The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Lifestyles

January 8, 2014

Love on a plate: Soul food cafe offers rotating menu of comfort

JOPLIN, Mo. — If that favorite dish from your childhood isn't available at ME's Place, go ahead and ask about it. The restaurant might just add it to the menu.

"We served neck bones the other day, and they were just gone. We sold out of that pot," said Melodee Colbert-Kean, co-owner of the restaurant, who also serves as mayor of Joplin. "We had them growing up and stuff, and I just never thought to put it on the menu."

The cafe, located at 1203 Broadway St., has been open since last October and offers a rotating menu of daily specials. It serves chicken and dumplings on Tuesday, ham and beans on Wednesday, meatloaf on Thursday, smothered pork chops on Friday and fried catfish on Saturday. Fried chicken is on the menu for every service. Starting Jan. 13, ME's (pronounced just like the word "me") will be open on Mondays, too, and will offer the skillet burger special, which is like a hamburger with a few extra soul-food touches. Side options vary depending on the day, but they often include macaroni and cheese, fried potatoes, green beans, collard greens and fried okra, which was another customer suggestion that made it on the menu.

Colbert-Kean said she and co-owner Tabitha Smith wanted the restaurant to fill a niche by offering soul food, which they define as "love in food form."

"Wouldn't it be cool if everyone could have this good food that we grew up on?" Colbert-Kean said. "If you think about it and you eat it and it instantly transports you back to growing up, that's what we want."

While they hope to expand as the business grows, they plan on keeping the family-style menu with specific offerings as opposed to a full-selection menu every day.

"We want it to be a community restaurant, like you're sitting at your home kitchen table -- that's what's important to us," Colbert-Kean said. "Just chatting with people, that gives me the most joy."

The restaurant is owned and staffed by a group of long-time friends (manager Norma Jean Jackson used to baby-sit Colbert-Kean). Colbert-Kean said running the restaurant is kind of like being in her home kitchen and that the restaurant is its own family unit.

"Run the city, run the restaurant, run a household, just running around!" Colbert-Kean said. "It's kind of relaxing for me, which is weird. People say to me, ÔRunning a restaurant is relaxing?' You do what you love. You just pray and keep going."

Colbert-Kean said they wanted to open the restaurant, located at 1203 Broadway St., on the east side of Joplin -- it's where she grew up -- in the hope that it could be a catalyst in reviving the declining neighborhood.

"I think that whole area could see improvement once people take a little more interest in that corridor," Colbert-Kean said of the area surrounding Broadway.

The owners of ME's Place also own the lot next door to the restaurant and said they hope they'll be able to use the land to expand in the future.

"We can't wait until we're celebrating our one-year anniversary," Colbert-Kean said. "We're very thankful for everyone that's visited us so far. We even have some regulars now. That's exciting."

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