Soul food

CHARLES TOWN – Paul’s, the restaurant inside Oakland Church here, has introduced some changes in recent weeks, but its mission remains the same: to serve up both great food and a sense of hospitality.

“We want a place where anyone in the community can come and feel completely welcome,” explained Iwayan Rata, the church’s hospitality director who, on Friday, was greeting diners and thanking church members volunteering as servers and in the kitchen.

Sally Baer of Shannondale has been volunteering as a Paul’s waitress for four years. “What I like best is meeting all the people,” she said. “I enjoy talking to everyone.

Until the spring, Rata, a Bali-born former cruise ship chef, served as full-time manager at Paul’s. Since its debut five years ago, the eatery had served lunch and dinner daily except Sunday both to church members and members of the community.

Now Paul’s opens its doors only for a buffet dinner on Fridays. The by-donation meal is proving a popular stop both among church members and also members of the public. Paul’s also continues to offer on-site catering of monthly Rotary luncheons and various events booked by other organizations.

One reason for the change at the restaurant, Rata said, was the growing church’s need for space. Now that Paul’s operates on a more limited schedule, the space formerly used for dining tables can be used full-time for Oakland’s children’s ministry and for other needs.

Paul’s originally was designed as the equivalent of an employee cafeteria. With hundreds of people coming in every day for Bible studies, Upward sports programs, preschool classes and other happenings, an on-site restaurant was seen as the answer to those who arrived at Oakland hungry – and not just for spiritual nourishment.

But Oakland’s leaders immediately knew they didn’t want to create a “members-only” eatery. With dine-in meals, carryout orders and catering, Paul’s provided another avenue for meeting the needs of the whole community, the church decided.

From the start, the restaurant, named for the first-century apostle Paul, also allowed Oakland’s leaders and volunteers to share their lives in a low-key, non-threatening way with each other and also with those who may never have been a part of a church.

“It’s not a conversation that we initiate,” Rata explains. “A member of the community who comes in might begin asking questions about the church and we might ask if they have a church home. If they don’t, we might invite them to come to a Sunday service. Or they might have an issue that’s bothering them and we’d offer to pray. It’s about extending Christ’s love out to every person in our community.”

Oakland, a United Methodist church, dates to the 1880s. It’s been located in its current building on Oakland Terrace since 1996.

Now on Fridays, volunteers set up a dozen or so tables near the church’s main entry way, not far from the sanctuary, which can be seen through glass doors.

The signature dish on the buffet remains the Broaster chicken that Paul’s was known for. A trademarked method of cooking the bird under pressure results in moist chicken that’s less greasy than fried.

Other buffet items served most recently at Paul’s included steamed vegetables, scalloped potatoes with cheese and bacon, chicken parmesan over spaghetti, a Mexican chicken-vegetable soup, salad and for dessert, watermelon slices and a rich, made-from-scratch banana-chocolate cake with a nutty chocolate frosting.

“We always include our Broasted chicken but we have so many people who come every Friday, we also want there to be a good variety on the buffet,” explains Bill Fisher, who volunteers in Paul’s kitchen. “We’ll change up the soups, the side dishes, the desserts.”

Dorcas and Glenn Ramsburg of Charles Town selected Paul’s last Friday when they wanted to celebrate their son David’s safe return from Iraq, where he’d spent weeks working as a contractor in Baghdad. Joining them at a large table at Paul’s were David and his girlfriend Shannon Riston, family friends Charlotte Bennett, Louise South and Ginny Smith and Glenn’s brother Lee Ramsburg and his wife Charlotte from Eldersburg, Md.

Pleasing food and the welcoming vibe at Paul’s made it the natural choice, Dorcas said. “We always have a wonderful experience here,” she said.

 

Want to know more?

• Paul’s buffet dinner is served from 5 to 7 p.m. every Friday at the church at 70 Oakland Terrace. Payment is by donation.

• For more on Oakland Church’s offerings, go to www.oakland-church.net, send an email to OaklandUMC@citlink.net or call the church at 304-725-3737.

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