With a plethora of Mexican restaurants and burger joints, Joyce Ratcliff and her husband were disappointed to find a lack in good old-fashioned southern food when they moved to Huntsville two years ago. Now, in pursuit of her passion for cooking, Ratcliff and her two sisters are filling the void and bringing their home-style soul food to the Huntsville community.
“We came down here and were looking for soul food and there was nothing … I said, ‘let’s try it,’” 3 Sistas Kitchen owner and day-to-day operator Joyce Ratcliff said.
3 Sistas Kitchen opened in the Zipp Zapp gas station, located off of 11th Street and Martin Luther King Drive, in September. The restaurant is a collaborative effort between sisters Joyce Ratcliff, Janice Russell and Carolyn Lewis, bringing home-cooked soul food to Huntsville.
“It’s a hobby, I have a passion for it … it’s not even a job for me, it’s just natural and I love it,” Ratcliff said.
Ratcliff is no stranger to the kitchen – she has spent her life cooking in restaurants, and as the oldest member of her family, has taken on the role of family chef.
Each morning, Ratcliff and her husband Sylvester prepare the food for the day, always cooking from scratch with a home-style range and oven. The Zipp Zapp kitchen is quaint and composed of the bare essentials, with no walk-in freezer or refrigerator – a positive sign that everything is prepared fresh. The husband and wife team move harmoniously through the small space, preparing the recipes passed through Ratcliff’s family.
There’s no fixed measurement in any of Ratcliff’s cooking, she works by feel – a dash of onions here, a sprinkle of bouillon there. A liberal amount of garlic and butter are her go-to’s when cooking, especially bacon because “it just makes everything taste better.” Thick slices with a myriad of spices bring new flavor to Ratcliff’s cabbage greens.
Classic sandwiches and burgers as well as pork chop and wing baskets are available everyday, however Ratcliff’s meatloaf, gumbo, catfish and smothered ribs rotate as daily specials while her highly requested ox tail is only served every first and third Sunday of the month. Ratcliff recommends calling in advance to see what special she will be cooking up that day, noting that Friday is her busiest day with her seafood specials.
“We sell a little bit of something for everybody,” Ratcliff said.
As the weather grows colder, stews, soups and gumbo will become staple menu items, and with the holidays merely weeks away, pie and cake orders are pouring in with an order deadline of Dec. 15. 3 Sistas Kitchen’s highly sought after banana cream pie, peach cobbler and sweet potato pie are all handcrafted by Ratcliff’s younger sister Carolyn Lewis in Houston. Ratcliff picks up her sister’s pies every Monday while the restaurant closes for the day, however they sell out quickly.
Ratcliff already has big dreams of 3 Sistas Kitchen expanding to an all-you-can-eat-buffet in the not-so-distant future, with a dining area large enough for customers to comfortably dine-in.
“I’ve driven all around this place since I’ve been here and there’s not that much, I’m just hoping that we can be one of those lights that shines out in this area,” Ratcliff said.