Nov. 25—WINDSOR — Lilly’s Soul Food Restaurant on Windsor Avenue has been providing comforting soul food such as fried chicken, collard greens, and black-eyed peas for 29 years, and Kayla Lilly has been around just long enough to experience all of it.
“I was just born,” Lilly said. “It’s been a part of everything that I do.
“It was my father’s dream,” she said. “He started cooking out of my grandmother’s kitchen as a teenager. She’s always had a passion for cooking. A lot of his recipes and skill set was a lot of her influence. There’s a lot of Caribbean influence, too. My father’s father is from Jamaica. We do soul food primarily, but with a little Caribbean flair.”
Lilly’s wasn’t always a restaurant. Four years before it became a restaurant, it was a catering business, Lilly said. Her dad, Andre, and her mom, Kimberly, started the business in South Windsor before buying a property with sit down and take out service.
Lilly’s Soul Food
Where: 305 Windsor Ave, Windsor.
Menu: Southern-style comfort food such as chicken, ribs, pork chops. Sides include mac and cheese and collard greens, with banana pudding and sweet potato pie for dessert.
Hours: Wednesday-Sunday noon-6:30 p.m.; Sunday 1-6 p.m.
Miscellaneous: Curbside pickup available.
Contact: 860-241-8132; facebook.com/LillysSoulfood
“When we started in this spot, we were mostly take-out,” Kayla said. “We had a very small dining area, four or five seats. Then about 10 years ago, we expanded to seat 15 inside. Then last year in February, we expanded to seat more. We can sit 50 people inside now.”
Lilly’s has also taken over what once was Windsor Dairy Bar next door. The business was bought out by the Lilly children and merged with Lilly’s Soul Food into one business.
“It’s technically a partnership now, which works well for us,” Kayla said. “We’re serving the customers and they’re able to buy both the ice cream and their food items at once.”
Expansion hasn’t finished, as Lilly’s is also getting a 70-person banquet hall and a rooftop dining area, and they are opening a boutique next door where a liquor store used to be that will be called Affordable Elegance.
Kayla said the banquet hall is scheduled to be finished by the end of the year and the rooftop area should open in the spring.
“We’re grateful,” she said. “It’s a wonderful feeling. Particularly through COVID, we were blessed to expand the business. We did have to close for a month or two, but we were able to do curbside and still maintain a good customer base. We were busier than a typical summer last year. It was easier for them to just call in, and run things out to the car. People got used to that convenience. We’re grateful to still be here and have such great support from the community. We do our best to maintain the standard of quality and service. I think that’s what kept us here.”
People keep coming back too, ordering meals from Lilly’s soul food menu.
“Every restaurant has their recipes,” Kayla said. “We forever have always had the southern comfort food. We have our Caribbean flair.
“Nothing is made boxed. We cut the chickens fresh here. Our collard greens, we chop here. Nothing is canned or processed. I can’t go into the specifics, but we do have a house seasoning that gives our food the Lilly’s taste. We use it in our chicken, we use it in our collared greens, we use it on our barbecue spare ribs.”
The ribs, she said, take two to three days to prepare.
“We smoke them, then we bake them, and then we roast them,” she said.
“My all-time favorites are definitely the pork chops, the mac and cheese, our potato salad, and our stuffing,” she said. “We have wonderful stuffing that we serve only on Sundays, but it is a holiday treat. If you’re into the holiday taste and the special holiday meals, you can get that year round.”
She said the best sellers are the fried chicken, ribs, collard greens, sweet potatoes, and the macaroni and cheese.
“Our pride and joy may be the mac and cheese, just because we’ve worked so hard on the recipe throughout the years,” she said. “The mac and cheese is a four-cheese mac and cheese. It’s made with a special cheese sauce and layers of different kinds of cheeses and has a wonderful flavor. It’s not too firm, it’s not too loose. It has a crusty shredded cheese top to it. It’s a crowd pleaser.”
As for the ice cream, she said a vendor provides most of the menu, but three of the flavors are made in house.
“What we make here are the rum raisin ice cream, the Guinness stout ice cream, and the banana ice cream,” she said. “We keep about a dozen flavors on our menu at a time. We have a few seasonal flavors we rotate.”
Lilly’s is also offering holiday packages.
“We offer holiday specials where you can order your complete holiday meal, as many or as few as you like,” Kayla said. “We do desserts, banana pudding, sweet potato pie, coconut cake, upside-down pineapple. It’s a huge convenience for our customers.”
People from all over the state come to have food from Lilly’s.
“I come here every week,” said Quamanic St. Pierre, of Berlin. “I get something different. I mix it up. I love it here. They’re amazing. The customer service here is excellent. I live in Berlin and I come all the way here.”
“We’re so grateful to service the community,” Kayla said. “We work as a family and we are a faith-based business. We love to express that to all of our customers. They can get a plate of food and some prayer if they’d like.”
For coverage of local restaurants, cultural events, music, and an extensive range of Connecticut theater reviews, follow Tim Leininger on Twitter: @Tim_E_Leininger, Facebook: Tim Leininger’s Journal Inquirer News page, and Instagram: @One_Mans_Opinion77.