Souls Restaurant, Oakland CA
On a corner of MacArthur Blvd in a neighborhood you might think twice about visiting normally, sits Souls Restaurant with a pleasant façade and an elegant sign. We had driven by it many times, thinking more than twice, but today we wanted some hearty soul food and this came up in our online searching. Even in an area of desperation, food can create a center of peace. At 3:something in the afternoon for a late lunch/early dinner, many diners were thoroughly enjoying themselves over good food; we saw lots of families, many generations, and a large party celebrating a birthday.
While waiting for our entrees we sipped our drinks and munched on corn bread. August tried the sweet tea and, unlike every other commercial sweet tea she’s tried, it actually tasted like tea! Not just a sugary syrup with tea flavor, this was genuine, housemade sweet tea. The icing on the cake is that refills are free. Just as impressive were the housemade corn bread muffins, with a light sweetness and good butteryness. One thing appreciated in particular was the texture: soft and light, with a delicate crumble, and a hint of crunch from the corn meal (not corn flour like many places use nowadays. Corn flour yields a product more like cake than bread.).
Zach got three pieces of fried chicken. The selection of white and dark meats was breaded before fried, giving the skin a crispy and flaky crust, well seasoned and savory. The meat inside was juicy and succulent, and easily pulled apart with a fork; the juice was visible upon first go. Not everyone in the restaurant was eating this plate, but many patrons were spotted about the dining room with this in front of them, proving that it’s a popular item. It comes with a choice of three sides, and Zach wanted to go as Southern as possible: red beans and rice, macaroni and cheese, and “greens” (of the collard nature). Sure, the first was just beans and rice, but the red beans were very, very rich in flavor, the rice was perfectly cooked, and the sauce was almost gravy-like and a good complement over the rice. For being a lighter calorie side, it’s very hearty and satisfying. The baked mac and cheese was traditional, meaning ooey and gooey with shredded cheese, as opposed to the non-baked version with a runnier cheese sauce. What topped it off, no pun intended, was the delicious golden-brown cheese layer on top, which Zach says was hard not to pull of and eat by itself. It’s possible to overcook greens so that they break down, but these were well done, with no bitterness or green flavor, and great seasoning and salting (ha ha!).
The Saturday dinner special and recommendation from our wonderful server was turkey wings and dressing. August’s turkey was moist and plentiful, just like Zach’s chicken, so you know lots of leftover bones will be stripped tonight for Bea the Dog; we strip the bones to give her the meat, because you should never give your dog cooked poultry bones! August ate what she could, but it was hard with all that was on the plate. The dressing was somewhat piquant under the tender turkey. Because this dinner already comes with dressing (it’s stuffing if it has actually been stuffed in the turkey), two sides can be chosen. August got tasty string beans and surprising yams. We say surprising because these were unexpectedly spiced with clove and nutmeg, adding a bit of boldness. To try further variety, we also ordered two more sides to try the mashed potatoes and gravy, and cole slaw. The housemade potatoes that fit on August’s plate were thick and perfectly salted, and the gravy provided another rich flavor layer.
Little lonely cole slaw didn’t have room on either of the plates, and it looked awkward trying to stick it in the shot with an entree, so one of August’s favorite things got its own spotlight. Crispy, refreshing, and light, this was everything a classic cole slaw should be. It wasn’t overly sweet, and the cabbage wasn’t sitting in a lot of watery dressing, so it was fresh and had a good zing to it.
How can you leave a soul food restaurant, even if you’re stuffed, without trying a dessert? It’s like turning down your grandmother when she’s cooked so hard for you. If you like a simple, fruity dessert to satisfy your sweet tooth, this is the cobbler for you.
Souls Restaurant was conceived to be a center of goodness within the desolation. Building was funded through the donations of the members of Acts Full Gospel Church, and that spirit of unity and collaboration vibrates within the establishment. Quality abounds, from the ambiance to the customer service. Don’t be scared by the surroundings, you will be welcomed and embraced here.
Posted on May 4, 2013, in Restaurants and tagged beans, cheese, chicken, collard greens, corn bread, dressing, fried, gravy, macaroni, oakland, potato, restaurant, rice, soul, string bean, turkey, yam. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.