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We’re so lucky to have a lot of good food in Fresno. Locally made pasta, pizza, burgers, tacos. So many tacos. But one thing I feel we haven’t had an abundance of is good soul food, which is why my interest was piqued when I heard about Doll’s Kitchen, a new restaurant on McKinley and Chestnut.
Word-of-mouth has kept business flowing at Doll’s Kitchen since its opening in July. And once I tasted the food, it’s easy to see why. I don’t consider myself an expert on soul food by any means, but my plate of fried fish and chicken, mac and cheese, candied yams, and corn bread was completely delicious.
The recipes are all from the mind of owner Gloria Hall, a grandmother and lifelong Fresnan who runs the place with help from several family members. Gloria learned how to cook from her mother, Doll, who was from Little Rock and is the namesake and face of the restaurant. The barbecue on the menu is an homage to her father, who was from Texas.
“I’ve been cooking since I was 9,” Gloria says. “I told my mom that I’m gonna have my own restaurant and she always told me, ‘You know, whatever you put your heart to.’ ”
The road since Gloria started cooking has been long, but in recent years, she felt the call to really make her dream come true. She started selling food out of her home and on street corners before finally finding a spot inside a mini mart where customers could walk up and purchase meals to go. Tragically, two days before she was supposed to open there, her grandson died. Gloria thought about canceling the opening to be with her family, but her son urged her to follow through with her dream. All the proceeds from her grand opening went to benefit her family, and it was a big success.
Gloria gained a loyal following at the mini mart. Through it she met a new friend, Annette, who she says has become a big source of support. One day, another customer even offered to help Gloria find a space where she could open a restaurant. That led to the opening of the current Doll’s Kitchen location.
The real source of the success for Doll’s Kitchen goes back to the food, of course. Gloria’s cooking chops are the real deal. She has won a Rotary Club cook-off four years in a row against big names like Famous Dave’s and Pardini’s. Like many of Doll’s Kitchen’s customers, I’m a particularly big fan of the side dishes, like the candied yams and mac and cheese I ordered.
“[People] literally won’t order if I run out of mac and cheese,” says Gloria. “I have people just walk out. They just literally walk out.”
One thing you definitely shouldn’t walk out of Doll’s Kitchen without is some dessert. Gloria says recipes for sweets sometimes come in her dreams, and other times she’s inspired by customer suggestions. I left with a slice of cinnamon roll cheesecake (literally cheesecake melded with a cinnamon roll) that might have been the best thing I tasted from Doll’s.
Not only is Gloria an amazing cook and fabulous baker, she has a heart of gold. At the end of each night, she takes any leftover food in the restaurant and drives around, giving it away to the homeless.
I suggest you give Doll’s Kitchen a try and meet the awesome woman behind it all. You can find out more about the restaurant on Facebook.
Gloria says it best herself, “If they come and try it, they won’t be disappointed.”