The food at the Southern Cafe is definitely better than Dillards, but the restaurant features the same unsettling flourescent lighting, and some intensely long waits for service.
The Southern Cafe
Calling them on the phone is a good start. Endless ringing, with no pickup. Then if they pick up, they put you on hold quickly and you never hear from anyone again. Then if you go in to the restaurant to order for pickup instead, you see why there was such a delay - there are patrons lined up around the counter waiting to place their orders. There's many folks waiting on them but between the demand and some kind of strange quiet inertia nothing seems to happen, very slowly.
The sound of two phone lines ringing constantly, one higher pitched, one lower, in a constant unanswered sing-song of unfulfilled orders. Over that low chorus, a quiet TV, and folks laughing, complaining, commiserating and ordering.
Dining in is a mystery experience. If you can figure out who is responsible for table service from the thick crowd of people standing near the register, you might be able to get their attention to find out where and if you can sit down. Then begins a deeply interminable wait for food. I've seen people wait up at the front, near the "please wait to be seated" sign, for twenty minutes - when they were within arms length of open tables. Maybe they didn't obey some unspoken seat-yourself code?
The cash is kept in the back, through the kitchen, so when you give up your bill and some money, don't expect to see change for at least ten minutes. This is one rare place where paying with a credit card is actually faster than paying in cash.
But if you can stand to wait, you'll be rewarded with wonderful succulent fried chicken, tender beef ox joints, and delicious spiced sides. Unfortunately, they always run out of collards greens! Each night without fail.
They don't have a liquor license, but they gave Judah and I no trouble drinking beers in there one time. Our meal, just two entree plates of food, took over one and a half hours to be served from the time we walked in the door. It's unusual to see too many folks in there who are not black, but no one seems to pay that much attention (besides me I guess).
The Southern Cafe
2000 Macarthur Boulevard, Oakland, CA 94602
The motto of the restaurant is "Try the Best, First" - I would rewrite it, "Try the Best, if you have the patience."