Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday.
Credit Cards: American Express, Master Charge, Visa.
Reservations: Not accepted.
Price Range: Buffet at lunch $4.95, at dinner $6.95; Sunday brunch buffet $6.95.
Behind a buffet of stainless-steel chafing dishes, the owner/maitre d'/server of the Greenhouse Eatery tells of one of his cooks who moonlights as a trauma jump nurse (she parachutes to emergencies from helicopters), as he crowds a plate with ham hocks, collard greens, sweet potatoes and chicken in gravy.
When that part-time nurse is in the kitchen, you will be well taken care of, at least most of the time. There are enough good dishes at this storefront restaurant to overshadow the so-so ones. In a city where soul-food restaurants are few, the Greenhouse Eatery--as restaurant, caterer and private party place--fills many needs.
The staff is friendly and follows flexible policies: You get the impression that the buffet is just a sample, and anything else that's in the kitchen can be fetched without hesitation. (One night the owner offered green bean lunch leftovers as a vegetable substitute.) By late morning the cook knows what's for lunch but not for dinner.
The changeable lunch and dinner buffet may not be all-you-can-eat, but after your plate is passed once through the line, it's all-you-can-carry and probably more than you can eat after all--and for less than you would expect to pay. Dinner comes with a decent corn muffin, a choice of soup or salad bar, two meats and three vegetables for $6.95. Or for $2 less, subtract a vegetable and the soup or salad bar (no loss for the latter two).
The restaurant discontinued serving breakfast, but you can still eat morning soul food at Sunday brunch. If it's on the buffet, dash for the corned beef hash--crusty and crisp with minced onion and finely diced potato, or the salmon cakes--lots of salmon and almost no filler. The sauteed apples were good, too, moderately firm with a generous sprinkling of cinnamon.
As for lunch or dinner, vegetables were mostly overcooked and the nutrients may have been zapped out: But who can argue with soothing soft cabbage? The collard greens kept their crunch though, and the rice was moist from soaking in gravy.
Other vegetables had unexpected twists--the sweet potatoes tasted nicely spiced at first but became strangely reminiscent of bubble gum. The macaroni and cheese was Day-Glo yellow but had a homey, cheesy taste that only a mama knows how to make.
Main courses were more dependable, the chicken with grilled onions in gravy had a peppery and still-crisp skin, and the ham hocks left a smoky resonance through a bite of that stewy cabbage. Short ribs were a meaty slab cooked long so the meat pulled easily off the bone (good if you like them that way), served with a meatloafy gravy familiar from countless lunch counters. Salisbury steak may be the only real loser; this was poor-quality meat that had been dried out to a comatose state.
If you have room for dessert, it's worth gambling on the sweet potato pie. It can vary; one day deep, rich and fibrous, another a pureed twin of the oddly spiced buffet sweet potatoes, with a crust too neatly fluted to be done by hand. On those days, pecan pie may be a better choice, for although it was a sweet rendition, it was chock full of pecans and the crust an improvement.
Despite a few unexciting and misguided dishes amid the red and black booths, the linoleum floors and the fake asparagus ferns at the Greenhouse Eatery, there's soul food that means it.