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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.). 

fried chicken with three sides

fried chicken with three sides

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!).

turkey wings and dressing dinner with two sides

turkey wings and dressing dinner with two sides

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. 

the cole slaw didn't fit comfortably in the shot with any other dish, so it's on its own

the cole slaw didn’t fit comfortably in the shot with any other dish, so it’s on its own

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.

peach cobbler

peach cobbler

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.

Jack’s, Pleasant Hill CA

We got up early today, knowing it is going to be a big day of food.  A 2.1 oz. black truffle arrived on Friday from Italy, so we’re going to put it in all the Superbowl-influenced recipes later in the day.  For the morning, since we still had to do some grocery shopping, we thought to go out to one of the best sit-down, non-cafes in the area for breakfast.  Jack’s has two locations now, and we’re fortunate to live so close to the original.  They feature a bar and menus for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but we come here almost exclusively for breakfast and order the same thing every time.  Not that other items on the menus aren’t good, of course, but once you find something you love, it’s hard not to order it.

swedish pancakes with lingonberry butter

swedish pancakes with lingonberry butter

August’s staple is the Swedish pancakes.  Forgive the tri-colored pancakes, they usually don’t look like that; we spoke with the chef and he said he would talk to the kitchen.  However, the flavor was not compromised.  These thin cakes are served with maple syrup and lingonberry butter, but the syrup isn’t necessary.  All the pancakes need is the lingonberry butter, which has an added benefit that not many know about.  August’s full-blooded Swedish grandmother sent her a page from TIME Magazine (Jan 21, 2013 issue) about superfruits, and lingonberries are one of them.  Loaded with phytochemicals like arbutin and anthocyanin, these powerful Scandinavian fruits help fight urinary-tract infections.  And they’re tasty.

the "moose"

the “moose”

Zach traditionally orders “the Moose.”  Layered with biscuits, hash browns, bacon, gravy, eggs any style (he gets over-medium), and garnished with tomatoes and green onions, the Moose is hefty and we always bring half of it home to our dog; it’s “extremely, extremely big” (Zach).  There’s even a “Mighty Moose” that comes with country fried steak!

Zach appreciates this establishment because a majority of the items here are house-made from scratch.  Regardless of what you order, service here is incredible.  We keep coming back not just for the food, but for the welcoming staff.  This place is so popular, though, don’t expect to get a table easily at 10 am – we arrive when it opens at 8 am, so there’s parking, bright-eyed staff, and fresh food every time.

Turkey Meatloaf, Blue Cheese Mashed Potatoes, Mushroom Gravy, and Steamed Broccoli

turkey meatloaf, blue cheese mashed potatoes, mushroom gravy, and steamed broccoli

turkey meatloaf, blue cheese mashed potatoes, mushroom gravy, and steamed broccoli

Meatloaf in Zach’s house growing up was a mix of beef, pork, and veal.  That’s great, but nowadays we’re trying to make smarter decisions about our health.  Tonight’s recipe features Jennie-O lean ground turkey; sure, you could get extra lean, but you still want a moist meatloaf, not a dry meat sponge.

Makes 4-5 servings

• For the meatloaf:

20 oz. Jennie-O lean ground turkey

1 medium-sized carrot

1/2 white onion

1/4 cup plain bread crumbs

1/4 cup tomato puree

1 egg

2 tbs. grated Parmesan cheese

2 garlic cloves

1 tsp. Sriracha sauce

1/2 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper

1/2 tsp. dried thyme

1/4 cup ketchup

1 tsp. Kosher salt

1 tsp. butter

1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

Pam spray

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Chop carrot and onion in smaller, more manageable pieces.  Put garlic, thyme, carrot and onion chunks in a food processor, and pulse until finely chopped.  Saute in a pan with butter over medium heat for 5-7 minutes until mixture is slightly softened.  Set aside to cool.

In a large mixing bowl, add turkey, bread crumbs, tomato puree, egg, cheese, Sriracha sauce, pepper, salt, and the cooled sauteed vegetables.  Mix until well blended, but don’t overwork the meat.

Spray a cookie sheet with Pam.  Form the meat mixture into an evenly-shaped loaf or log, and place on the cookie sheet.  Mix ketchup and Worcestershire sauce together, and coat the sides and top of the loaf.  Bake for 1 hour 20 minutes, with a baking dish full of water sitting on the rack below to help keep meatloaf moist and prevent cracking.  Let rest before slicing, about 8 minutes.

• For the mashed potatoes:

1 large pot of salted water

5 large red potatoes

1/2 cup fat-free milk (more or less, depending on how thick you like your potatoes)

3 tbs. Litehouse Big Bleu dressing

1 tbs. Litehouse bleu cheese crumbles

1 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper

1 tsp. garlic powder

Salt to taste, but potatoes take a lot to salt

Boil potatoes in the salted water on medium-low to medium heat until soft and tender.  Drain, then combine all ingredients with a hand mixer or KitchenAid.  Scrape down the sides of the bowls a couple of times to make sure all ingredients are fully incorporated, and taste for desired saltiness.

• For the mushroom gravy:

12 large button mushrooms, quartered

1 can beef broth

1/4 cup white wine (in two quarters)

2 tbs. flour

2 tbs. butter (in 1 tbs. portions)

1 garlic clove

1/2 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper

2 green onion stalks

Combine all ingredients except mushrooms, 1/8 cup wine, flour and butter in a small sauce pan to make a broth.  Reduce over medium heat for about 20 minutes, but remove the garlic and green onion after 10 minutes.

In a medium-sized saute pan, melt 1 tbs. butter over medium heat and saute the mushrooms for 7-10 minutes, until tender.  Add 1/8 cup wine half way through cooking time.

In a small saute pan, melt the other 1 tbs. butter over medium heat and add flour.  Cook until mixture is golden brown; this is called a roux.  Combine roux with reduced broth in the broth’s pan, and cook until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon (nappe).  Add mushrooms, cook for another 1-2 minutes to marry the flavors, and done.  Serve with steamed broccoli.