Sandra’s Goes National

The eponymous host of the Cooking Channel’s Road Trip With G. Garvin found himself on Congress Avenue tasting Sandra’s go-green chicken, meatloaf, candied yams, and her turkey chopped barbecue—and decided he had to let the rest of the country know about it.

“This,” Garvin declared, “is what you call authentic Southern soul food.”

Garvin will feature a celebration of Sandra Pittman’s love of healthy yet traditional Southern cuisine, her entrepreneurial biography, and her community-focused eatery, on his Cooking Channel show this coming Wednesday evening at 9 p.m.

Last November producers of the program found Sandra’s Next Generation soul food, the eatery that anchored a stretch of Congress Avenue since 1989. They were moved by her story.

After several telephone interviews with Pittman and husband Miguel, the program’s staffers visited her kitchen and tasted her fare, and decided a day’s filming was in order.

Pittman gave the staffers and G. Garvin tastings of the turkey chopped barbecue, the meat loaf, candied yams, and cabbage. Also the go-green chicken, one of several variations on traditional soul food that preserves the taste and keeps down the salt and the calories. (Click here for a story on that.)

Sandra Pittman said she was busy when the program staffer first called. She told whoever had picked up the phone to tell the caller to wait. After all, it was lunch time; the orders were coming and had to be attended to.

But it’s the Cooking Channel calling, she was told. The customers’ lunches still came first.

When Pittman finally got on, she answered the initial questions, then had to return to the collard greens, the go-green chicken. So she passed the telephone to husband Miguel.

He handled that first 30-minute interview with the producers, trying to suss out if the couple passed muster for interviewee material. The food would come later.

When G. Garvin did arrive, he tasted all the mentioned items and proclaimed the fare the genuine article.

We Know It Already

Locals have known for years that the collard greens here are the real thing. Turkey wings now give the greens the traditional taste that the greasier fatback used to provide. It has taken a bit of a while and the Internet, on which G. Garvin’s producers cruised to discover the place, for the story to get out beyond the city..

Now it’s happening. “It’ll be our first national exposure,” Miguel Pittman said during a visit this week the restaurant.

Sandra’s opened on Congress Avenue near the (then future) John Daniels School in 1989. It moved for a while to Whitney Avenue, then returned home.

Before returning, and after raising four kids and working the grueling restaurant hours, the Pittmans decided to take three years off and travel the world. They remained involved in the Hill community, where they continue to live, a few blocks from the restaurant. They reopened on Congress in 2011.

People who know and like soul food are not shy about letting you know what’s wrong with the collard greens, said Miguel Pittman. “Our customers went to the other locations and came [back] to us and said, ‘You need to reopen.’”

The Pittmans have since offered not only the traditional recipes, here and there greened up to over a healthier variant, but also a next generation of chefs. 

The Pittman children (pictured above)—they’re the “next generation” in the restaurant name—are all involved in the business. They not only work the regular long shifts in the restaurant; they’ve staked out their own territory, foodwise. Of course they’ve also brought their parents and the family enterprise up to speed social media-wise.

One Saturday a month, the next generation Pittmans offer by reservation breakfasts with items inspired by Sandra but of their own making, like sweet potato pancakes. “We want to come in here and say, ‘Auntie, you taught us so much, look what we can do: the restaurant is packed without you!’” said Sarina Pittman.

They also promote their breakfasts and the restaurant on Facebook and Instagram. “When you see that good food running down your timeline,” she said, “you’ve got to get some.”

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posted by: jahad on May 16, 2014  2:56pm

I’m wondering if Paul stayed and tasted the chicken? I plan to ask him when I see him. Great job and congratulations Miguel and Sandra, I’ve enjoyed your food for decades- now the world will recognize!

posted by: Billy on May 16, 2014  5:47pm

Congratulations to Sandra, Miguel, and the next generation as well.  Great to have this national recognition for one of New Haven’s best restaurants. Can’t wait until the next time I’m there!

posted by: Mary Brown on May 17, 2014  9:26pm

Great job Miguel and Sandra, so happy to see such a successful family doing great things in this city!