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Cooking With Soul Is the Spice of Life

The tempting aroma that wafted above the boulevard could be traced to the hot kitchen of Adelle’s Bar B Q Soul Food where Adelle Alexander stirred collard greens, sweetened yams, and checked on the peach cobbler in the oven.

The chicken sizzled, the catfish barbecued, and the ham hocks smoked as Mrs. Alexander tended to the mouth-watering dishes that keep her customers coming back to the restaurant at 941 W. Compton Boulevard in Compton.

“I taught myself to cook,” said the chef, while dousing salt into a bubbling pot of pinto beans, her favorite dish. “If you like to eat, you learn how to cook.”

“I experimented with him,” she said, pointing to her son, Sonny Propps, who walked into the kitchen to fix a plate for a customer. “Whatever I messed up, he ate.”

He shot back. “She never messed up nothing I can remember.”

Preparing the daily menu is a task Mrs. Alexander now shares with her son. The 44-year-old man said his mother passed on her culinary skills when he was still a boy.

“She used to spank my bottom,” confessed the small-framed Propp, “ ‘Cause I used to tell her, ‘I ain’t no girl.’

“But as much as I eat, I needed to learn,” he said.

Neither chef follows recipes. Mrs. Alexander, 63, said recipes don’t work for her. And Propps said he prefers not to use them.

“It seems to taste better when you don’t,” he said. “It gets to where you can smell it and know if it tastes good.

“When it tastes like it smells, then it’s all right.”

In explaining the restaurant’s popularity, Propps said, “Shoot, ‘cause we get down with the food. What you want.”

But Adelle’s has offered more than just good food for the past 18 years.

When customers push open the screen door and leave behind the busy city street, they enter a relaxed and friendly establishment where people feel at home.

Waitress Pauline Watson, Propps, his mother and stepfather, Washington “Wash” Alexander, often joke with customers. They ask them how they’re doing and tell them they were missed if they haven’t been around.

A large screen television behind the counter is perched high enough for viewing by those sitting in four mustard-colored booths. And a pile of newspapers lay on the end of the counter which seats four. Above the entrance to the back kitchen is a sign whose faded lettering reads: “Chitterling Everyday, Fried Chicken to Order.”

Adelle’s lures hungry folks from as distant as Anaheim, 30 miles southeast, and Pomona, 40 miles northeast, said Mrs. Alexander.

She pleaded ignorance when asked to explain the “Soul Food” in the restaurant’s name.

“I’m gonna tell you the truth,” said the Arkansas native. “I never heard the word ‘til somebody started saying it when I started fixing greens and things.

“It’s just good food.”

This piece was first published in the Press-Telegram in Long Beach, California, on July 27, 1983.

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