Sunday, January 25, 2015

Eating At Eva's On Main In Summerville Is Like Coming Home

There is no flashy, neon sign marking its location at the one window, one door, discreet red brick building that sits unpretentiously across from historic Hutchinson Square two doors north of the iconic James F. Dean Theatre. Upon entrance, you are greeted with much the same.

The interior is mother's dining room simple with Charleston blue walls covered half way up with white panels topped off with chair rail molding. A window bar spans the front with a view of the Square. On the walls, groupings of decorative plates fondly recall a cherished practice of yesteryear.

When you have a loyal following that spans a lifetime, simple is all you need. Longtime locals come for the down home fixings. It's beloved owner called the fare "southern cuisine."

The celebrated history of Eva's Restaurant has been well documented. An article from the Journal Scene hangs near the entrance. Established in 1944, it has been at 129 South Main Street since 1952. Like the theatre, it's been an anchor of constancy among the grouping of buildings east of the Square that otherwise have weathered many changes over the years. Sadly, Eva Hinson passed away in 2011 at the age of 96.

Not long after, ownership changed hands. Now called Eva's on Main, the new owners made a few changes to the interior and decor, but dedicated to integrating its storied past with the present, Eva's imprint and legacy remains in tact, and that is the way her longtime customers like it.

Like the theater, Eva and her restaurant have been designated a Summerville icon. Some of her patrons and closest friends dedicated a portrait to her in 2011. It presently hangs on the wall near the kitchen entrance surrounded by a grouping of her esteemed plates. It bears the inscription: "Mrs. Eva brought residents of Summerville together to share good food and happenings in their lives for over half a century."

One of those friends and former mayor of Summerville, Berlin G. Meyers, knew Eva since grammar school. Meyers, a constant regular since the early days, can be seen every morning around 7:00 am sitting at the same table, in the same chair, savoring his prepared-on-schedule white grits, one egg scrambled, bacon, white toast, and coffee.

Other longtime customers, Michael Murray and his mother, Margaret, consider Eva's to be their extended family. "I love coming to Eva's," 88 year old Margaret said with a smile. "The nicest part is you get to see friends." Margaret plays the organ at a local church. She will tell you stories about her first piano and her years living in Turkey, but longs for Vienna, Austria. Michael, also a seasoned world travel, says he looks forward to eating at Eva's when he returns home. "You get a good tasting, well rounded meal." He also believes people who eat at Eva's live a long time. How's that for a plug.

Keri Whitaker-Journal Scene
Eva's family is growing. Reggie became a loyal customer six months ago. He said of his regular server, "Robin called me by name from day one. The hospitality I am shown makes me feel like one of the family. The staff is always introducing me to new acquaintances. Everybody knows everybody." Then he added, "The food is always served hot."

Eva's on Main is like no other restaurant when it comes to the customer-business relationship. As an expression of appreciation, on their travels, customers would collect decorative plates and give them to Eva, who then would hang the plates on the walls of the restaurant. Since the change, many of them have been stored away, but small groupings remain as a reminder. Patrons drink from coffee cups commemorating 60 years of business given to Eva by a local group.

On the day of my visit, I witnessed an extraordinary display of appreciation. After something spilled, an older gentleman and frequent customer got down on the floor and helped clean it up. I was told this same man clears his own table and takes the dishes to the kitchen to be cleaned.

The food has always been prepared Eva's way. "It must look good and taste good." Three of the kitchen staff have a combined total of ninety years of service. Truly southern ladies, Beanie, Patricia, and Sarah knew Eva personally. When I asked about Eva, they chuckled and respectfully exclaimed, "She was a pistol," and then added, "She was very caring and helped everybody. She didn't want anybody to leave hungry."

Sarah, Patricia, and Beanie
The day I visited, a Friday, the specials were Old Fashioned Meatloaf (prepared Eva's way), Fillet of Whiting, and Fried Pork Tenderloin with rice. Buttered Corn, Black-Eyed Peas, and Collard Greens were the vegetables. Deserts included Banana Pudding, Chocolate Silk Pie, and German Chocolate Cake. Everyday is different. A chalk board on one wall and on the front of the hostess desk lists each days specials.

The generous serving of Old Fashioned Meatloaf smothered in a mild tomato sauce was succulent and tasty--the sauce great for corn bread dipping. The Fried Pork Tenderloin prepared in thin strips was savory. I generally do not eat Black-Eyed Peas or Collard Greens, but enjoyed them none-the-less; the Collard Greens were of a pleasant flavor and consistency. The Banana Pudding was delicious.

The staff from hostess to cook are friendly and hospitable. Restaurant manager, Judy Spencer, orchestrates an efficient house with a personable touch making herself available to satisfy whatever need that may arise. She knows her customers by name.

The presence of Eva still can be felt at the restaurant she made famous, not in a ghostly way, but by the spirit with which she did things--simple, southern, and Summerville. Eva's on Main is easy going and the prices are easy on the pocket book. A wooden plaque hanging over the window bar says it all, "Family and friends gather here." It's like coming home.

Perfect for people watchers
For menu and times of operation go to Eva's on Facebook.

Upcoming events: Food and Wine Tasting with Eva’s Restaurant, Summerville at Accent on Wine-Tuesday, January 27th at 5pm to 7pm.

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