There’s nothing more natural than celebrating culture through food. Soul food is one of America’s most beloved cuisines and continues to evolve in delicious ways.
The Staples of Soul
Close your eyes and the first thing that comes to mind is crispy chicken or catfish fried to perfection. Tucked beside it, you may find collard greens that have been cooked low and slow with a hint of smoked ham hocks and vinegar. Or maybe some homemade mac and cheese oozing with flavor from shredded cheddar, mozzarella, and Colby. There’s cornbread on the table, likely cooked in a cast iron skillet and ready for you to drip butter on top. The ending to a meal like this is sweet with fresh peach cobbler topped by a biscuit or cinnamon crumbles, maybe with a scoop of vanilla ice cream saying hello to it all from above. Or was sweet potato pie the way you wanted to end this daydream?
Soul Food for Your Bucket List
The queen of soul food, Sylvia Woods, opened Sylvia’s in Harlem in 1962. She fueled the spark that made soul food mainstream. It’s so popular that presidents and celebrities have stopped there to enjoy its world-famous platters for lunch, dinner, and Gospel brunch with eggs, grits, and buttermilk biscuits.
Wille Mae’s Scotch House in New Orleans has been voted the best fried chicken in America by the Food Network. It has a storied history, starting out as a beauty salon, barbershop, bar, and restaurant. Then Wille Mae’s expanded the restaurant as the hair business died down. People from all over the world visit the Lower Nineth Ward to eat there.
When in the Mississippi Delta, you’ll want to visit Bully’s in Jackson which is known for some of the authentic soul food in the country. This humble little spot is the real deal and the place to get everything from fried green tomatoes to oxtail and pig’s feet, all of it served on red cafeteria trays with a big smile.
In Washington, D.C, the Florida Avenue Grill claims the title of “oldest Soul Food Restaurant in the world.” While there, you’ll want to go for the incredible pork chops, either lightly breaded or covered in their famous onion gravy.
These are just a few of many names that started as neighborhood joints and became famous. There are so many incredible soul food restaurants, you could create a whole road trip around them.
Soul Food Evolution
Food gets influenced by creativity and local ingredients. That’s the beauty of it.
If you go to Richmond, VA, Croaker’s Spot reigns as the “Soul of Seafood.” You can skip the extra dash of hot sauce here when you order its flavorful main event, the Fried Fish Boat. Thick strips of fried whiting come with a sassy tomato sauce, fried onions, and peppers.
Vegan soul food is also now trending as our modern world realizes that the greens, beans, rice, and sweet potatoes are incredibly healthy. Sweet Soulfood in New Orleans is a standout, offering up sweet hot fried cauliflower and Soul Veg City in Chicago gets raves for dedicating themselves to plant-based cooking decades ago. Order up a black-eyed pea burger.
Upscale soul food has also blossomed. In Dallas, Roots Southern table Top Chef alum Tiffany Derry whips up award-winning black eyed pea hummus, oxtail ragu and duck fat-fried plantains. What’s more, it’s done with heart. Tiffany and her partners are working to help the local community through mentoring, workshops, and economic innovation for those who need entrepreneurial support by developing Roots Chicken Shak.
Joy for Belonging
Bringing people together is what restaurants do best. As we all work to build a connected community, we thank the restaurant leaders who use a language we all speak — food with love baked in!— to help us all do exactly that.
If you need tips on getting a design going to expand your restaurant dreams and bring more people together, we’re happy to share our knowledge. Our expertise is patio enclosures for everyone from simple family establishments to upscale hotel projects.