Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Chat 'n Chew: Solid comfort food. Just don't call it "Southern."

Chat ‘n Chew
10 East 16th St.
(between Union Square and Fifth Ave.)
Monday-Friday, 11:00 a.m.-midnight; Saturday-Sunday, 10:00 a.m.-midnight

The Goods
If you're looking for authentic Southern food, you won't necessarily find it here. But if it's reliable American comfort food you want, you should leave feeling better than when you walked in.


  • Phenomenal mashed potatoes.
  • Tasty fried chicken.
  • Decadent Coca-Cola Cake.
  • Large portions.


  • No sweet tea – a sin for a restaurant serving Southern staples.
  • Disappointing mac-n-cheese.

My Meal

  • Teenie Weenie Mac and Cheese, $5.50: An oversized appetizer of macaroni and cheese.
  • Uncle Red's Addiction, $13.95: Pan fried chicken with mashed potatoes and Green Bean Casserole.
  • Coca-Cola Cake, $5.95: Rich chocolate layer cake with icing concocted from Coca-Cola.
From what I had heard about Chat 'n Chew, I was expecting authentic Southern fare. On the other hand, I grew up in the South, and I know that what sometimes passes as Southern food in New York is not.

That said, I was nonetheless optimistic, although I was ambivalent about the country kitsch decor. While the old road signs and tin cans stacked artfully on shelves above the white-washed wainscot were charming, such overt signs of down-home authenticity could, I thought, be a mask for food that isn't authentically down-home.

In the end, it was and it wasn't. The macaroni and cheese was overly peppery, and not truly baked like the mac-and-cheese you get down South. The fried chicken wasn't "Southem" fried, but it was delicious, tinged with honey and expertly pan fried so it was moist on the inside but chewy on the outside. The mashed potatoes – with the skins on – were like velvet, light and creamy but still textured. The traditional Green Bean Casserole was complete with lightly fried strips of onions on top.

I had most looked forward to the Coca-Cola cake, having never found that dessert north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Chat 'n Chew's wasn't like the one my mama used to make, but it was too good to fault tt for that: rich without being too dense, lathered with creamy, sweet icing, and drizzled with a sticky chocolate sauce.

So though Chat 'n Chew didn't quite deliver the Southern food experience I was hoping for, it delivered solid comfort food, and that was enough.

BONUS TRACK: My Mama's Coca-Cola Cake Recipe

My trip to the Chat 'n Chew restaurant, which serves down-home cooking and is known for its Coca-Cola Cake, made me long for the Coca-Cola cake my mother used to make back in Arkansas. It was our standard family dessert for holidays, birthdays, picnics and other large gatherings.

When she was featured in the "Cooks Corner" section of the local weekly, the Benton Courier, the owner of the local market reported to her later, "We just about ran out of Cokes and cocoa after that recipe ran."

Thanks, Sammie, for letting me share your recipe here.


  • 2 cups unsifted flour
  • 2 cups refined sugar
  • 3 sticks butter
  • 1 cup + 6 tablespoons Coca-Cola
  • 6 tablespoons cocoa
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1-1/2 cups miniature marshmallows
  • 1 box powdered sugar
  • 1 cup chopped nuts, toasted (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

While the oven is preheating, lightly toast 1 cup of chopped nuts for the frosting: Spread nuts out on a cookie sheet, and shake pan frequently; leave in about five minutes and be careful not to scorch..

Grease and flour a 9x13 sheet-cake pan.

Combine flour and refined sugar in a large mixing bowl.

Heat 2 sticks of butter, 1 cup of Coca-Cola and 3 tablespoons of cocoa over low-medium heat just until it starts to bubble. Remove from heat, and pour over theflour/sugar mixture. Mix well.

Add the eggs, buttermilk, baking soda and vanilla. Beat well.

Add marshmallows, and stir well. This will be a thin batter, and the marshmallows will float to the top.

Pour into a greased-and-floured 9x13 sheet-cake pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Empty 1 box of powdered sugar into a medium-sized mixing bowl.

Heat 1 stick of butter, 3 tablespoons of cocoa and 6 tablespoons of Coca-Cola over low-to-medium heat until the mixture is simmering rapidly. Remove from heat and pour over the powdered sugar. Beat well.

Add toasted, chopped nuts. Stir well.

Spread the frosting on the cake while the cake is still warm.

About 24.


Anonymous said...

I live in Arkansas and have never heard of this cake! But with 3 sticks of butter involved, how could I not run to the kitchen and make one! I'll just have to leave out the nuts. Pecans aren't in season yet anyway.

Just curious as to what kind of nuts did your mom use? Peanuts or pecans?

Thank you for helping me appreciate all the Southern food I'm surrounded by. Tea with no sugar? And they dare to say they have Southern Cuisine?!? Preposterous!

MsManhattan said...

Hey, Thanks for writing! My mom used pecans, always... But, peanuts sound good, too! Isn't an old Southern custom to drop a peanut or two in your coke bottle? Or was that beer???

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you posted an answer! I've been checking to see about the nuts. Yes, it is a 'custom/quirk' to put peanuts into a bottle of coke. So I'm going to try it with peanuts tonight! Yum

Thanks - Regina

MsManhattan said...

Hey, Regina! Let me know how your cake turned out. Hope you liked it.

Anonymous said...

It was really delicious. It reminded me of fudge and a no bake cookie. I had to borrow some cocoa from my neighbor (that's what happens when you don't double check the pantry!) and in return I gave her a few pieces of the cake. She asked for the recipe and said it was better than coca cola cakes she had in the past. :) Your mom did good. (speak in Arkansas dialect.)
Maybe you should post another recipe so them New Yorkers will know how to make sweet tea or turnip greens. :)
I look forward to trying it with pecans too. Yum!
Full and happy, Regina

MsManhattan said...

Thanks for the update, Regina! Glad the cake turned out well and that your neighbor liked it, too. I guess this is becoming a "viral recipe." Awesome!

Anonymous said...

Yum, this cake sounds good. I cant wait to try this.