Soul Food in Boston…not. A recent article in the Boston Globe, Savoring a healthier, revitalized soul food by Peggy Hernandez bothered me a bit. Not because I’m not interested in healthier soul food (I am and do) but because of the fact that only one local restaurant cited in the article serves soul food and is owned by Black people. How you gonna have two of three restaurants in a soul food article be owned by white people?
The article features the recently published Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine One Plate at a Time by Adrian Miller, a food historian, who visited the Boston area. He visited Bethel A.M.E. Church and spoke about his book. According to the reporter, parishioners there suggested he visit two restaurants, Blue Ribbon Barbecue (in Arlington and West Newton) and Sweet Cheeks (in the Fenway) for healthier soul food. Shame on them if they did. Both Blue Ribbon and Sweet Cheeks are owned by whites and don’t claim to be Soul Food restaurants although they do claim southern roots/affinity.
Only in Boston. Sigh.
Soul Food has always meant traditional Black American cuisine with Southern roots both from the period of African captivity better-known as slavery where Black American cooks elevated the scraps they were given to eat, which retained some African elements in the New World. Black Americans and White Southern Americans ate much of the same food (even today in many “Southern” kitchens especially white-owned barbecue spots down South, the cooks are often Black).
I grew up eating Soul Food – having watched my mom and grandmother and extended family members prepare it weekly at Sunday dinner as well as at the annual Kinloch Family Picnic held in Forest Park in St. Louis, Missouri. My family also had a short-lived restaurant my parents and cousins owned, The Pig’s Inn. (St. Louis Soul Food is now represented nationally by Sweetie Pie’s restaurants on the reality show featuring Miss Robbie and her extended family on the OWN network.)
While the article did mention one local. Black-owned spot, The Rotisserie (and I call it a spot because it really isn’t dine-in), uniformed or lazy reporting neglected to mention a few other places to get Soul Food prepared by Black chefs – some “healthier” and some prepared as they always were. And I lament the fact that Boston doesn’t have a sit-down, Southern Soul Food restaurant any more. (Although our Caribbean and Latino cousins do.)
Darryl’s Corner Bar & Kitchen – While Darryl’s is dedicated to the Bar and Music it also serves soul food including the famous fried chicken made famous by the original soul food restaurant it is a successor to: Bob the Chef’s.
Slade’s Bar and Grill – Great Soul Food with live music and dancing. It’s a bar. Best fried chicken wings in town and delicious collard greens that are clean (no salt pork or ham hocks detected).
The Pit Stop/Pit Stop Barbecue – not a restaurant but a take-out Thursday-Saturday only place with Soul Food you can count on. “Whether from Tennessee, Texas, Georgia, Louisiana, or the Carolina’s, southern BBQ is the sweetest and most sultry taste around. Complete with all the fixings, our southern comfort food is sure to satisfy any appetite. Our recipes have been gathered from over five generations of three families with strong southern roots, each steeped in the tradition of BBQ and soul food. Bring the whole family and experience our down home cooking for yourself. You’ll never forget your first time! You’ll be back for more…. guaranteed!”
The Rotiserrie: Food for the Soul – Located in Grove Hall. Small with a few tables. “The Rotisserie, Food for the Soul is a cornerstone in the Dorchester community and has been recognized for its outstanding BBQ cuisine, excellent service and friendly staff.”
Downhome Delivery & Catering – “From humble beginnings at Crop Circle Kitchen (Jamaica Plain, MA), to our new state of the art kitchen facility at 2 Bowdoin Street in Dorchester, MA; our chefs work daily to prepare all of your traditional soul food favorites. From our delicious entrees and side dishes to our freshly baked desserts, we’re proud to serve you quality food at a fair price. Using traditional recipes passed down through generations of great cooks from Macon, Georgia; we’re proud to keep current a culture, taste and passion for food that has often been lost with our fast paced Northern lifestyle.” (Since I originally wrote this post, they have opened a small dining room and have expanded hours. Check the website.)
United House of Prayer Kitchen – Cafeteria-style kitchen serves Soul Food
7 days a week now now only open on weekends in Dorchester in a building behind the church (founded by Daddy Grace). Don’t seem to have their own website. Inexpensive and abundant portions. I’ve taken tour groups there several times.
Coast Cafe (Cambridge) – (Two readers of this post hipped me to this place in Cambridge. I’m going to check them out soon.) “At The Coast Cafe, we serve America’s preeminent regional cuisine: Southern-Cooked Soul Food. All of our meals are made with tender loving care. It’s just one of the reasons why we call it “Food from the Soul.”
We are open for lunch and dinner four days a week and catering six days a week. We offer Eat-in, Take-out, Delivery, and Catering Service. From vegetarian offerings to our own slow-smoked BBQ to our mouthwatering Fried Chicken, The Coast Cafe is the perfect destination for great food.”
New spot since I originally posted:
Maxine’s On Saint James (Louisiana/Southern Cuisine) – I was walking down Dudley Street from St. Patrick’s Church to Dudley Station when I spotted the lovely sign on this spot at 304 Dudley Street near Orchard Gardens. When I walked in, the smells were de-li-cious but I couldn’t sample because there was not one spot to sit – not even a counter! I grabbed the menu and spoke briefly with the chef. They don’t have a website or an email or a fax # either. (Sigh…no, Damn…no, Really?) – “Catering, Delivery, Curbside only” the menu states. Open Mon-Sat., 11:30am-7:00pm. (617-427-0927). The menu lists chicken-n-waffle, fried pork chops, a variety of Po’Boy sandwiches, several fish/shrimp dishes with grits, requisite sides and desserts. The menu is fairly slammin’. Too bad the spot, itself is not. Perhaps they will grow to be so.
Next Step Soul Food Cafe – In Dorchester. Located near Codman Square Health Center, I’ve eaten here once – had fried fish. The owner, Michele White, was warm, friendly and spoke to me her plans for the restaurant which is still evolving (no peach cobbler when I went!). I will go back. Here’s the review, Soul food with heart at Dorchester’s Next step, written by Ellen Bhang, that appeared in the Boston Globe in March 2017.
Handy’s Cafe – Dorchester (Upham’s Corner) formerly in a small sport in Adams Village has reopened in Upham’s Corner on Columbia Road. They serve breakfast and soul food for lunch and dinner. The meal I had was good (friend fish cooked to order, collars and sweet potatoes) but the service is very slow and erratic just as it was at Adams Village. The friend who I met there said this is generally how it is. Don’t go if time is an issue.
Some of the most sublime soul food I’ve ever tasted was at Bully’s Restaurant in Jackson, MS. Fast service from a waitress who was warm and personable but also all about business; all selections on the menu were available and delicious; and the prices were amazing. Here’s a link to a wonderful article about them in Southern Foodways, Portrait of a Place.
Here are descriptions of the non-soul food restaurants mentioned in the Globe article from their websites:
Sweet Cheeks – Boston (The Fenway) “Sweet Cheeks is the American south north of the Mason Dixon, it’s my backyard as a kid. It’s the heady smell of smoked meat delivered with a smile.”
Blue Ribbon Barbecue – Arlington & West Newton “Inspired by the classic roadside barbecue joints that dot the American South, Blue Ribbon offers the best of authentic Southern regional barbecue.”
Review of 1997 Soul Food movie starring Vanessa L. Williams, Michael Beach, Vivica A. Fox, Nia Long, and Irma P. Hall as the matriarch among others.
A Taste of Country Cooking by Edna Lewis – the now deceased, elegant grand-dame of Soul Food and Southern Cuisine.
Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine by Norma Jean & Carole Darden (originally published in 1978)
Vibration Cooking: or the travel notes of a geechee girl by Verta Mae Grosvenor.(1980)
Soul Food: the Surprising Story of an American Cuisine by Adrian Miller
Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine by Norma Jean & Carole Darden (originally published in 1978)
HIGH ON THE HOG: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America By Jessica B. Harris
Patti LaBelle Cookbooks
The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South by Michael W. Twitty
My mouth is watering already! Where I live, it’s a challenge to find a soul food restaurant with healthier menu choices. If I make it to Boston again, I’d like to visit a few of the restaurants you mentioned.
Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. I’ll be adding another restaurant based on suggestions from two readers. Do be in touch if you ever get back to Boss-town.
I found a link to this post on twitter, and I’m very glad I found it! Thanks for a very interesting piece.
There’s a couple of places I’ve never heard of, and I can’t wait to try them out.
One old favorite of mine that’s not on list is Coast Cafe, near Central Square in Cambridge. Not much seating (maybe only two stools?) so it’s mostly takeout. http://www.coastsoulcafe.com/ Check it out if you’ve never been. It’s really good but also it’s pretty much it for soul food in Cambridge.
Thanks for taking the time to read my post and to tell me about the Coast Cafe in Cambridge. I’ll check it out and add it to my list. Be well.
The Coast Cafe, Food from the Soul. Hole-in-the-Wall Soul Food Counter
You and another reader hipped me to the Coast Cafe. I’ll check them out and update my post. Be well.
Great post! Thank you so much for the lesson, and the list.
Thanks for taking the time to read and to leave a response. Based on reader feedback, I’m adding another place to the list.
I didn’t know there were so many soul food restaurants in boston. I shall use this list in the near future. I love the article.
I’m sure there are more than I know about. Thanks for reading and commenting.
I love your comments regarding “Soul Food restaurants in Boston” and I agree that we need more places.
I also have one suggestion: Larry J’s BBQ Cafe located on D street on the waterfront near Seaport Blvd. They typically serve Texas style BBQ with southern style side dishes. We ordered the fried fish sandwich special and were very pleased.
Thanks for suggestion and for taking time to comment. While it doesn’t meet the definition of Soul Food it does sound southern-delicious.