Avondale’s Rising Son makes Southern comfort food for the community

Rising Son chef-owner Hudson Rouse waits for a customer to pick up a takeout order. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

Rising Son chef-owner Hudson Rouse waits for a customer to pick up a takeout order. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

I leave Rising Son in Avondale Estates with a trunk full of food — beautiful buttermilk fried chicken with crackly skin; soft, fluffy biscuits; plastic containers filled with collard greens, mashed sweet potatoes and black-eyed peas. It's a $50 family meal for four, the kind of Southern comfort fare I grew up with in South Georgia. Since I don't have a family, I've asked Rising Son chef-owner Hudson Rouse if he'll split the order, so I can give half to a colleague who is in virtual lockdown at her home.

This is half of the fried chicken family meal for four from Rising Son in Avondale Estates. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

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Driving from Avondale Estates to my friend’s place, I think about my late mother, who was famous for cooking disproportionate amounts of food for the Sunday “dinners” that followed morning services at our little country church outside Bainbridge. Mama may have lived alone, but her impulse was to feed a crowd. If she wasn’t entertaining, she was scooting around with a trunkload of fried chicken.

» COMPLETE COVERAGE: Coronavirus in Georgia

Rouse, who opened Rising Son four years ago with his wife, Kathryn Fitzgerald, grew up in Albany, a city about an hour north of Bainbridge that has been devastated by COVID-19 deaths.

One minute, the 44-year-old is reminiscing about his South Georgia grandmother’s pound cake: She kept it in the freezer, so she could cut off a slice and dollop it with strawberries and Cool Whip whenever she felt like it. In the next breath, he rattles off names of family friends who’ve died in recent days from COVID-19.

Fried chicken and biscuits is available for takeout from Rising Son in Avondale Estates. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

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And, though Rouse didn’t say so explicitly, I believe the family-size breakfast casseroles, chicken-pot pies and fried chicken dinners he and his sous chef, Ryan Bumgarner, have been fixing for customers may be a way of working through that grief and comforting the community.

Like many Atlanta restaurateurs, Rouse sounds almost shell-shocked when he describes his decimated staff, and what it’s like to run a business on fear and adrenalin. “We are still going by the seat of our pants, trying to figure it out every day. It’s hard to explain: There’s a plan, but there’s not a plan.”

On March 16, Rising Son switched to takeout. They laid off 16 of their 17 staffers; only “right-hand man” Bumgarner was spared. They paid their team a full week’s salary, filed their unemployment paperwork for them, and started a GoFundMe campaign to help with expenses.

Once a seven-day-a-week operation offering breakfast and lunch, as well as weekend brunch, and dinner on Fridays and Saturdays, Rising Son now is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Food that has been ordered is placed on a table out front for pickup. There is no contact with customers, though you might get a thumb’s up from Rouse and a million-dollar smile from Fitzgerald, as they peer through the glass door.

The grilled chicken Greek salad is one of the offerings at Rising Son in Avondale Estates. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

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The menu changes daily, and consists largely of greatest hits — biscuits, sandwiches, salads and the meat-and-three-style home cooking for which Rising Son is famous. Rouse said he's exchanged his chefy creativity for the tried-and-true.

“We have gone back to things that people have asked for, that we know that our regulars want,” he said. “Just to let them know we appreciate them.”

Right now, feeding the faithful is Rising Son’s main concern.

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Menu: mostly Southern-style breakfast and lunch items

What's new: fried chicken family meals with three sides and four biscuits, $50. Crowd-size breakfast casseroles (a cheese grits bake with collards and Pine Street Market bacon, and a biscuits and gravy casserole), plus shepherd's pie casserole, enchilada casserole and chicken-pot pie, $35-$50.

Alcohol: not at the moment

What I ordered: fried chicken family dinner and grilled chicken Greek salad. The fried chicken and sides were delicious, with super-generous portions; the salad was fresh and satisfying.

Service options: order by phone, pay by credit card, pickup only. No cash payments or tips. No delivery.

Safety protocols: Rising Son's three-person team lives and works in virtual isolation, with minimal public contact. They wear gloves, wash hands and sanitize often.

Address, phone: 124 N. Avondale Road, Avondale Estates. 404-600-5297

Hours: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays. 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sundays.



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