Disclaimer and moment of candor. I had the hardest time with this review – not because something was wrong. Rather, there were not enough words to truly capture the fullness of this place. I struggled with the right words to capture the essence of my foodie reflections, until I noticed the staff sporting their new shirts which read “Legendary Soul Food” on the front and proudly displaying their James Beard honor on the back. Then it hit me. Legendary. That’s it in one word. Therefore, I present to you, my recollection of the Legendary Bully’s Experience.
The Restaurant: Bully’s Soul Food is a family-owned restaurant with a small space, but larger than life reputation and name. If there’s a nationwide list of best soul food restaurants, rest assured Bully’s is in the top tier. Rightly so, this James Beard Award Winning Soul Food Restaurant is a staple in the community with a rich history of bringing people together over food.
The Atmosphere: There’s something seriously nostalgic about this place. When you enter, you are greeted by a member of the Bully family with an intentional “welcome to Bully’s”. Now, this isn’t your typical fast food type greeting where staff are mandated to yelp every time the door opens. This welcome is like the “welcome home” you might here after you’ve toured the big city and came back to visit grandma. This is the sort of welcome you get from an old friend you haven’t seen in a while and long to reconnect with over a meal.
As you enter the small, but brilliantly designed dining area (more on that later), you are greeted by another member of Bully’s team, where they may tell you “come on in, have a seat wherever you like, make yourself at home, we’ll be with you in a minute”. At that very moment, you aren’t just in a restaurant ready for a meal. You are a part of a community, an extension of the Bully family, even.
Bully’s has a few 2-4 top tables, but just a few. If you ask me, I think it is by design. If you stick around long enough during lunch, you will witness folks who don’t know each other offer the next person a seat at their larger table, where they haven’t occupied all of the seats. What happens next, is a foodie’s fellowship haven. People who may have never met before dine together, converse, discuss current events, the greatness of the food, or their commonalities. Now that’s something you just can’t buy for the cost of a meal. Organic human connection over the best food? Priceless. The experience, alone, is food for the soul.
The Menu & Food: The menu is a simple, laminated, one-sided 8.5×11 sheet of paper which lists daily specials and every day offerings with sides and desserts listed in the right hand column. Now, what’s on the menu is what matters. If you could take a teleport hop in time to visit your grandmother’s after church on a summer’s Sunday, that’s the food you see. From smothered liver and onions to neck bones, turkey necks, catfish and pork chops, these menu offerings are legendary, indeed. The sides range from fresh greens to fried green tomatoes, yams, mac and cheese, and cabbage to name a few. The desserts? Any fruit cobbler you can think of, along with plenty pies and cakes, all in one spot. All, equally fantastic. In fact, there’s nothing I’ve ever had at Bully’s that didn’t touch me to my core with goodness.
With your main entrée choice, you get two sides. On this day, I wanted three! I went with the smothered turkey necks, mac and cheese, mixed field greens, and yams with a homemade cornbread muffin and a sweet tea. Your meal is served to you on a rectangular, sectional tray reminiscent of my Jackson Public School District days. You’re given a fork and cloth napkin. No knife, no need to worry. The food is so perfectly tender you won’t need it. If you venture to use your fingers, no one judges you. I split my cornbread muffin between my greens and my yams and I cleaned my turkey necks to the bone, literally. Take a moment to reflect on this soul food goodness.
The Service: When you dine at Bully’s they treat you like family. Ms. Jackie was my server. But every member of the team equally ensured everyone was well taken care of, no matter the table. She was stellar with her “you doing alright baby? Stay as long as you like” as she passed through to the kitchen. Stay – I did. I had to fully capture the Legendary Bully’s Experience and contemplate if I had room for some cobbler, I didn’t. What an experience, though. In fact, I think I’m long overdue for it again.