Irma Dee’s Soul Food carries on a Parkland tradition. | Photo by Kevin Gibson

Sometimes, what you see really is what you get. At Irma Dee’s Soul Food, which opened early this year in the Parkland neighborhood, what you get is hearty, homestyle food and friendly service, with no frills.

A family-owned continuation of a series of restaurants operated for decades by Irma Turner beginning in the early 1960s, Irma Dee’s specializes in the food that, if your family is from Kentucky, you probably grew up eating: fried chicken, fried catfish, mashed potatoes, green beans, pork chops — you get the idea. It’s Southern soul food, through and through.

It isn’t easy to decide what to order at Irma Dee’s. | Photo by Kevin Gibson

Located on South 28th Street, just off West Oak, Irma Dee’s is set in a nicely styled modern space, with ample seating, tile floors and a simple, cafeteria-style serving line in which you grab a tray and tell the friendly folks behind the sneeze guard what you’d like.

(There’s also table service, if you prefer, but be forewarned that the printed menus aren’t always entirely accurate.)

On a recent visit with friends, the menu of the day included Salisbury steak, smothered pork chops, fried whiting and catfish, chicken wings, ham, ribs, plus a range of sides from potato salad to greens. Chicken strips and burgers and fries are always on the menu.

Lunch was on the docket for my crew, and as we made our way through the line, trying our best to choose an entrée plus two sides and a choice of bread, my friend Kelsi ordered sweet tea. My girlfriend Cynthia asked if unsweetened tea was available, and one of the workers chuckled and said, “This is a soul food restaurant.” Cynthia stuck with water.

Baked chicken, stuffing, mashed potatoes and greens. | Photo by Kevin Gibson

I ordered baked chicken with stuffing, mashed potatoes and greens, with fried cornbread. Around the table, we had everything from catfish to ribs, not to mention baked mac and cheese and green beans.

Kelsi’s plate of ribs was particularly impressive, with four huge ribs piled high and surrounded by a moat of dark red sauce. (Luckily, sides are served in separate vessels — otherwise, Kelsi’s lunch would have been barbecued everything.)

Nick and Cynthia made a nice choice with the crispy catfish filet, which harkened to family fish fries (even though I would have liked a tad more pepper in the cornmeal batter). Meanwhile, my entrée of gravy-soaked baked chicken came with the stuffing at no extra charge, which almost felt like a cheat, considering all the food before me.

The thigh-and-leg quarter was tender, unlike some of the dry baked chicken meals I remember having as a kid. The crew at Irma Dee’s certainly does chicken right.

The sides were all spot-on, too, from the creamy, homestyle macaroni and cheese to the fresh-tasting potatoes that had plenty of lumps, just the way I like them. The greens were less spicy than I normally experience, but a few shakes of black pepper took care of that nicely.

I also managed to secure a bite or two of Kelsi’s barbecued ribs, which were nearly as tender as my chicken, and the tomato-y sauce was spot-on, with minimal sweetness, a hint of spice and just the right amount of tang, all while not overpowering the flavor of the meat. And the green beans? Well, they were tender and spicy and made me wish I’d had room for one more side.

It was a fine meal in a fine environment, and the staff couldn’t have been nicer. Meals come with an entrée, two sides and bread, and range from $7.99 to $11.99 apiece. Desserts also rotate, and Cynthia inhaled her “Sock it to Me” cake, which resembled the cinnamon bunt cakes my mom used to make when I was a child. Nick and Kelsi, meanwhile, raved about the homemade banana pudding.

Ribs with green beans, macaroni and, of course, sweet tea. It’s a soul food restaurant, after all. | Photo by Kevin Gibson

Of course, this is soul food, meaning your belly will get plenty full. Within an hour, I was starting to feel sleepy, as was Cynthia. At one point during our post-meal conversation, Kelsi leaned over against Nick’s shoulder and said, “I feel like I got hit by the Soul Train.” That about sums it up.

Menu items rotate randomly, although there is a day-by-day menu the restaurant loosely follows.

Other highlights include liver and onions, meatloaf, ham hocks, sauerkraut and pork shoulder, roast and gravy, turkey and dressing, and chili. If you’re feeling adventurous, or merely nostalgic, on certain days chitterlings, pig’s feet, and Kentucky oysters (aka mountain oysters) hit the menu.

Irma Dee’s Soul Food, located at 1213 S. 28th St., is open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday.

Kevin Gibson
Kevin Gibson tackles the 3Rs — retail, restaurants, real estate — plus, economic development. He loves bacon, loathes cucumbers and once interviewed Yoko Ono. Check out his books, “Louisville Beer: Derby City History on Draft” and “100 Things to do in Louisville Before You Die.” He has won numerous awards for his work but doesn’t know where most of them are now. In his spare time, he plays in a band called the Uncommon Houseflies.Email Kevin at [email protected]