Southern Comfort Food on the Grand Concourse
The sweet smell of fried goodness wafts out of MP Fish Fry & Soul on the Grand Concourse. The smell is so intoxicating it begs whoever wanders by to step inside and see what’s cooking.
Most days it’s fish and chips, catfish, fried shrimp and chicken wings, along with hearty sides like baked mac and cheese, collard greens and candied yams.
“My first question is: ‘Are you hungry? Or are you hungry, hungry?’” replies owner Millie Peartree when asked what she recommends. “If you’re hungry, hungry get a sampler. Get some fish, get some shrimp, get some collard greens—you should always have a vegetable—and get some mac and cheese, because who doesn’t like mac and cheese?”
MP Fish Fry & Soul is the embodiment of classic Southern comfort food. The menu isn’t huge, roughly seven main options, but between the different quantity options, the sides, breads and sauces there are dozens of combinations.
Peartree has cooked as a personal chef for celebrities such as Beyoncé and Mary J. Blige as well as basketball players and companies such as Viacom and Delta Airlines. She’s often on the road to L.A., Ohio, the Hamptons, or running Millie Peartree Catering out of a kitchen in Long Island City. But for the 35-year-old born-and-raised Bronx native, MP Fish Fry & Soul is both a return to home and a new beginning.
“Before I opened up the restaurant I was a private chef and from there I transitioned to a catering company. People always wanted to try my cuisine, but of course not everybody can afford to do a huge event. So I always thought that a great next step would be to give everybody access to the food by opening up a restaurant,” Peartree said.
Peartree, who lives nearby, was walking back from the gym one day when she saw the “for rent” sign. She reworked the kitchen—every bit of space has to be useful to have a spot in the kitchen—and officially opened MP Fish Fry & Soul in April.
The Southern cuisine is an ode to her childhood, with many of the recipes handed down from her mother, who grew up in Savannah, Georgia.
Take the candied yams. They’re made the traditional Southern way, with pancake syrup. She tries to keep everything as natural as possible, you won’t find anything frozen in the MP Fish Fry & Soul kitchen. But as much as sourcing locally is important to her, sourcing sustainably is even more so, and she won’t take products from a company that hasn’t done its due diligence when it comes to quality.
As we talk, people wander by and Peartree and employees Denzel Stone and Elese Highsmith, whom she’s worked with for years, are quick to call out a friendly hello and admonish someone for being out in the sun. Their friendly greetings do as much to welcome people inside as the smell of the food.
With no seating the place is a throwback to the tradition of grab-and-go—another piece of nostalgia for Peartree, who recalls her family picking up similar meals on Sundays—but as with the rise of fast-casual restaurants, it seems ideal for current busy lives.
“There’s no pressure, you don’t have to have your hair done. It’s a small spot you can take it home or eat in the car,” Peartree said.
Which isn’t to say Peartree doesn’t have grander dreams. Someday she’d like to own a whole slew of these places in cities across the nation, but she knows the importance of taking it one step at a time.
“I’m building my brand. This here is what happens when you work hard, save—none of this is financed,” Peartree said. “And I’m learning as I go. I’m a work in a progress.”
As hard as she works she also takes pride in being able to create jobs in the community: Everyone who works at MP Fish Fry & Soul is local, and contributes to the continued growth of her neighborhood.
“I always feel like it’s bigger than me. If you can give someone opportunity, give them a job, that fulfills me more than anything,” Peartree said.
In the coming months Peartree hopes to create opportunities at MP Fish Fry & Soul, and introduce an expanded menu. She and Stone, who does much of the cooking, are playing with adding fried chicken and waffles, po’ boy sandwiches and hush puppies with crab to the menu.
Those smells are sure to attract even more people into the small storefront.