Edna Stewart learned to cook from her mother, a sharecropper born in Tennessee. When Edna's father needed a chef for his new restaurant, she stepped in to bake buttery biscuits, fry chicken, and serve up the soul-food that nourished her throughout childhood. For more than four decades, she kept West Side bellies fed—including the iron-clad stomachs of civil-rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Reverend Jesse Jackson, according to a proclamation from Governor Pat Quinn that declared February 19, 2010 Edna Stewart Day.
Edna’s Restaurant briefly closed after Edna’s death in 2010, reopening the same year as Ruby’s Restaurant. The paint on the walls was new, but the recipes and much of the staff carried over from the legendary soul-food spot.
“This is Edna’s food—her biscuits, her everything,” manager Lillie Joiner, who worked with Edna for 30 years, confessed to Tasting Table. “The only way I know how to cook is the way she cooked, so it’s gotta be hers.”
The menu warns diners of a 30-minute wait for fried food, claiming that’s how much time the kitchen needs “to serve you the finest soul food possible.” After a feast of blackened catfish, fried okra, and candied yam, Chicago Tribune food reporter Kevin Pang noted, “you can’t help but believe that statement is absolutely sincere.”