I heard about the restaurant from a city official who casually mentioned dining there only days after its soft opening.
My curiosity was piqued when I learned the new establishment specialized in Southern cuisine.
As a native Southerner myself, born in reared in the suburbs of DeKalb County with plentiful family members in northern Alabama, I know a thing or two about the quintessential Southern fare.
As a child, I grew up closely monitoring my mother and grandmother prepare dishes until I felt confident enough to try my own hand at the age of nine.
You see, dining at TooLooPeas instantly put me in this frame of mind — being surrounded by friends, family and loved ones, especially with a menu with items that prompted food nostalgia.
Southern staples such as meatloaf, fried chicken and Salisbury steak have residence on the menu, but for my taste buds, the standouts were modifications of my personal favorites.
For instance, I knew upon the first scan of the menu, without peering too closely at the sheet adorned with a picture of owner Vivian Smith’s mother and father, I would be ordering fried green tomatoes as an appetizer to tease me before the main course.
The fried green tomatoes were unlike any version of the dish I had before.
Juicy, thickly sliced tomatoes were coated in a crispy cornmeal batter, accompanied by a lemon buttermilk aioli, the fragrant flavor of lemon juice and zest ticking my nose and hints of Worchester sauce adding an extra zing.
When a massive platter of smothered pork chops was placed on the table in front of me, I sighed deeply in anticipation.
These pork chops were propped up on a bed of fluffy white rice, topped with a translucent mushroom and pepper gravy.
On the side, collard greens with smoked turkey bits and a dish bursting with a cheese blend intermingled with perfectly cooked al dente macaroni noodles.
My first bite was a medley of yet, again, a crispy coating and gravy with a subtle yet savory flavor.
Red peppers packed an extra, unexpected punch and blended well with the mushrooms.
Other notables from the menu were frits and grits, a plate overflowing with freshly made salmon cakes, fried grit squares and drizzled with a remoulade sauce; chicken fried chicken steak with a creamy, milk and pepper gravy and a sweet potato cake with a rum drizzle, the flavor so sweet and intense it made me think of sipping on Jamaican rum in a Montego Bay dance hall while reggae thumped from the speakers.
Just as tasting the food at TooLooPeas rendered an emotional reaction for me, one filled with memories of food and childhood, Smith could easily say the same.
All the dishes on the menu are family originals.
“I’ve always wanted to open a restaurant,” Smith said. “I’m the oldest of eight children, so I’m like Mama No. 2. I started cooking at a very young age.”
Even the restaurant name, TooLooPeas, is personal — otherwise known in her family as her father’s affectionate way of communicating “pretty little girl.”
Smith meticulously worked with her chef, Brenda Rivera, to customize the homegrown recipes into restaurant quality.
And thus far, as the restaurant approaches its two-week anniversary, they have succeeded.
“We don’t compromise on our food,” said Smith, with a wide smile.
TooLooPeas is at 282 East Atlanta Road in the Publix shopping center.
Information: (678) 289-0912.