While certain soul food dishes may be an acquired taste – chitterlin’s, for example – many of the things served at Mr. Perkins’ are comfort food for anyone. Baked chicken with dressing is tender and although vividly-spiced, is the gentlest-seeming meal imaginable; meat loaf is firm and satisfying; pork neckbones on Wednesday may be some trouble to eat (they’re little), but the meat virtually falls from the bone as you savor it. At breakfast, the biscuits served with bacon and eggs are warm and buttery.
We especially love lunch at Mr. Perkins’ because of the blackboard behind the counter that lists at least a dozen mouth-watering available side dishes. Macaroni and cheese has a perfect balance of tender noodle and crusty edges; fried okra is vegetable-sweet; fried green tomatoes are tangy and brittle-crisp; there are pot-likker-sopped turnip greens OR turnip bottoms, made into an intriguing squash-like mash with butter and sugar. One week in late September, the kitchen was offering homemade pear preserves, the pieces of fruit sweet as candy and flavored with cloves. When you order lunch, you’ll be asked if you want cornbread. Say yes! This is Tennessee-style cornbread, i.e. a pair of griddle-cooked corn cakes. They are buttery and soft, ideal tools for mopping gravy and vegetable drippings from a plate.
A joyous place that almost always seems a little too crowded, especially up front where so many customers come to pick-up orders to go, Mr. Perkins’ is a kind of community center for people from all walks of life. It is now run by Willie Perkins’ son, Willie Jr., who told us that his father still comes in nearly every day to check up on the operation and make sure it is running smoothly, as it has now for more than thirty years.
"We love partitioned plates. This one holds a heap of fried perch on the right, fried green tomatoes in front, turnip bottoms at the left rear, and a piece of corn bread on the back. Behind the corn bread is a cup of pear preserves."
"Mr. Perkins' dining room. That's us, in the mirror, on the far right, Michael holding the camera."
"Mr. Perkins' has been a neighborhood gathering place since 1969."
"Milwaukee's sign of comfort food, soul-food style."