Sherry Rodgers was a small girl when she started cooking with her mom.
“She never told me to move out of the way or get out of the kitchen,” said Sherry, 56, of Washington Park. “I was right there with her.”
Fifty years later, they’re still together at Sherry J’s Homestyle Cooking, a soul food restaurant that Sherry owns in Washington Park, along Interstate 64.
Irene Watson, 75, of Fairview Heights, makes daily specials, ranging from chicken and dumplings to ham hocks and pinto beans, beef and noodles to neck bones and potatoes.
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“Love is the secret,” she said. “You can know how to cook, but if you don’t love it, the food is no good.”
Regular lunch and dinner items include pork chops and pork steaks, Salisbury steak, livers, rice and gravy, meatloaf, baked and fried chicken and Polish sausage.
Love is the secret. You can know how to cook, but if you don’t love it, the food is no good.
Irene Watson on cooking philosophy
Plates priced at $7.95 to $11.99 come with cornbread and two sides, such as dressing, greens, cabbage, spaghetti, sweet potatoes, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes and gravy and fried okra.
“Everything is homemade,” Sherry said. “The only things out of a can are corn and green beans.”
Customers also can get burgers, sandwiches and sliders. Irene is charge of desserts, whipping up peach cobblers, sweet potato pies and pound cakes.
“It’s some of the best food around here,” said regular customer Jonathan Tanner, 33, of East St. Louis, a service technician.
Sherry J’s serves breakfast, lunch and dinner from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
Another regular is Latasha Johnson and her 3-year-old daughter, Damani. On a recent morning, they shared a breakfast platter with sausage, bacon, two eggs and pancakes.
“I’ve been eating with this family for years,” said Latasha, 38, of Centreville, a nurses aide. “(Sherry’s) mother used to run diners around the area. Police, city workers ... The whole neighborhood comes here to eat.”
Everything is homemade. The only things out of a can are corn and green beans.
Sherry Rodgers on menu items
Irene ran Granny’s Grill in three locations before Sherry opened a mostly carryout business four years ago in a trailer. It had a tiny kitchen and one table.
Sherry moved into her current space at 4815 Bunkum Road in January.
The concrete-block and brick building used to house a tavern with metal window grates. Now it’s a well-kept restaurant with counter service and seating for 35 people.
“I know this family, and the food is good,” said Dwan Prude, 37, of Florissant, Mo., a businessman and head girls basketball coach at Lincoln Middle School in East St. Louis.
Dwan got to know Sherry’s daughter, Natasha, when both were picked to attend the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in Aurora as teenagers.
Dwan usually gets pork steaks at Sherry J’s for lunch or dinner. On this morning, he went for a veggie omelet.
“I could have gone to Denny’s,” he said. “But to be honest, I prefer to give my business to my community.”
Sherry grew up in East St. Louis and worked at her mother’s restaurants before cooking at Ameristar Casino for 10 years. She has three grown children and two grandchildren.
The Sherry J’s staff includes two of her sisters, Chris Watson and Loretta Watson, cousin Deborah Whittaker, who is like a sister, and Chanda Rodgers, Sherry’s daughter-in-law.
They joke about the challenges of getting along some days.
“(Sherry) fires me every other day,” said Loretta, “and on the days she doesn’t fire me, I quit.”
Employees try to have non-breakfast items ready by 7:30 a.m. to accommodate customers who want to grab a carryout before work, even though lunch doesn’t officially start until 10:30.
“My boss is hard-working and consistent, and she’s a go-getter,” said employee Panzy Logan, 54, of Edgemont.
“But her mom is really picky about how the food is prepared, how it’s served, how fast it gets to the customer and how the customer is treated. Both of them are like that, really. Sherry is just like her mom.”
At a glance
- What: Sherry J.’s Homestyle Cooking
- Where: 4815 Bunkum Road in Washington Park
- Hours: 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily
- Seating: 35
- Handicap-accessible: Yes
- Carry-outs: Yes
- Information: Call 618-271-1117, email to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Facebook page
On the menu
- Country Comfort Platter — One meat (bacon, sausage or ham), two eggs, one side and two slices of toast or one biscuit, $7.50
- Garden Omelet — Omelet with two eggs, cheese, bell peppers, onions and tomatoes and two slices of toast, $5.75
- Chicken Plate — Country fried or baked chicken, two sides and cornbread or bread, $7.50 for two pieces or $8.50 for three
- Pork Steak Plate — Pork steak with two sides and cornbread or bread, $11.99
- Big Chris Burger — Four-ounce burger on Texas toast with lettuce, tomato, pickles, onion, ketchup, mayo and mustard, $5.75