It is the blues lover’s ultimate fantasy: an evening of great food and music not at a downtown nightclub, but at a “juke joint” in a remote area on the outskirts of the city.
Located in Waldorf, the Delta Blues Juke Joint & Diner may be the closest thing that Washington and Baltimore area blues lovers can find to that fantasy.
With weekend performances by Lady Rose, Stacy Brooks, the Big Boy Little Band and other popular bands, Delta Blues Juke Joint & Diner works hard to live up to the “juke joint” in its name.
But co-owners Eugene Cook and Michelle Collins are also pushing the “diner” side. Visit the establishment in the morning and you can treat yourself to traditional Southern breakfast delicacies such as fish and grits; sausage, biscuits and gravy and chicken and waffles, not to mention eggs made over easy, over hard, scrambled or into western or Georgia omelets.
For dinner, Delta Blues offers catfish, whiting, ribs and smoked chicken. “The catfish is definitely going, because that gives us a little Mississippi/Alabama taste, a little southern cuisine” said Cook, who is originally from Martinsville, Virginia. “The pork chops are really kicking butt. The smoked chicken, the ribs, always the whiting...”
For dessert, there is bread pudding and peach crisp. There is also “dump” cake, made by “dumping” cherries, pineapples, nuts and anything else but the kitchen sink together for baking. “You dump it in, you bake it up and it’s nice and fresh,” Cook said.
First opened last November, the diner, at 2796 Old Washington Road, marks a new direction for Cook and Collins, former bartenders who met while working in Washington and who are now engaged to be married.
The couple met in the mid-1990s while working at Republic Gardens, a popular Washington nightclub.
About 2002 Cook moved to another well-known city club, Dream (the club later changed its name to Love). He stayed there until about three years ago, when he decided “I kind of wanted to do my own thing.”
He set up a truck stand in Waldorf, where he was living at the time. The operation, which sold catfish, whiting, smoked chicken and ribs, did not go over well with the Charles County government, which basically saw it as “a carry-out on wheels,” he recalled. “Because of that, it just basically caused a headache for the other business owners who actually had a business, and stuff like that,” he said.
Feeling a need for more of a restaurant setting, Cook opened a carryout on Route 301. But even that had its limitations, he discovered.
“I had my carry-out, and I had this gentleman come to my place,” Cook recalled. “He loved the catfish, but he kept offering me to come to a bigger place and what happened was, I didn’t want to leave where I was at. But I didn’t like the fact that it wasn’t a sit-down restaurant, I needed something a little bigger, needed something with alcohol because people want beverages with their dinner.”
Though Cook found the building on Old Washington Road, it was Collins who saw the potential for a juke joint theme. “When I walked into the place the ambiance brought me back to an era in my time,” Collins said. “I grew up in Indiana, I’m from the Midwest, but a lot of the influence of my family was from the Delta Mississippi area. So when I saw the panel and I saw the layout of the spot and in the back of my mind what I grew up on was Chicago and Mississippi blues. So with the combination of this spot with his ideas of the smoked ribs and chicken and the Southern cuisine, it was almost like we took each of our idea and combined the concept.”
The couple hopes the restaurant—which in August served as the site of a jam/concert hosted by the D.C. Blues Society—will help promote the blues as an art form. In addition to hearing live shows, patrons can also watch the restaurant's large flat-screen television for recorded performances from Muddy Waters and other legendary musicians.
“The thing is when you listen to blues it’s a little more about the soul of what we started back in the day and we’re keeping it current today, and that’s what I love about the blues,” Cook said. “To hear a harmonica player talk what some people feel, it goes down to the soul.”