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Food from home, on campus

Georgia State student Phillip McCall enjoys fried fish from Kenley’s, which reminds him of home and his grandmother. Photo by Kaitlyn Harmon | The Signal

Phillip McCall learned everything from his grandma. She’s a breast cancer survivor, a frequent churchgoer and writes everything down — on her calendar and her journal. 

McCall was born in Grady and lived in the city for 10 years. At 21 years old, he knows everything within a 30-mile radius of downtown Atlanta. But as much as he loves the city, when he moved in with his grandparents in Greensboro, North Carolina, he felt closest to home.

“Home to me is where the heart is and my grandma is one of my best friends ever,” McCall said. 

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When McCall thinks of a dish that reminds him of home, his mind goes instantly to his grandma’s fish fries. The dish starts with cleaning the fish, cutting it, removing the scales and washing it. While not the most appetizing, the process is necessary, and he remembers the first time his step-dad showed him how.

“It wasn’t just my grandma that did fish fries; anyone that’s part of my culture on my mom’s or my dad’s side has done them,” McCall said.

Now, three years after moving back to Atlanta to go to college at Georgia State, when McCall wants a taste of home, Kenley’s is where he goes.

“When I was with my grandma, in Greensboro, [the food at Kenley’s] was the kind of food she would cook,” he said.

McCall says all of the food is great Southern cuisine but he always gets the same homey feeling when he eats the fried fish with grits. McCall says you know it’s good when you see the faces of people — ordinary and famous — smiling with the owner in photographs on the wall.

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“When my pops told me about it, I was like, ‘Alright, let’s check it out,’” he said. “Now, it brings me close to home.”

McCall said he learned many lessons from his grandma, including to always tell the truth, stay positive at all times and never leave on a bad note.

“It’s a part of me; I got it from her,” he said. “She definitely teaches you how to love.”

He is now a computer science major at Georgia State, a switch he made from computer information systems when he realized his aptitude for math. The cooking lessons he received from his mother and grandma followed him to his college years. 

Although a meat and rice dish is his go to at home, he won’t bash the experimentation a young cook can get by tossing the seasoning packet and making your own with instant ramen noodles.

Whether it’s heading to Kenley’s or giving her a weekly call to ask about her meeting for the “sisters network” for breast cancer survivors, McCall can be reminded of his grandma on campus, even if she’s a state away.

For Deeb Ryan, some of his loved ones are more than states away; instead, they are across oceans. Ryan grew up in Atlanta but also called the cities of Montreal, Dubai and Abu Dhabi home for some time. 

Born in the U.S., Ryan has dual citizenship in Lebanon, where most of his family still lives, as he was one of the few to come to the states where he now studies media entrepreneurship at Georgia State.

Every summer, he goes back to visit, reconnect with his sister, niece and nephew and to enjoy one of his favorite things there: the night life.

“Lebanese culture is very interesting,” Ryan explains. “Because there was a diaspora, it’s hard to find them, but they are in every country.”

Ryan said that when he does find someone who’s from Lebanon or Palestine outside of Lebanon or Palestine, it’s a good feeling. One of the most important parts to him is being able to share the Arabic language together.

Ébrìk, Ryan explains, is the Arabic word for “pot.” The coffee shop by that name, which shares cross streets with university buildings, is a place where Ryan says he can get that good feeling of seeing someone and sharing a language that reminds him of home.

“The workers don’t all speak Arabic, but [some do], and that’s what I associate [Ébrìk] with. It’s nice to have a community there,” he said. “It’s a regular coffee shop, but it just happens to have people from Palestine there.”

When Ryan goes, he said he only gets the Hamza, a pot of Turkish coffee. Sometimes, he also gets a cookie. 

“It’s a pot of coffee for $6 and it’s the best coffee,” he said.

Ryan said that Turkish coffee is the type coffee people throughout the Middle East drink and it was the only coffee they ever had in his house growing up. He remembers when he was young, his parents would drink a cup and he’d run over to the table to drink the last sips and coffee grounds when he had the chance.

Moving from one city to another, John Sullivan said New York isn’t quite like the movies.

“What you see is Manhattan, Downtown, Uptown,” Sulllivan said. “That’s the equivalent of showing only Buckhead and telling someone that’s Atlanta.”

The movies do get some things right, though — the bustling city that always has something going on is true, he said.

“But what you don’t get is that there is a pretty big sense of community,” Sullivan said.

According to Sullivan, everything you need is within a couple of blocks, whether they be grocery stores or restaurants. So, you end up knowing everyone in your neighborhood and who grew up in your area, including the workers at the supermarket or bodega.

When Sullivan moved to Georgia, he chose Georgia State to go to school because he figured it being in Downtown Atlanta would remind him of home the most. Now, as a senior studying criminal justice, he says he doesn’t find much in common with the two cities.

As for restaurants that represent his home city near campus, Sullivan lists Reuben’s Deli, Rosa’s Pizza, Brickstone Cafe and East Coast Wings, which was by the College of the Law before it was closed.

On Broad Street, Reuben’s and Rosa’s both claim authentic New York style. Sullivan said Rosa’s has some characteristics but he wouldn’t necessarily call it New York pizza. 

Of the two, Reuben’s busy, loud atmosphere is just right. He says he’s a pretty basic dude when it comes to sandwiches and usually gets an Italian.

“Reuben’s is spot on,” he said.