It’s 9 AM on a Tuesday, and “Big Ed” White is hard at work. He has four, tall pots heating over gas flames. In the adjacent oven is a cake that has risen and is just about ready to cool. And on a table nearby, he’s just generated a tall mound of sliced Italian sausage, a key ingredient in today’s special, Jambalaya. Later, he’ll be pulling pork from the smoker, frying up catfish, and deep frying hush puppies.
Big Ed’s at Cardinal Point has become known as the-go-to-place for old-fashioned, home cooking. For Ed, it’s second nature. You could ask him for the recipes that set his food apart, but you probably won’t get any. It’s not because Ed doesn’t want to share. Chances are, there are few documented recipes for Ed’s creations. He’s been at it most of his life, and his dishes are less a product of hard measures and science and more of a feeling found deep in the soul.
“I grew up cooking,” says Ed, “helping my mom and grandma. Then, when I was sixteen, I started at Whaler’s Catch on North 13th. Roberta Morse hired me, and then later on, John Harris bought it. I started out dishwashing.”
At sixteen, Ed didn’t have any specific plans for the restaurant business, but he wanted to learn all he could. “I ended up doing nearly everything in the restaurant,” he says. “I had some really good mentors. Both Roberta and John took me in and taught me, and I really looked up to them.” Ed took the skills he’d learned from his mother and grandmother, added his new knowledge from the restaurant business, and both he and Whaler’s grew.
When Whaler’s closed in 2014, Ed didn’t know any other business. So he took the jump into becoming a restauranteur of his own. “I had my eye on this building,” he says of Ed’s current location. “I had a lot people wanting me to do something, but I was naturally scared. But if I wanted to work for myself, I really had no other choice.” @@@@Ed decided to purchase the drive-thru only business at Cardinal Point. It had been several establishments such as burger joints and a drive-thru Taco John’s. “This was something I could do,” says Ed. “I did everything on my own, from the ground up. And we had a lot of work to do in here.”
Ed switched from the seafood he’d known for decades and went back to the old-fashioned cooking he’d learned as a kid. “You just can’t do seafood for a drive-thru like this,” he says. “I always want everything to be hot and fresh. That is the main point of everything I do.”
When Big Ed’s opened, his work, patience, and years of hands-on restaurant education paid off. Social media was quickly abuzz with praises for Big Ed’s. “Cars were wrapped around the building for weeks!” he laughs. “Catfish quickly became one of our biggest sellers. Whole chicken wings do really well. And I do specials. Like on Tuesdays and Thursdays we do ribs and chicken. And the last couple of days, I’ve been doing smoked turkey legs. We sell a lot of pork, a lot of BBQ. I end up doing a lot of catering, too. People love real cooking. It’s simple things, like cooking old-fashioned turnip greens and not just getting them out of a can.”
Ed thinks that someday he might have a sit-down restaurant, but for now, he’s happy with spreading the love of home-cooking from the drive-thru. “I have a lot followers,” he says. “Some come every week. Some come every day!” When asked if he ever thought he’d own his own restaurant when he started washing dishes at the age of sixteen, Ed responds, “I didn’t. I really didn’t. And when I was watching my grandmother and mom, we were just home-cooking. Now it’s something I’ve been doing my whole life.”