Soul food is one of the most popular types of Southern cooking. Dishes like rice, okra, oxtails, hog’s feet, fried chicken, and peach cobbler are soul food staples. Traditionally associated with African-American culture, soul food is also influenced by traditional Native-American cooking. Here’s a guide to some of the best spots to sample soul food in the Southern states.
Bully’s has been a fixture in Jackson, Mississippi since 1982 when Tyrone Bully and his father opened up a soul food spot to keep local factory workers going through the day. They say Jesse Jackson used to dine here in the days when he was running for President, as have many of the artists who have recorded at nearby Malaco Records. On the menu are soul food classics like fried catfish, ham hocks, chitterlings, neck bones, and pig’s feet.
Dooky Chase’s is a soul food institution in New Orleans. Among the great names to have stopped in for a bite here have been Martin Luther King, Jr., Quincy Jones, Ray Charles, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Nat King Cole, as well as Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. On Dooky Chase’s menu are gumbo, red beans and rice with hot sausage, double-cut pork chops, and peach cobbler and praline pudding to follow.
Martha Lou’s Kitchen is a landmark in Charleston, South Carolina. The bright pink exterior gives you an idea that this is no run-of-the-mill restaurant. Martha Lou Gadsden has 30 years of experience cooking up quality soul food with recipes learned from her mother. The menu changes daily, with a choice of meats and a couple of sides – expect lots of fried chicken, pork chops, chitterlings, beef stew, and barbecue ribs, all with white rice, backed macaroni, corn bread, and lima beans.
In downtown Savannah, Georgia is Mrs Wilkes’ Dining Room where you can get wonderful Southern soul food. There’s no menu at Mrs Wilkes’, it’s a case of guests being ushered into the dining room where dishes are set out on the side for them to pick and choose from. There’s normally lots of fried chicken, meatloaf, beef stew, and sausage with black-eyed peas, cornbread, candied yams, and baked beans. Barack Obama has dined and other famous guests have included Gregory Peck and Robert Duvall.
The Busy Bee Cafe is the one of the top places for soul food in Atlanta, Georgia, with five-star customer reviews. Back in 1947, Lucy Jackson set up the cafe on what’s now known as Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive.
Mama Dip set up her restaurant in 1976 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. On the menu are appetizers of fried green tomatoes, hush puppies, fried pickles, then there’s catfish gumbo, BBQ chicken and pork, fried chicken, country hams, beef livers, chitterlings, and chicken and gravy.
This Is It is where to head if you’re looking for soul food in Houston. Serving up delicious food since 1959, it’s now at its fourth location, having had to keep moving to accommodate diners. This Is It remains a family enterprise, and serves soul food classics like their breakfasts of Creole bread, pork chops, and ham and eggs, and lunches of oxtails, meatballs, ham hocks, and pork neck bones.
At Husk there’s a contemporary approach to Southern soul food. Award-winning chef Sean Brock takes a rigorous, research-based approach, with anything that isn’t from the South jettisoned, even olive oil, while flavors and ingredients that were used way back are brought together again. There’s a daily menu that shows off the best Southern produce, with dishes like roasted oysters and smoky bacon cream, fried chicken skins and pepper mash mayo, and glazed pig’s ear lettuce wrap with sweet vinegar marinated cucumber.
Paschal’s has been in downtown Atlanta since 1947, when brothers James and Robert Paschal set up their soul food restaurant. It’s located in the Castleberry Hill Arts District that’s full of art galleries and museums. The restaurant has drawn famous names like Aretha Franklin, Dizzy Gillespie, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Al Gore. On the menu are soul food dishes like Cajun catfish fingers, shrimp and grits, BBQ ribs, and the famous Paschal’s fried chicken breast, leg, and wing made to their trademark recipe.
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Alcenia’s in Nashville, Tennessee is run by Betty Joyce Chester-Tamayo and named for her mother, whose recipes were the basis of the menu and inspired Alcenia’s Cookbook. Alcenia’s is particularly known for the great desserts. On the menu are fried chicken, pork chops, and catfish, with pecan pie, pound cake and lemon pie to follow.
Willie Mae Seaton set up shop in New Orleans in 1957 serving what’s been labelled America’s very finest fried chicken. Willie Mae’s serves up a soul food menu of their famous fried chicken, smothered veal, chicken tenders, and baked chicken with classic sides of mac ‘n’ cheese, fries, red beans, cornbread muffins, and fried okra.
Mel’s Soul Food Cafe in Charlottesville, Virginia has a low profile but a sky-high reputation. On the menu are beef livers with onions, country hams, barbecue ribs, chicken wing dings, submarine sandwiches, and foot-long hot dogs, with cheesecake, apple pie, and lemon meringue pie to follow.