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Many diners might choose Corn Bread Cafe in Park Slope for its southern fried chicken or barbecue pork chops, but the warm, crumbly corn muffins alone are worth the trip, arriving at your table as a complimentary preview of the hospitality and delicious food to come.

Bettina Harris opened the Park Slope eatery at 434 Seventh Ave. six years ago because she couldn’t find enough really good southern soul food since she’d moved north from her native North Carolina. Corn Bread Cafe not only fills this void with dishes like Carolina fish and chips and crawfish etouffee, the restaurant also provides hungry New Yorkers with hearty, country breakfasts and the kinds of pastas that might have been produced had Scarlet O’Hara known how to cook - and had she vacationed in Italy. Cornbread offers angel hair with crawfish, andouille sausage, sweet peas, onion, tomato and Cajun spices.

Harris says she comes from a family of good cooks, and this certainly is evident in her menu.

Maryland crabcakes appear as both starters and main courses. They’re fried to a crisp shell, but remain soft and succulent inside, with a taste that’s not adulterated with lots of filler. And they’re served on a bed of greens with a lemon wedge and a spicy remoulade.

On this day, the soup du jour was mushroom barley. It was a little thin, but what the soup lacked in density it made up with in its clear, vigorous flavor.

Pecan catfish was flaky and fresh, fried with a thin coating of crumbled pecans. Pork chops are fried and smothered with a thick, creamy chicken sauce.

All main dishes are served with a choice of two side dishes from a list that includes collard greens, black-eyed peas, coleslaw, macaroni and cheese, cornbread and andouille sausage stuffing, Cajun rice, candied yams, mashed potatoes with gravy, potato salad, french fries and the vegetable of the day. We highly recommend the candied yams and collard greens. The greens are sweet and have none of the bitterness that can spoil the dish in less capable hands.

Corn Bread also serves a variety of light dishes that might make you give up fast food forever. Catfish, shrimp and chicken Po-Boys are served on a baguette with coleslaw, tomato and sweet pickles, accompanied by a choice of potato salad, coleslaw or fries. Or you can sink your teeth into a lot more on the bun than the traditional hamburger (although that’s available too), like barbecue chicken cutlet, brisket of beef or Carolina chopped pork - or those delicious crabcakes.

Much of Corn Bread’s fare is spicy, but have no fear, there are plenty of beverages to soothe your palate. Most notable: lemonade, A&W cream soda, Stewart’s root beer, and - guess what - chocolate or vanilla egg creams.

Weekends, Corn Bread is a popular spot for brunch. Starters include southern staples like hominy grits, and corn and okra fritters. Main dishes range from grilled New York shell steak with eggs to "The Southerner," a three-egg omelette with country ham, bacon, sweet peppers, caramelized onions and cheddar cheese.

The atmosphere at Corn Bread is refreshingly casual and clean - with polished wooden floors and tables, both of which look like you could eat off them. There’s a mural on one wall that pays tribute to New Orleans jazz and piped-in music worthy of the artwork.

Even if you’re a big eater, you won’t leave Corn Bread Cafe hungry. And if you don’t have a big appetite, arrive really hungry. Otherwise, you might have to pass up their deliciously indulgent desserts - like pecan pie or warm peach cobbler. Any dessert can be accompanied with ice cream for a mere $1.95 extra.

Another treat is the price: the most expensive Po-Boy is $7.98, and the Southerner three-egg omelette is $6.25.

Here in Brooklyn we may not have magnolia trees and honeysuckle, and the standard address may be "yo," not "y’all," but thanks to Corn Bread Cafe, we do have cooking that will make you think you’re south of the Mason-Dixon.

 

Corn Bread Cafe, 434 Seventh Ave. between 14th and 15th streets, accepts Visa, American Express, Discover and MasterCard. The restaurant is open Monday through Thursday, 5 to 10 pm; Friday, 5 to 11 pm; Saturday, 11 am to 11 pm; and Sunday, 11 am to 10 pm. Brunch is served Saturday and Sunday, 11 am to 3 pm. For more information, call (718) 768-3838. Average entree: $13. www.cornbreadcafe.com

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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