One hallmark of a good friendship is the ability to share secrets with one another. And as Catarah Hampshire and Shoneji Robison have proven, it's even better when those secrets include closely guarded family recipes. They've taken these recipes and extrapolated them into a collection of cakes and cupcakes inspired by the flavors they grew up with. Eschewing trendy ingredients such as truffle oil, coffee nibs, or shredded pashminas, they aim to evoke down-home Southern cooking in every dessert. Just the names of the resulting treats?such as chicken & waffle, sweet potato, and peach cobbler?have customers reaching for a glass of sweet tea.
The baking duo have earned themselves plenty of laurels with their homegrown flavors. Eater LA named their seasonal Egg Nog and Sin Pie as one of its "15 Holiday Desserts to Try Right Now" in 2013. In the same year, the pair won Season 8 of Food Network's Cupcake Wars. Their sweet creations have also graced the palates of celebrities, including Stevie Wonder, Denzel Washington, and Nick Cannon. Still, their greatest delight is when a customer tells them, "This is better than my mama's."
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Nothing proves this adage quite like Mel?s Fish Shack. Because, while it fries and grills more than a dozen types of seafood, what Mel?s represents to its community is more than just a popular takeout spot?it symbolizes a lifelong legacy. Mel Powell founded Mel?s Fish Shack in 1982 on a whim. But within five years, it became wildly popular, known as the place where Miles Davis, The Jackson family, and Stevie Wonder went to chow down on Louisiana-style fried fish. Mel gave his food an unforgettable taste by crusting fresh red snapper, jumbo shrimp, and catfish in a special seasoning and cornmeal mix that he blended himself.
Today, his daughter Georgette Powell runs the business. She had been working with her father since she was nine, starting as his secretary for an ornamental-ironworking business where she learned the importance of integrity, discipline, and a strong work ethic. Even so, she never imagined she'd take over the family business, until one day, just a year from graduating college, she realized that helping her father was the right thing to do. Today, she serves both new customers and the same regulars her father did nearly 33 years ago, frying up their favorite orders with her own personal touch. The eatery is also conveniently located right off the Metro Expo Line, luring Natural History Museum visitors just a few stops away.
To bolster the selection of such soul-food classics as crispy catfish filets, oysters, and hush puppies, Georgette has expanded the menu to include healthy options of grilled-salmon salad in a ginger vinaigrette dressing and fish wraps with dill sauce. According to a recent article on the website of the county supervisor, she also hopes to eventually expand Mel?s to other locations and build up her newfound ?healthy soul food niche? through a community culinary school, driving Mel?s legacy beyond the historic fish shack.