I say, it’s better than mom’s (but don’t tell).
Portions are plentiful, and after indulging, I still had leftovers.
Along with soul food staples, the menu features chicken and dumpling soup, a wild rice burger, crème brulee and a kids’ menu.
I sat near the window with a wide view of First Street, the Y and the tempered hustle of downtown Duluth.
I was soon joined in the dining area by six others filtering in for a late lunch. They took in the art, as I did. Black-and-white photos of the Doc himself, the former Chicken Shack and its menu. (Which, back in the day, included a slice of homemade apple pie for 70 cents and a three-piece chicken meal for $1.54.)
The walls are flush with color, locally painted murals of Doc, Sharon Witherspoon and Stephan’s late sister. More than offering food, this space acknowledges and honors this family legacy.
Doc. Witherspoon’s has that vibe that urges you to stay awhile and soak up the atmosphere, and it uncovered a homesickness in me that it quickly satiated.
I’ll be back for the sweet potato pie and everything else.
Doc. Witherspoon’s Soul Food Shack
319 W. First St.