By Lauren Satterfield
The Lynchburg Times
Bernadette Christian watched and waited as we exited our car and slowly approached the smallest restaurant in Lynchburg.
Amazed, we walked around the small building located at the intersection of 5th St. and Park Ave. downtown.
My publisher, who came along to take pictures said, “See what I mean? This place is SMALL! I bet the food is awesome!”
We made it back around to the front of the tiny cottage that is Bernadette’s Take Out when Bernadette herself opened the window and smiled a huge cheerful smile and said, “I thought you two were going to come in the back door! Sometimes people don’t know!”
We laughed and explained that we were sort of surprised at how small the place was.
“Oh, I get that a lot. It sure isn’t big,” she explained.
We asked for a menu and she handed us a folded paper carry-out listing loaded with home-cooked food and drinks.
We weren’t hungry since we had already eaten so we asked about coffee.
“I don’t have coffee but I have some home-made iced tea and lemonade,” she offered.
We opted for the tea.
Bernadette grabbed two huge foam cups and opened the lid of a chest freezer crammed into a corner. She pulled out a plastic jug filled with slushy tea. No ice needed. She squeezed the jug just-so to break up any frozen chunks of tea and filled the cups to the brim before handing them over.
“That will be $2.25,” she said.
“For both?” we asked, incredulous.
We were planning on asking Bernadette about her small treasure trove of culinary goodness but decided to drink some of the tea first since it was over 90 degrees outside.
Bernadette watched us closely, trying not to grin.
The cups slowly made their way to our mouths, followed closely by Bernadette’s unblinking, eager stare.
We took a sip. The effect was instantaneous. This was the best tasting incredibly fresh-brewed tea we had ever tasted. Full of flavor. And probably the sweetest thing we had ever experienced. Immediately we could feel a rush of energy shoot down our throats.
Bernadette was used to getting a reaction from newcomers who had never had tea this powerful.
“Did it go right down to your toes?” she asked.
“Wow. Yes it did. Wow.”
The excitement on Bernadette’s face was one that she usually has for new customers who try her one-of-a-kind tea or lemonade but it is the food that keeps them coming back.
One such regular customer is Kim Wright of Madison Heights who came to pick up some lunch for her and her granddaughter.
“To eat Bernadette’s food you need to be in a comfy setting so you can fully enjoy, be relaxed and be ready for a nap!” she said.
A local and faithful customer of Bernadette’s, Wright let us in on what is the best to eat. “I like the Meatloaf with the brown gravy,” she said. “And my two year-old granddaughter just loves the rice pudding. She stopped using a spoon, and now just digs in with her hands!”
Bernadette’s also has an assortment of fried fish, pork tenderloin, fried or baked chicken, green beans, corn pudding, baked beans and potato salad.
There is a catch. According to Bernadette, you have to “get on up in here early or else it’s gonna be gone!”
Most of the food is prepared that morning in the flower shop next door, where there is a full kitchen, so locals have learned to call first to make sure their favorites are in stock.
When she was younger, Bernadette always knew that she wanted to cook. She could just feel it, she said. But her mother wouldn’t allow her into the kitchen for a while. When the day came that Bernadette got her chance to help cook she “got into the kitchen and never came out!”
Before she came to own her own restaurant, Bernadette worked in the Central Virginia Training Center and then at Liberty University. “They taught me some real good things there,” she said.
Finally, Bernadette was offered a place to set up shop and have her own little corner of Lynchburg. The self-titled Bernadette’s Take Out was born. It’s been five years strong and counting.
When I asked Bernadette how she liked having her own restaurant, her eyes lit up and she just smiled. “Oh, I just love it,” she said and noted how much she enjoys making her own food and making her own hours and just enjoying the well-deserved spotlight on her and her cooking.
Bernadette’s personality just comes right on in, gives you a hug and sits you down with such a loving atmosphere you are tempted to just come up and talk to her whether you are buying or not. But don’t think you can come and go without sampling something. The wonderful aroma comes swirling out of the little window and into your nose, giving you an uncontrollable mouth-watering sensation that will leave you begging for more.
Her next goal in the business of Bernadette’s is to move into a larger building where she has room for a couple more appliances and a little more room to move around. “Ultimately I would like to have a large restaurant where my customers can actually come inside and dine or at least get out of the weather. She then started laughing and said, “You know, people come and stand in the rain and the sleet and even the snow sometimes.”
Bernadette reflected on how loyal her customers really are and how grateful she is to have them. “You know, there is even one man who swears up and down that I have the best burgers in Lynchburg! It’s a real burger.”
She also told the story of a little boy who has sent his mother, his father, his aunt and his grandma to Bernadette’s to pick him up some rice pudding.
One of the things that makes Bernadette’s a real down-home good meal is that she doesn’t like to use a lot of spices. She prefers to use salt, pepper and few other ingredients. “I like to keep it simple,” she says, and focus on quality rather than on “all those fancy seasonings.”
With real good food and really good ingredients, Bernadettes should be on your short list to sample when you are craving some good southern local fare. And the personality is just the bonus.
Bernadette’s Take Out is open Monday – Friday from 11 am till 5 pm unless she sells out. So call first at 434-528-0020.
You can also check out her website www.bernadettestakeout.com where she has the daily special on the front page. From the website you can get directions to Bernadette’s and even see the full menu.