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Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2007 08:19 am

A new old friend

The new generation at Boyd’s is every bit as good as the old

Tammy Calloway of Boyd’s New Generation
Untitled Document It’s a wonderful and rare experience to return to a once-favorite restaurant after several years’ absence and find it as good as ever. It’s akin to running into an old friend with whom you’ve lost touch and quickly and easily slipping back into a comfortable, close relationship. It’s even more wonderful and rare when the restaurant has been closed for a while before being reopened by new owners. I had such an experience recently at Boyd’s New Generation. I enjoyed many meals at the old Boyd’s. When Annie and Albert Boyd retired, I was sad but understood that they were ready for a break from the daily grind of running a restaurant. I remember thinking at the time, “It’s awful to see it go. Surely they could get somebody to take it over.” The first Saturday after hearing in 2002 that they had found someone to reopen it, I made my way there — only to find it closed. Boyd’s, having risen like a phoenix from the ashes, was now only open Monday through Friday for lunch and until 7 p.m. on Fridays. Bummer. My schedule is such that I rarely go out for lunch during the week. Saturday’s the day when my husband and I tend to go out for lunch, when we’re running errands. We told ourselves that we’d go there during the week sometime, but somehow it never happened. Eventually we forgot about it, and Boyd’s just slipped off our radar screen. It slipped back on when I saw that Boyd’s had won the Illinois Times “Best of Springfield” 2006 award for Best Soul Food [Boyd’s was also the winner in 2005]. It was time — and well past time — to see what the “New Generation” was doing.
Walking back into Boyd’s felt like a homecoming. Except for replacing the counter in front — from which Albert Boyd had managed the dining room — with a few extra booths, everything looked just the same. It was still spotlessly clean — so clean you could eat off the floor, as my grandmother used to say. By myself, on that first visit back, I (over)ordered several old favorites: Annie’s gumbo, red beans and rice, greens, and cornbread. I figured I could take home leftovers and send them with my husband for his lunch the next day. The gumbo and red beans and rice were every bit as good as I remembered. The greens were good, too, although a bit sweet for my taste. It’s not surprising that the gumbo was as outstanding as ever: it turns out that Annie Boyd (now semiretired) still comes in to make — or supervise the making of — the gumbo. The new owners have faithfully used Annie’s recipes for most of the menu items, supplemented with a few of their own specialties. It’s still a family affair, too. The new owners are Tammy and Lewis (a.k.a. PeeWee) Calloway. Tammy is the Boyds’ niece. She and Lewis are from East St. Louis. Lewis had several successful barbecued-snoot places there. Snoot is a flavorful crispy/chewy piece of pork that’s cut from along the jaw. A specialty in the St. Louis/East St. Louis area, it’s rarely seen elsewhere, especially in the North. The Calloways planned to bring the pleasures of snoot to Chicago. A stopover in Springfield, however, changed their plans and their lives — and Chicago was destined to remain, at least for the time being — a snootless desert. “People say we must’ve drunk the water,” says Lewis, laughing, “but once we were here we realized that this was the right place to be.”
Chicago’s loss was Springfield’s gain. Lewis’ snoot expertise shows up on menu specials, and the Calloways are successfully carrying on Annie and Albert’s grand tradition of soulful Southern cooking. Places such as Boyd’s have long been restaurant staples of the South, although these days, as with small locally owned diners and restaurants everywhere, they’re being threatened by the invasion of big fast-food chains. Among Boyd’s entrées are such well-executed staples as ribs, fried chicken, catfish, and liver and onions. Daily specials include smothered steak, pork chops, pot roast, meatloaf, chicken casserole, and ham and beans. Friday’s specials showcase Annie Boyd’s Louisiana heritage with jambalaya and an excellent Cajun chicken with a spicy-but-not-hot flavorful brown roux sauce. Vegetables and side dishes are not mere afterthoughts in old-fashioned Southern restaurants, and Boyd’s keeps up that tradition as well. In addition to those greens and cornbread, there are two kinds of okra (stewed and fried) green beans, yams, black-eyed peas, and more. Desserts are classic, too: sweet-potato pie, buttermilk pie, peach cobbler, banana pudding, and old-fashioned pound cake.
Lewis Calloway is as gracious and genial a host as you will ever encounter and a worthy successor to Albert Boyd. He says they also do quite a bit of catering, including recent events for General Assembly legislators to celebrate the new session. The menu for state Sen. James Clayborn featured a down-home specialty that had probably never been seen before at legislative feasts. “Just imagine,” said Calloway, “chitlins at the Capitol!”
Sometime this year, the Calloways say, they’ll open a drive-through window. When that happens, they’ll extend their hours, although the drive-through will likely be open later than the restaurant itself will. Will Boyd’s be open on Saturdays? I couldn’t get Lewis to commit on that one. Guess I’ll just have to rearrange my weekday schedule every so often. Boyd’s New Generation is located at 1831 S. Grand Ave. E. Call 217-544-9866. 

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