The ceilings are high at Sweet Times by Sweetie Pie's. In fact, walking in, the space on Richmond Avenue feels downright palatial, especially compared to my favorite hole-in-the-wall soul food joints. The walls are plastered with vinyl slip jackets and CD jewel boxes of artists ranging from superstars like Prince and Jay-Z to, well, A Different World star Jasmine Guy, who was apparently allowed to release a record at some point.
But that's not the only show-biz cred the restaurant, which opened in February, can tout. Currently, the crew from the Oprah Winfrey Network TV show Welcome to Sweetie Pie's is filming the coming and goings of owner James “Tim” Norman at his newest soul food location.
Sweet Times is descended from the original Sweetie Pie's restaurant that Norman opened in St. Louis with his mother and former Ikette, Robbie Montgomery. The family's other two remaining restaurants are in California. Production manager Chris Ogden told me that this was the second session of filming the show in Houston (they go wherever Norman does) and that the episodes in progress right now will likely air this fall, in October or November.
So have your pen ready to sign a release if you dine there in the next few days. But that's not the most important part of the story. The most significant thing to know is that I had one of my best soul food meals ever at Sweet Times. I wasn't expecting to. Food made famous by TV isn't necessary the most credible thing you can find on a plate.
But besides unusually friendly, fun staff, I was bowled over by the fried chicken I ordered. The photo does it justice: crisp, garlicky breading and all. I ended up not needing the hot sauce pictured to add flavor or moisture. The collards? Tangy and remarkably meaty and rich without chunks of meat therein. But the kitchen's greatest accomplishment was the pan of mac 'n' cheese. Sharp and creamy at once, with al dente noodles covered in a crisp layer of cheese, it was among the best versions of the dish I've had anywhere, let alone Houston. And that's worthy of a close-up.