Alberta Wright, the owner of Jezebel, which brought soul food with panache to Manhattan’s theater district and helped make sophisticated variations of Southern dishes a culinary trend, died on Friday in the Bronx. She was 84.
Originally from Charleston, South Carolina, Alberta opened Jezebel in 1983, and designed what became an airy, yet intimate fabulously romantic dining spot in the center of Hell’s Kitchen, adjacent to the bustling theater district. Complete with 15 glowing chandeliers and almost as many “courting swings” for which to sit on while dining, Jezebel is a true taste of the South right here in Manhattan.
Alberta’s original Southern recipes include a Broiled Filet of Red Snapper with cornbread oyster stuffing, carrots vichy and string beans, as well as a stunning Seafood Platter, complete with shrimp, scallops, catfish or mussels and broiled with white wine herb. Desserts are a must of course, as Bread Pudding and Coconut Flaked Sweet Potato Pie add to the experience.
Jezebel offered traditional dishes like garlic shrimp, she-crab soup and three varieties of chicken — fried, honey-fried and with waffles.
Ms. Wright tried opening a branch of her restaurant in Paris and worked with investors like Denzel Washington, Wesley Snipes, Charles Oakley, Julius Erving and her son Michael Wright, the stage and film actor, to open another on the Upper West Side, but both efforts fizzled. Ms. Wright closed Jezebel in 2007.
Alberta’s son Michael Wright got his big break getting into Hollywood at his mother’s lush southern-style restaurant “Jezebel.” He grew up on West End Avenue but he lived in Tokyo, Paris and other parts of the world.
“One day, Townsend came into the restaurant for dinner,” Wright started to talking. “I never go out,” remembers Townsend. “Before I knew it, we were club-hopping. Then we ended up in Michael’s apartment at 3 A.M. watching this Japanese film he’d made.” Townsend cast him immediately. Wright earned his reputation for playing his role as Eddie Cain, Jr., in the 1991 Robert Townsend film The five Heartbeats, a story about a Temptations-style soul quintet.