April 2007 Issue
Jana's Soul Food Cafe
April's Featured Restaurant
There's always buzz about a new place in town, especially if the food is good. But restaurant buzz that travels more than 100 miles is rare unless a celebrity chef is doing the cooking - or at least lending his or her name to the establishment. So when I started hearing about Jana's Soul Food Cafe, located in The Plains, a small town just outside Athens, I had to investigate.
"Soul food as in good for the soul - not collards," Jana Durham, the restaurant's owner, told us on our first visit. Athens County is lauded for its strong network of area growers and producers, and Durham builds her menu using as many locally produced, organic foods as possible. Daily choices, like Durham, are unfussy and straight shooting, scrawled on a white dry erase board that hangs above the biggest of the seven tables in the simple dining room.
The exterior lends more charm. Jana's claimed its space last September in the Eclipse Company Town, a one-road stretch lined with the 12 uniformly white, single-story houses of a former company-owned coal mining enclave. The buildings currently house a mix of businesses and residences, and the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway and the Hocking Railway run right past the historic complex.
The entrees are, at least for now, always different, so we can promise only this: Your food will be simple, honest, and really, really good. I knew this to be true when I ended the salad course by scraping what was left of Jana's remoulade dressing off my plate. From there, like a house of cards, all table-appropriate verbs came crashing down. Passing, sampling and savoring were replaced by words like slurping, spearing and tilting - whatever it took to get every last bite. How could a dish as simple as shrimp sauteed in garlic butter taste so good? I glanced into the kitchen, looking for answers, or at least evidence of hidden effort. Durham stood there unfazed, separated from the dining room by only the lower half of an old door. For her, it was just another night.
Jana's Soul Food Cafe, 11315 Jackson Dr., The Plains, 740/797-3060. Entrees $10â€“$15. Cash or check only. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Hours vary, call ahead. Jana's does not have a liquor license; you can BYOB - there is no corkage fee.