In the same plaza in Fayetteville with Stevie B’s Pizza and the dollar theater, there’s a little restaurant that is starting to get noticed. Courtney’s Cafe, a warm place with a classy, yet casual atmosphere, opened six months ago and offers steak, seafood and some cajun cuisine, as well as live jazz every Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m.
“When you can’t find what you’re looking for, you’ve got to make it,” said owner Talib Abdul Aziz, a former resident of New Jersey and New Orleans, who wanted a place that offered some good food and good entertainment and made it himself. Aziz has owned and operated several restaurants in the past, including an IHOP in New Jersey that he transformed into one his regulars started calling Soul Hop.
“I was the first African American owner of an IHOP in the Northeast Region,” Aziz stated. “We were in the top 10 percent in the nation for sales for a few years.” Aziz added some soul food specials to the menu, items like Oxtails, and they caught on. He learned a lot about cooking from his mother in Dothan, Ala. and everywhere he went he picked up more recipes and tricks of the trade. He loves cooking Italian food, something popular from his days in New Jersey, enjoyed learning about Cajun cooking in New Orleans when he was refurbishing houses post-Katrina, and even learned some Middle Eastern recipes from his days at the American University in Cairo where he got an engineering degree.
Upon walking in to Courtney’s, one first notices the stage and the dance floor. Each week, local jazz acts come in and perform Thursday through Saturday. On the day that Aziz sat down for an interview, a singer came by with a CD and had an impromptu audition, delighting customers with a short concert. The entertainment has helped Courtney’s build a crowd on the weekends, but Aziz is hoping for bigger things earlier in the week and to develop a following at lunch. He hopes to widen the menu when things pick up, adding some of his favorite dishes like a Chicken Francese and a Flounder Marsala.
The seafood has been a big hit so far for Aziz, with both the fried and grilled shrimp, the tilapia and a seafood platter getting ordered frequently, and steak is always popular, but the jambalaya and the seafood gumbo could be the main event. The gumbo is packed with delicious ingredients and the jambalaya has just enough of a kick to keep you going back bite after bite.
“Nothing makes me happier than getting back an empty plate,” said Aziz who does all the cooking at the restaurant. For fans of spice, some dishes come with an extra spicy sauce that Aziz says is like his daughter, Courtney, the namesake of the restaurant, because it is sweet and kicking.
Aziz hopes people leave enough room for dessert and some of the dishes offered include German Chocolate Cake, Red Velvet Cake and a very popular Hummingbird Cake that just has to be tried.
Courtney’s Cafe is a family-friendly restaurant and Aziz wants everyone to know that there is something for everyone at his place. He has been open for parties and groups and one day opened his doors for lunch to a group of students who were passing by and hoping to dine there.
One customer, Wilma Kirchhofer, stated she found the place one afternoon after it first opened and figured she would just grab a cup of coffee. She ended up staying for dinner and has been back numerous times, bringing friends, large groups and a party there.
“Talib just bent over backwards for us,” said Kirchhofer. “And the food is good, which is the most important thing.” She added that the tilapia might be her favorite item on the menu but she is always trying something different.”
There may not be a hipper place to go on the weekend, with hot food coming out of the kitchen and cool jazz playing on stage, but Courtney’s Cafe is also a place to kick back and relax any time, offering a perfect combination of a down home meal with a night on the town.