ShareThis Page

Ms. Jean's Southern Cuisine brings the South up north

| Thursday, March 29, 2012

Long before restaurateur Jean Gould opened her business on Penn Avenue, church ladies and beauty salon patrons were her No. 1 audience.

They were the first to sample her palate of distinctive fried chicken and fish with peach cobbler.

Now, Gould, 52, shares a little bit of her Southern upbringing with Wilkinsburg each day.

Ms. Jean's Southern Cuisine restaurant probably is the one place in the borough where people get dressed up to go to have a down-home dining experience.

Here, blue-collar regulars and after-church bigwigs alike scarf down generous helpings of Southern fried chicken ($7.95), pork chops ($10.50) and Cajun fried catfish ($8.75) with tasty sides of collard greens, fried okra and candied yams.

Homemade peach cobbler and Gould's "Million-dollar pie," made with crushed pecans and pineapple, also are popular tummy-filling dessert chasers.

"Southern food is cooked with love," she says. "I come from a family of people who can cook. I try to bring that passion to every meal I serve."

The restaurant is labor of love for Gould, who grew up in Jacksonville, Fla., and spent 20-some years working with the handicapped -- in homes and independent living centers -- before taking a chance in the restaurant game.

She runs the day-to-day operations and its half-dozen cooks, wait staff and other employees.

Since 2008, Ms. Jean's has been run out of what was once the old Standard Bank on Penn Avenue, the main drag through Wilkinsburg. It was in a smaller storefront around the corner on Wood Street for eight years before that.

Ms. Jean's is open for lunch and dinner Tuesdays through Saturdays. The restaurant serves breakfast Saturdays.

There's an all-you-can eat buffet Sunday that starts at 2 p.m. for the after-church crowd. For $12, you get Cajun-fried fish, baked and fried chicken, greens, pepper steak with rice, yams, sweet potatoes and barbecued ribs. Each Sunday, buffet begins with a prayer in the dining room, most times delivered by Gould.

"That's how I was brought up. We always sat at the table and said a blessing." "I think it adds a lot."

Gould started out learning the finer points of cooking as a child by peering over the shoulders of her mother and aunt -- Ella and Emma Blue.

Southern soul food always was on the menu in the family, especially ribs and chicken dishes. She experimented in the kitchen as she got older, and family and friends became her first test market.

As her skills became more refined, she took her dishes to customers at beauty salons and parishioners at local church events.

"Everyone was encouraging," she recalls. "They were like 'You should be running a restaurant.' "

Emma Blue, her aunt, was a particularly strong influence for Gould; she made a living in a kitchen, having worked for years at Potomac Bakery in Dormont. Gould moved to the Pittsburgh area in 2000, when Emma Blue became ill and went on to open Ms. Jean's the next year.

Gould considers the restaurant a "work-in-progress," and is considering bulking up the salad menu. She hopes to pen a cookbook one day.

"Freshness is the key to good Southern cooking," Gould says. "There's just a difference in the taste. People can tell when you're not using fresh things. That's how you stay alive in this business: by pleasing people."

Additional Information:

Ms. Jean's Southern Cuisine

Location: 730 Penn Ave., Wilkinsburg

Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesdays to Thurdays, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday (breakfast buffet is 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.), 2 to 7 p.m. Sundays

Details: 412-242-4084

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.