Thandeka of Sweet Tea and Chickadee serves American biscuits to grateful customers like me

Mouth-Watering American Biscuits, in Joburg

On many occasions I have tried to explain American biscuits to my South African and European friends.

“They’re not cookies. They’re savoury…kind of like scones,” I say, grasping for words to describe that dense yet flaky, crispy yet soft, impossibly buttery biscuit mouth feel.

“But not really. Actually not at all.”

In the summer of 1991 I worked as a hostess at a Bob Evans restaurant in Columbia, Maryland. Part of my job was to lift thick, fluffy biscuits out of the steel oven, arrange the piping hot biscuits onto plates, and set them onto customers’ tables. I consumed so many biscuits that summer. When customers left with their plates of biscuits untouched (crazy people!), I sometimes carried the plate into the back and gobbled them all down.

It never occurred to me that American biscuits could exist in South Africa, just as it would never occur to a South African that boerewors could exist in America. Biscuits, like many foods originating in the American South, just don’t make sense outside the United States.

Until now. Thanks to Sweet Tea and Chickadee, American biscuits have arrived in Joburg. They totally make sense and they are spectacular.

American biscuits at Sweet Tea and Chickadee
Three flavors of American biscuits at Sweet Tea and Chickadee.

The Story of Sweet Tea and Chickadee

Natasha Robson-Lovato sounds mostly American, but there’s South-African-ness in her voice if you listen carefully enough. As a teenager, Natasha moved with her family from South Africa to America. She went to school in America and married an American named Jason. The couple lived in Seattle, where Natasha eventually started a restaurant serving South African food to Americans.

Although she lived in the Pacific Northwest, Natasha developed a love for American Southern cuisine — the pork barbecue, pecan pie, shrimp and grits, sweet tea, and biscuits-and-gravy native to places like Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida.

Sweet Tea and Chickadee menu
A glimpse of the Sweet Tea and Chickadee menu.

When Natasha and Jason packed up and moved from Seattle to Joburg, Natasha decided to bring the flavors of the American South home to South Africa. She named her business Sweet Tea and Chickadee, and started with a food truck.

A few weeks ago that food truck became a brick-and-mortar restaurant in Emmarentia.

Outside Sweet Tea and Chickadee
Outside Sweet Tea and Chickadee.

Over the last two weeks at least five people told me I must go to Sweet Tea and Chickadee, ASAP. I finally went this past Thursday morning and I can’t overstate how right those people were. My expectations were high, and they were exceeded.

When I walked into Sweet Tea and Chickadee, the first thing I saw were the key lime pies and lemon bars. Key lime pie is a Florida specialty, similar (yet different) to lemon meringue pie. Lemon bars are also similar to lemon meringue pie, but cut into squares and without the meringue, and much tangier and less creamy than the lemon filling you find in South Africa.

Lemon bars and key lime pie
Lemon bars above, key lime pies below.

I sat down, looked at the menu, and selected one of the biscuit sandwiches: “The Mount Pleasant”, which has pimento cheese, scrambled eggs, and crispy bacon.

How do I explain pimento cheese? Imagine peppadews ground up with mayo and cheddar cheese, but better.

I also ordered sweet tea, a special kind of iced tea served only in the American South. Sweet tea is not just iced tea with sugar added at the time of drinking. You have to add the sugar while the tea is still hot and then chill it in the fridge.

A glass of sweet tea
A jar of sweet tea. In the South it’s pronounced “SWAY-et-tae” — three syllables, all one word.

Thandeka brought out my breakfast — the Mount Pleasant served on a cheddar-and-green-onion biscuit.

Thandeka of Sweet Tea and Chickadee serves American biscuits to grateful customers like me
Thandeka with my breakfast.

I sprinkled some Crystal Louisiana Hot Sauce — another flavor I didn’t realize I’ve been missing for the past ten years — over the egg. I took a bite.

Tears sprung into my eyes, and not from the hot sauce.

Breakfast at Sweet Tea and Chickadee
The best breakfast I’ve eaten in a very long time. The mound of pimento cheese is underneath the egg.

I chewed slowly, chatted with Natasha, and took a picture of her lovely — all women! — staff.

Staff at Sweet Tea and Chickadee
Left to right: Natasha, Thandeka, Mandy, and Bianca.

I bought a lemon bar to go, savouring it at my desk a couple of hours later. The lemon bar was, not surprisingly, scrumptious.

As Forest Gump, the quintessential Southerner, once said, “That’s all I have to say about that.”

Sweet Tea and Chickadee is 3 Levubu Road, Emmarentia (next to the Craft Beer Library). It’s open Wednesday to Sunday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

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13 Comments

  • Reply Passport Overused March 8, 2020 at 1:49 pm

    Great post 😁

  • Reply AutumnAshbough March 8, 2020 at 6:52 pm

    Why do I read your posts before eating?! Soooo delicious-looking! And real sweet tea! I wonder if they do a simple syrup or sugar?

    • Reply 2summers March 8, 2020 at 6:53 pm

      I knew you’d like this one. I’ll ask about the sugar!

  • Reply Lani March 9, 2020 at 3:41 pm

    You know, Heather, you have many remarkable experiences, and for some reason, I don’t get too jealous. I’m happy to live vicariously. I’m pleased that you are. But this time, I am green. I kind of hate you now. Hahahahaha.

    Do they have a biscuit, pie, and sweet tea punch card?

    • Reply 2summers March 9, 2020 at 3:56 pm

      It’s okay, I totally understand your jealous rage as I would feel exactly the same. What do you mean by a punch card? (I’m glad you liked my Bob Evans story, I think only another American could truly appreciate it.)

      • Reply Lani March 10, 2020 at 5:52 am

        Oh, you know those cards businesses give you and they stamp or punch it every time you order a coffee or meal and you’re 10th one is free. I don’t know what they’re called! 😛

  • Reply Lani March 9, 2020 at 3:42 pm

    OH, I forgot in my jealous rage, I love your waitress story!

  • Reply Catrina March 10, 2020 at 9:35 am

    I once ordered a biscuit in Florida, expecting a cookie. I got a type of scone instead, and I loved it!
    I wish there was a restaurant like that in Cape Town!

    • Reply 2summers March 10, 2020 at 3:27 pm

      Hahaha! I’m sure you’re not the first person to do that.

  • Reply Nancy McDaniel March 10, 2020 at 10:07 pm

    I love you trying to describe a biscuit – kind a like a scone but not. Probably as close as your can get. And savory, not sweet. And fluffy, not hard. YUM.

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