Biscuits, Gravy, and Glory
It’s just before noon on Sunday and there’s a line out the door at the Blue Rooster. Some are just getting out of a church service, others have recently rolled out of bed, but they all know where to go to get buttermilk biscuits with grace in the sawmill gravy, a side of redemption with their catfish fingers, fried green tomatoes sizzling with hope, and the double-chocolate cake, well—call it just plain divine.
It can only be the Blue Rooster Gospel Brunch.
Folks fill their plates while the members of the band Truality take their places onstage. Leader Dennis Clove warms up the keys while Darrell Johnson tests his kick drum’s thump, a counterpoint to the pop of champagne bottles—the mimosas are already flowing. Everyone’s so absorbed in the comfort-food feast that it’s as if three singers materialize out of thin air behind the microphones: sisters Shemeeka and Kimla Murrell flanking Joycelyn Corbert. The piano thunders, the snare cracks, and a wave of harmony floods the room. The restaurant transforms into a tabernacle.
“When I got the opportunity to bring a band to the gospel brunch,” Clove says, “I knew I wanted to make that band the one.”
“And he did, he really did,” Ellen Cornelius affirms. “The audience, our customers, just love [Truality], and with the combination of the music and the food, it’s just been a huge hit.”
Co-owner of the Blue Rooster with her husband, Bill, Cornelius gives her general manager the day off on Sundays. While she doesn’t claim a religious background herself, for Cornelius and many loyal gospel brunchers, this is church.
“Every Sunday, Bill and I are standing here watching the music, and you can see I’m getting goosebumps,” Cornelius says. “My eyes are filling up with tears.”
Truality’s signature blend of inspirational music draws on all flavors of gospel, from soulful traditionals to electrifying contemporary numbers.
“I pick songs that move me, that minister to me,” Clove says of Truality’s repertoire. These days, he says, he’s particularly drawn to songs with messages about holding on, refusing to despair in the face of adversity. Referencing the Bible’s book of Samuel, in which David plays his lyre to soothe King Saul’s murderous soul, Clove imparts a personal conviction that music—good music, he’s quick to qualify— carries violence-ending, world-healing power.
Truality is frequently joined by soloist Shantel Norman, whose star power can make a mild-mannered room forget all about its chicken and waffles. Sold-out seatings have been known to spontaneously link up in ecstatic soul trains that weave around the tables and high-tops. A full belly and an even fuller heart will have that effect on folks.
“I just feel that, no matter what religion you are … it’s all about loving each other,” Cornelius says. “To be able to experience that every single Sunday—I’ll use a word that I don’t use very often—it’s just a blessing.”
The Blue Rooster: 1525 4th St, Sarasota; 941-388-7539; blueroostersrq.com