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VOL. 124 | NO. 120 | Monday, June 22, 2009

Couple Puts Romance in Southern Comfort Food

By Tom Wilemon

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COUPLE’S ENDEAVOR: After having worked on renovations for the past three months, Tina and Anthony Seay have opened their new restaurant, which specializes in Southern cuisine. -- PHOTO BY TOM WILEMON

A Jill Scott song could have inspired the menu and atmosphere inside The Upper Crust.

Smooth jazz, golden colors and soulful cuisine make it the kind of place where comfort food is served with style. Husband and wife Arthur and Tina Seay said they are big fans of the songstress who wails out her love for her man by telling him what she’ll cook. The Seays just opened the restaurant at 326 S. Cleveland St. All the items on its lunch and dinner menus are less than $10.

“We want to set the mood for a nice quiet romantic place to be,” Arthur Seay said.

One new romance could already be budding, depending on whether a “missed connection” posting on craigslist is successful.

“You were real nice and polite to the waitress,” the author of the posting wrote. “I liked your soft voice. I was the quiet lady in the pink flowered dress eating fried okra and a catfish po-boy. You said you liked my blue hat. Tell me what was on it. Hit me up sometime if you want to get some soul food and Southern loving.”

Southern variety

The Seays, who have been married for 23 years, worked for three months to open the restaurant. He poured concrete in the kitchen and laid down tile. She searched for the furnishings and brought down the décor. They’ve transformed what was formerly the Destiny Diner into The Upper Crust.

The dark blue building is now a muted brown. The seating has been doubled. And the furnishings are 70-year-old marble-topped bistro sets.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the late hours. The Upper Crust is open until 11 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and until 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. It also has Sunday dinner hours from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Items on the dinner menu include comfort foods such as spicy hard fried catfish, herb-roasted half chicken on dirty rice and jumbo turkey wings. The Southern cuisine covers a wide range from the Louisiana-inspired blackened chicken penne pasta to the grandmother from West Virginia’s recipe for flash fried chitterlings.

“We kind of wanted a variety of things, the regular standbys, the comfort food, then we wanted a more classy Southern cuisine,” Tina Seay said. “We wanted an intermix of both. You have something for people who want something a little more fancy and something for people who like just home-style cooking.”

The restaurant serves wine and beer, but it does not have a bar. The Seays said their establishment is a nightspot, but not a nightclub. They want the kind of place where couples can find romance and families can find comfort.

Love of the kitchen

Arthur Seay said he is the type of restaurant owner who listens to his clientele and will make changes according to their wishes. He plans to drop fancy teas containing peach, mint and lemonade flavorings from the menus after customers told him they simply liked the drink either sweetened or unsweetened.

The biggest challenge the couple has faced is getting the word out to attract customers for lunch. Right now, the restaurant opens at 11 a.m. every day of the week, but Seay said he may adjust the hours according to customer demand.

The Seays, who said they love to cook, have flirted with the idea of opening a restaurant for years. Tina Seay has worked in the food and hospitality industry previously, but Arthur Seay’s background is in law enforcement.

Arthur and Tina Seay
326 S. Cleveland St.
11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays

“We spoke to several chefs that we knew, family members and friends and kind of picked their brains and asked them about the possibilities of becoming a successful restaurant,” Seay said. “From that point, we were able to find this location that we thought was fabulous because it’s probably one of the most diverse locations in the city with all kind of different people.”

The name will set the tone for the restaurant, he said.

“There are several meanings,” Seay said. “The first is – as far as our food goes – we want to be known as the upper crust. We want to provide like-minded people of whatever profession or whatever they do that are striving to be the best that they can. If people ask me who is the upper crust, I answer, ‘The upper crust is you, whether you know it or not. Let us show you that you are the upper crust.’”

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