When Tiffany and Darrell Darwood met in high school, at the Brooklyn High School of the Arts, "we were just really good friends," said Tiffany Darwood, despite the teasing of a dean "‘to just invite me to the wedding.’"
A marriage, two children and a bakery later, the couple recently began another chapter in their 17 years together: Cooking fried chicken, pulled pork, mac-and-cheese and other Southern-style dishes inside a Medford restaurant, Lola’s Southern Cuisine, that they opened in the fall and where they spend long days side by side. "Each day is 13 hours, at minimum," said Darwood.
Lola’s takes over the space where Carolina Kitchen operated, on and off, from early 2020 through the middle of 2021. That business struggled amid pandemic-related pressures, but, when open, regularly sold out of fried chicken and other Southern dishes. Among the customers was Tiffany Darwood, a registered nurse who had long harbored an idea for a restaurant, a savory counterpart to the bakery the couple already owned in Brooklyn, Doc’s Cake Shop. "It’s something I’ve always wanted to do," said Darwood, who had originally scoured Patchogue for a space for a Southern-style restaurant. "I had the name even before I had the place. And I knew that when I found the place, it was going to be Lola’s Southern Cuisine." The name came to her after having her second child.
Lola’s melds the first syllables of the two Darwood children, Londyn and Layla, ages two and nine months, respectively. Fried chicken still has a starring role here, this version based on the recipe of Darwood’s grandmother, Eartha Mae Jenkins of Sumter, South Carolina. "Most of my dishes are my grandmother’s recipes," said Darwood, who recalls tumbling into her grandmother’s house after playing outside "to the aroma of Southern food she had cooked for hours."
The fried chicken is served by the piece or bucket, or over red-velvet waffles dusted with powdered sugar. Among the other meats and seafood are pork and beef ribs, pulled pork, barbecued chicken, fried whiting, fried catfish and salmon in a sweet-chili glaze. The hot bar is filled with traditional soul food sides: Candied yams, potato salad, string beans, mac-and-cheese, corn, mashed potatoes, cabbage, black-eyed peas and cornbread, as well as collard greens dotted with smoked turkey (there is also a vegetarian version). "Everything we make, we put a little bit of us into it. We try not to differentiate between the way we cook at home and the way we cook for the masses. It’s made with love," said Darwood.
Lola’s has the same smattering of tables and light-flooded, nautical blue-on-white looks of its predecessor, though now painted royal blue. The spot also serves as a satellite cake shop — Darrell Darwood is a longtime baker whose busy Bedford-Stuyvesant bakery, Doc’s Cake Shop, creates custom cakes and desserts.
"When I was young, my first dessert was a banana pudding," said Darrell Darwood, who then attempted and eventually perfected a 1-2-3-4 cake, an iconic Southern sheet cake named for its ratios of butter to sugar to flour to eggs.
Even so, "I didn’t know when I was young that I would be a baker. That wasn’t my goal," Said Darwood, who studied business administration in college and eventually combined his two paths by opening Doc’s, which he now owns with his wife.
Among Darwood’s specialties are red-velvet, blue-velvet, German chocolate, pound, carrot and pineapple-coconut cake, as well as (of course) banana pudding, all delivered from Brooklyn to Medford. At Lola’s, Darwood also makes a peach cobbler that sometimes sells out.
Like many owners, the Darwoods have found it challenging to find staff in recent months. During their grand opening in Oct., Darrell Darwood said a tide of 300 people patiently waited hours for food. Family members still assist with day-to-day operations.
On Fridays, the Darwoods make Jamaican-style oxtail, served with rice and peas, and on Sundays, smothered turkey wings. Turkey meat loaf also makes appearances, and smothered pork chops will still debut after a regular requested it. "We listen to our customers, and any suggestions of what we should add, what we should do," said Tiffany Darwood.
Two pieces of fried chicken cost $3.95, sandwiches start at $7.95 (for fried chicken or whiting), and platters of seafood or meat with sides at $13.95. Fried-chicken buckets come in myriad sizes, from $9.95 for four pieces to $53.95 for a 24-piece bucket of white and dark meat.
Lola’s Southern Cuisine is open from Tuesday to Saturday from noon to 8 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m at 2717a Route 112, Medford. 631-730-8526. lolasscuisine.com