Southern-style restaurant opens this weekend

By Rosemary McCoy

GARRETSON – A South Dakota transplant from California is bringing the South to this small town in the form of jambalaya and blackened catfish.

Omar Thornton is opening “O” So Good Restaurant on Saturday night in the former Annie’s Coffehouse space on Main Avenue.

He’s kicking off the restaurant’s debut with a comedy show and three-course dinner. Thornton will be back at it Sunday morning with a buffet and plated breakfast items.

“Just in talking to the community, there aren’t that many places to eat,” he said. “Some of them wanted more than a burger and fries all of the time. Other than driving into Sioux Falls, there’s not much for variety here.”

His dinner menu will change every six to eight weeks with some entrees and sides that will always be there, such as jambalaya. He’ll serve catfish fried and blackened, and he’s planning to serve a pan-fried walleye to appeal to the South Dakotan palate, but he’ll use a Southern-styled seasoning. “O” So Good will serve beer and wine.

Thornton said his style of cooking also fits his description of soul food — dishes that originally were created “because you only had $5 to buy groceries so you had to get as much oomph and flavor out of things as you could.”

He has been cooking for much of his lifetime, and, after Annie’s closed, several people in town suggested he should start a restaurant there. He and his wife, Renae, had been thinking about having a food truck or a restaurant and saw an opportunity in the large space in the heart of the small downtown.

Thornton has been busy the past few months renovating the space, including the installation of an open kitchen in the back half of the coffeehouse where there used to be a closet. Part of the reason he wanted an open kitchen was to offer cooking classes at some point. He has taught his cooking style at Plum’s Cooking Co.

“O” So Good will be open for dinner from 3 to 9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday. On Friday and Saturday, he’ll serve breakfast from 7 to 9 a.m., lunch from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and dinner from 3 to 10 p.m.

“I’m planning to start off small and add and build. I don’t want to advertise that we’re open and then not be.”

The Sunday brunch will be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. “There’s lot of churches in this small town,” and he wanted to give people a place to gather after services.

The buffet will feature “any leftover ingredients from the week,” Thornton said. “We’ll open up the refrigerator Sunday morning and figure out what to make.” That’s another soul food way of thinking. “You had to use up what you had. You had to be creative.”

Some evenings he’ll “shut down the menu and do a special three-course dinner” like the one he’s serving on opening night.

Saturday night, Thornton is serving a salmon salad with candied bacon and grilled grape tomatoes, followed by a pan-seared and then oven-roasted New York steak with garlic baby potatoes and Southern-style green beans and carrots. For dessert, he’s making the Big O Dessert: vanilla and chocolate ice cream “topped with the works.”

If the comedy dinner is successful, he’d like to do more of those events.

“If I’m going to have a stage, you’re going to have a place to practice your talent.”

He’s also interested in having musicians play on the weekends, “light jazz, easy listening, soft country, something those in their mid-20s to folks 50 and older would enjoy.”

The building that houses “O” So Good is large, so the business will have other offerings. Thornton’s wife likes to collect home décor and other items, so the restaurant will have pieces on display that will be for sale. “If there’s a price tag on it, it’s for sale,” he said.

Other features will include catering, a candy store and a bakery. “You won’t have to drive into Brandon to order a birthday cake,” he said.

The restaurant is a dream of his, and Thornton is working hard to make it come true. The path to becoming a restaurant owner wasn’t easy for the native Californian.

He found his way to South Dakota in 2002. “I needed a change,” he said of why he left California. “If I could afford it, I didn’t want to deal with the drama (in the neighborhood) that came with it.”

He was headed to the Twin Cities but stopped in Sioux Falls to see a woman he knew and stayed. That relationship didn’t work out, but he has since married Renae. Two years ago, the couple moved to Garretson.

Thornton is a recovering addict and alcoholic. He said getting caught “was my wakeup call,” and he turned to cooking “to change, to improve my life.” He used that experience to find work in Sioux Falls. He was making sandwiches at the airport, and his co-workers told him he was wasting his talents. He starting cooking with the chef at Bros Brasserie, taught classes at Plum’s and did a few pop-up kitchen events, including pairing food with the beers at WoodGrain Brewing Co.

All of those experiences have led to this moment. He opens his business at 6 p.m. July 8.

Southern-style restaurant opens this weekend

A South Dakota transplant from California is bringing the South to this small town in the form of jambalaya and blackened catfish.

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