What does food have to do with love? Everything, according to the movie Mr. Church. In these cynical times we could use more old-fashioned sentimental movies like this along with some good soul-warming home-cooked meals.


Photo by Cinelou Films.

Henry Joseph Church could have been anything he wanted to be. He chose to cook. "The key,’ he said, "Jazz."

And so Mr. Church begins, taking us on a lifelong journey filled with good homemade food, literature, art, music, gardening, birth, life, death, family, and love. Sorry, no sex or violence here. This is a “good” old-fashioned sentimental movie that no longer seems to have a place in today’s mainstream entertainment world. No wonder critics hated it when it was first released in 2016, but thanks to streaming, audiences managed to discover it — and we ate it up (sorry, couldn’t resist writing that).

In a dramatic turn, Eddie Murphy does a phenomenal job playing the title character. Fans may be quite surprised by his understated but powerful performance. In time, Mr. Church may even be remembered as Mr. Murphy’s greatest role.

Mr. Church unspools like a good novel, but the movie turned out to be based on an original screenplay by Susan McMartin which was inspired by her own childhood experiences. The character of Mr. Church was a real person, a lifelong friend who had greatly influenced the screenwriter’s life. After spending six years in development hell, the script was finally given to Eddie Murphy to read. When he accepted the role, Ms. McMartin was ecstatic because Mr. Murphy actually looked like the real Mr. Church.

Kudos to the filmmakers for making a movie about race that does not actually address racial issues even once. Set in a not-so-distant past with ample opportunity to inject politically correct messages, the film chose to ignore race completely. By showing the way things ought to be, they may have made the strongest possible statement about racial tension in this country.

Ultimately, the soul of this movie is a story about unconditional love told through shared meals. This is unapologetic melodrama at its best; I’ve seen the movie twice, and I was holding back tears both times. Be warned: this story will not only take you on a heightened emotional journey, but it will also leave you very hungry. That is unless you order some takeout beforehand.

In the movie, Mr. Church cooked everything from chicken to omelettes to grits and more. So I went out looking for some good comfort food that might come close to tasting like “homemade.” What I was looking for was something traditional, something tasty — nothing fancy, just satisfying, and I found it at my local grocery store.

Harvest Market is a supermarket where I shop at least once a week. I usually only buy ingredients for meals I want to cook, but I also like to walk by their deli counter just to look. Everything always looked good, but being the arrogant foodie that I am, I always thought “I can probably make that better at home.” What I needed was an excuse to actually make a purchase and knowing I needed a companion meal for Mr. Church, I finally gave in. What I didn’t know was how affordable their deli counter was.

Dinner for two turned out to cost only $16.50 with tax. I ordered a two-piece chicken meal which comes with two sides ($7) and an “entree and two sides combo” ($8, not on the menu board, so you’ll have to ask for it). The selection changes every day, but the options should satisfy just about anyone.

An overhead photo of the author's dinner from Harvest Market has fried chicken and two sides. Photo by Paul Young.Photo by Paul Young.

For the chicken dinner, I was offered honey chicken, oven roasted chicken, or fried chicken. As a homage to Mr. Church, I chose the fried chicken with brussel sprouts and macaroni-and-cheese for the sides; all dishes that would be time-consuming to make at home. The chicken was moist on the inside, crispy on the outside, just the way it’s supposed to be. The seasoning on the breading rivaled the Colonel’s version, but this version seemed to be prepared with more care. One of my favorite vegetables is brussel sprouts, and this version was roasted just right, just a little bit charred and seasoned with a dash of vinegar which balanced out the natural bitterness. I’m not a big fan of mac and cheese, but I snarfed this version up without hesitation.

On a pink tablecloth, there are four dishes with dinner: green beans, gravy, mashed potatoes, and a circle meatloaf. Photo by Paul Young.Photo by Paul Young.

For the second meal, I chose traditional meatloaf, garlic green beans, and mashed potatoes with gravy. There were many other entree choices, but I wanted to stay with the theme of comfort food. The meatloaf was dense and moist, subtly seasoned so that the beef flavor shone through. The green beans tasted very fresh and were definitely not overcooked. In fact, it was better than my own past efforts at home as I could never quite get the cooked beans to retain their beautiful color. The mashed potatoes were perfect, and the gravy was chocked full of flavor.

I got exactly what I desired, but there was one thing missing: the presentation. Yes, this was take-out and what I wanted was a homemade meal cooked by Mr. Church. So I grabbed a plate, opened a bottle of wine, sat down, and pretended that I slaved in the kitchen all day and made this wonderful meal just the way Mr. Church would have.

On a round, yellow plate, the author's dinner is a scoop of mashed potatoes with light gravy, many green beans topped with garlic, and a circle meatloaf. Photo by Paul Young.Photo by Paul Young.

Harvest Market's deli counter is open 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., but the selection changes throughout the day. Delivery is available, but you’ll have to plan ahead and schedule it ahead of time. They did a great job making their deli options available online, but unfortunately the online selection is not complete. I tried but I was not able to order the above meals via their website.

Mr. Church is currently streaming on-demand on Amazon Prime, Kanopy (free via the Urbana or Champaign libraries) and other free platforms (check reelgood.com).

With so many streaming options available, it’s hard to keep track of what’s streaming where at any particular time. That’s where reelgood.com comes in. Yeah, that’s a stupid name, but boy does it do its job well. In the mood for a particular movie? Sign up for a free login, and search for your title. The site will tell you where it’s currently streaming. If your movie is not currently available, click “want to see,” and you’ll get an email when the title does become available. Tell the site what platforms you subscribe to, and it will return the favor by showing you what’s coming, what’s leaving, and when. Got a long list of “want-to-see” movies? Sort your list by IMDB rating, and then choose your evening’s entertainment from there. I would happily pay for this service, but they don’t accept any money. Yes, the streaming movie gods are smiling down at us.

If you’ve got other interesting dinner/movie combo suggestions, please comment below. Be creative, but please skip obvious titles like Mystic Pizza or Sausage Party. They’re both decent movies, but we know you can do better.

Harvest Market
2029 S Neil St
Champaign
6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily

Top image by Paul Young.