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Faith on the plate

Local pastor brings smoky Sunday cooking to a homey spot



Two blocks off of busy Platte Avenue, behind the garages, pawn shops and tattoo parlors, sits a tiny renovated house that serves up memories of mama's kitchen. Recently, a neighbor of this house sent the Indy a note urging us to take notice of Ephraim's BBQ.

Pastor William Ephraim of Progressive Church of God in Christ has long cooked for his South Prospect Street church. In 2007, after many years of rave reviews, he and his daughter Zelma decided to open Ephraim's BBQ. Sadly, after beginning renovation, Zelma, who was planning to run the restaurant, unexpectedly passed away. Though devastated, Pastor Ephraim continued with the project, and finally opened in April 2008.

Now 73, Ephraim has handed the kitchen over to Louis Fortier, another seasoned gentleman, who started cooking when he was 10 years old. He'd already lent his Louisiana pedigree to Ephraim's son Jessie at his Ephraim's Ribs before it closed several years ago.

"I was working at the Yukon Tavern when I was told, 'William needs you.'" Fortier says.

Using a combination of hickory and mesquite woods, Fortier smokes all his meats on site. His beef brisket ($8.50) gets treated to six to eight hours in the smoker before being sliced to reveal that perfect pink smoke-ring, then doused with a sweet barbecue sauce. My generous helping was tender, with a rich and smoky flavor.

Also slow-smoked, for four hours, are the pork ribs ($8.50). Fortier gets these just tender enough to soften the gristle on bone's end to an easy crunchiness that mixes nicely with the juicy, fall-off-the-bone meat. Great, if you like that style of prep. I happen to love it.

Ephraim's chicken ($7.50) also scores well: The large thigh-and-leg quarter proved extremely juicy. And the catfish, whole or filet ($8.50), comes dusted in cornmeal coating and fried crispy with moist flesh.

All the meats from the small menu (which also includes sausage, hot links and hot wings) can be enjoyed individually or in combo platters that start at $11.50. Each combo comes with choice of two classic sides: collard greens, macaroni and cheese, green beans, cole slaw, baked beans or potato salad. All easy choices, except for the canned green beans, which sent me back to my childhood with their squishy consistency and bland flavor. Time to play kick the can.

The restaurant itself is bright and cheerful, with charming wooden rounds and a few booths. However, upon entering, I was greeted by two restrooms with their doors flung open just behind the hostess desk not the first thing I want to see, even in a place as homey as this. And Ephraim's is homey: Fortier even comes out to the living room-turned-dining room to make sure you're comfortable and enjoying his food.

Though nearing a year old, Ephraim's seems to still be working out some kinks. During one of my visits, closing out brought hiccups via a malfunctioning register; during the other, it was the moody card machine. But I figure that with faith in their favor and an angel on their side, Ephraim's will continue pleasing customers with home-style favorites like Fortier's buttery crusted peach cobbler ($1.25). While I was there, a fellow diner exclaimed for all to hear, "That reminds me of my mama's."

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