The $10 Challenge: Franco’s Restaurant and Catering

A two-piece chicken meal with macaroni and cheese and collard greens.

Folks have a lot of different definitions for what dishes can be correctly labeled as “soul food.”

For some, it’s about the race of the cook (I know plenty of people who think only blacks can cook soul food). For others, it’s the region of the dish’s origin — if it ain’t from the South, it ain’t got no soul.

For me, it’s all about the taste.

You’ll know soul food as soon as it hits your tongue.

Soul food is the taste that makes you exclaim, “Somebody’s put their foot in this!” Soul food the traces of meat fat that flavor every vegetable on your plate. Soul food is the grease on your lips and the smile on your face.

Franco’s Restaurant and Catering indeed fits the bill for genuine soul food. This descendent of the now-closed Jay’s Cafeteria in the West End provides food that comforts and fills empty bellies.

You won’t find Franco’s in one of Louisville’s popular restaurant rows. Instead, you will need to venture to my neck of the woods — “Lively” Shively, specifically, Dixie Highway.

Franco’s is the place you go to if you’re Southern, homesick or just needing food that will stick to your bones without emptying your wallet. The dinner menu reads like a Sunday post-church spread at grandma’s house: chicken and dressing ($7.14), beef shoulder roast with potatoes ($8.24), and meatloaf ($8.24), just to name a few. Then there are the types of dishes that only true Southern-food connoisseurs like my dad can enjoy, such as pig feet ($7.22) and baked ribs and kraut ($8.70).

It’s hard to pick just one main dish and two sides when it’s time to order at Franco’s. All the food, from salisbury steak to macaroni to peach cobbler, is kept in warming dishes cafeteria-style behind a clear partition. About three employees are stationed at the counter to scoop food into to-go boxes or onto plates. When all that goodness is in front of you, it’s hard to narrow things down.

Eventually, I settle on a two-piece fried chicken meal with macaroni and cheese and collard greens as my two sides ($7.14). The meal also came with your choice of a roll or cornbread (I choose a roll).

I took the meal to-go, which was a bit of a shame because the chicken was cold by the time I made it to my mom’s house. I hope it was just the travel time, and not that the meat had been sitting out. But whatever the case, the fried chicken was simple, yet tasty. No frills or fuss. And the skin was audibly crunchy, a great trait in fried chicken.

The sides were fantastic. The mac and cheese had that yellow-orange tint that I’ve seen on many a Sunday at my family’s kitchen table — there’s some cheese product in that dish, and I like it. The macaroni was creamy and cheesy and fantastic. As soon as I took a bite of the greens, I realized I should have bought a side of deviled eggs ($1.39), my favorite accompaniment to this vegetable. A splash of Frank’s Hot Sauce took the greens over the top.

Franco’s is a bright spot in Shively and for the rest of the city, as well. The restaurant is great for the budget and even better for the need for some comforting soul food.

Franco’s Restaurant and Catering

3300 Dixie Highway, Louisville, KY

  • Two-piece chicken dinner with two sides: $7.14
  • Total with tip: $7.57
Mission: Accomplished

A year of being cheap: Readers’ picks for top five $10 Challenges of 2010

(Blogger’s note: This is the first in a few posts that will reflect on 2010 or look ahead at the coming year. Because who doesn’t love a few good year-end countdowns and listicles?)
Readers loved Hillbilly Tea.

The bundle of take-out menus on my freezer door reveal a year full of food – good, bad and mediocre.

The $10 Challenges have given me a great chance to rediscover my hometown. I’ve learned a lot about the city and how to eat well on a tight budget.

Judging from my blog stats, you guys seem to really enjoy it, too.

$10 Challenges are the most popular posts on this blog. And some of you have made some great suggestions of places I should visit. Please keep the tips coming.

Here are the top five most-viewed $10 Challenges of 2010:

  1. Hillbilly Tea: This restaurant provides a gourmet take on Southern food. At first glance, the smaller portions and neat presentation can be intimidating to a casual diner. But the taste is down-home. Pair a meal with a Mason jar full of tea, and you are all set for a tasty restaurant experience.
  2. Burger Boy: Everyone needs their favorite greasy spoon to call home. This restaurant is mine. Burger Boy is open 24 hours, and serves breakfast all day. On nice days, it’s great to grab a table outside and chat with the regulars over coffee.
  3. Los Aztecas Mexican Restaurant: The dish I had during this particular Challenge wasn’t my favorite, but I’ve been going to Los Aztecas for years and will continue to do so for their wide selection of Mexican staples. If you’re willing to spend a couple of extra bucks, go for the quesadilla fajitas with a margarita. Thank me later.
  4. Annie’s Pizza: This is one of my favorite overlooked restaurants in Louisville. With only three locations, it’s hard to get if you don’t live in Shively or Portland, but it’s worth a trip across town for their hot, over-stuffed sandwiches.
  5. Moby Dick: This fish joint with locations sprinkled throughout the metro area is an old favorite from when I was a kid. Moby Dick is a reliable standby to keep on your favorite restaurant list. The food is always hot and tasty. And have fun ripping open that greasy brown bag.