Soul food began during the tragic years of slavery in the South, when slaves obtained bits of meat and vegetables their white “masters” considered inedible. Following the massive migration of former slaves to other parts of the country following the Civil War, soul food spread across America.
Many former slaves remained in the South, and today, food that was once considered the simplest is now found in almost every kind of place, from gas stations to restaurants to high-end restaurants. Today, we celebrate that food and the Black Americans who pour their hearts and souls into every bite – the ingenuity, resilience, and sustainability inherent in a tradition that began when two cultures intersected and created true American cuisine.
It’s 9:30 a.m. and the collard greens, crowder peas and butter beans are ready, oxtail roasting in the oven, and pork legs and ham hocks simmering on the stove. This is Soul Food Wednesday at Herman’s Soul Food and Catering, an event on Brainerd Road since the 1990s.
Rodney Billups and his crew have been cooking since 6am, and he’s bracing for the crowd. There were dozens upon dozens of corn muffins ready, and a big plate of cracklin cornbread too.
“And we may have to produce a lot more,” said Billups. “Soul Food Wednesday is our busiest day of the week.”
The traditional soul food, in all its deep fried, pork-laden glory, was a dish different from all the others, brought by the Africans to America during the days of slavery.
“I remember my grandmother going to get pork and cook every piece of it,” recalls Billups. “He will tell us that it is soul food.”
It is an offering of food that comes from the heart and feeds the soul, a cuisine full of culture and emotion.
Soul food is served at many of Black’s restaurants in town, but it’s not the only food on the plate. Whether to incorporate better nutrition or a chef’s personal identity, soul food is constantly evolving.
Mike Adams, owner and chef at Blue Orleans Seafood, specializes in the cuisine of his hometown, New Orleans. And at Davis Wayne’s, owners Cynthia Wood and Antonia Poland combine their culinary skills to create high-end, home-style meals, including Parmesan chicken, jerk pork tenderloin, oven-roasted chicken, and, only on Thursday nights, hand-cut steaks and salmon.
Andrea Cagle also brings fresh drinks to his new restaurant. Graduated from Le Cordon Bleu in Tucker, Georgia, he opened his catering business, Kozy Cooking, in 2005, and recently opened his sister’s restaurant next door, Fresh Bistro Chef Andi. You may find soul food served as a specialty from time to time, but Cagle specializes in healthier foods: street tacos with grilled salmon, chicken or shrimp; Asian chicken stir fry; Tex-Mex steel bowl; grilled salmon with lemon sauce; spaghetti with chicken meatballs.
Soul food in Chattanooga
Cagle opens his bistro due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“My catering business took a big hit,” he said. “I canceled 26 events in three months.”
He said he thanks the diverse customers of all colors who support his efforts to serve healthy and fresh food with flavors, such as his signature dish, Baja Bowl, a vegetarian dish with Latin flair to which chicken, salmon can be added. or prawns, and smoked pork butts for a little soul.
“I want restaurants to be a healthier way to eat,” he said. “It’s also a lifestyle change for me.”
Even when Cagle makes his favorite soul food – sautéed cabbage with pinto and cornbread – he makes a healthier version that lives up to the bistro slogan: “Food That Makes You Feel Good.”
February is Black History Month, and with Black-owned restaurants located all over town, there couldn’t be a better time to show support. Here are some of my favorites.
Blue Orleans Seafood Restaurant
Address: 1463 Market St.
The specialty: “Our seafood gumbo has made us very popular,” says chef Mike Adams.
Contact: 423-757-0088 or blueorleansdowntown.com
Address: 1501 E. 23rd St.
Specialties: Southern fried chicken with macaroni and cheese and fried green tomatoes
Contact: 423-624-6431 or candwcafe.com
Chatter Box Cafe
Address: 6801 Shallowford Road
Specialties: Smoked brisket and apple slaw
Contact: 423-322-4609 or chatterbox423.com
Chat Smoke House
Address: 416 EML King Blvd.
Signature dish: Rib plate with okra
Contact: 423-468-4978 or chatt-smokehouse.com
Fresh Bistro Chef Andi
Address: 729 Ashland Terrace, Red Bank
Signature dish: Baja Bowl
Contact: 423-314-2719 or chef-andis-fresh-bistro.business.site
Address: 9454 Bradmore Lane, Ooltewah
Specialties: Bake in pan roasted with macaroni and cheese or Brussels sprouts
Contact: 423-269-8969 or facebook.com/DavisWaynes
Address: 4817 Highway 58
Specialties: Fried catfish with fried corn
Contact: 423-468-3829 or tinyurl.com/HavensDinerCHA
Herman’s Soul Food and Catering
Address: 3821 Brainerd Road
Specialties: Ham hocks with collard greens and butter beans at Soul Food Wednesday
Contact: 423-624-5715 or hermanssoulfood.com
Nikki’s Soul Food Truck
Address: Different locations throughout Chattanooga
Specialties: Chicken and sauce
Contact: 423-508-4604 or facebook.com/nikkissoulfood (check Facebook for daily locations)
Address: 3202 Brainerd Road
Specialties: Hot (hot!) Chicken wings and cold beer
Contact: 423-805-5357 or flamingrooster.mystrikingly.com
Uncle Larry’s Restaurant
Address: 736 EML King Blvd .; 4850 Highway 58, Suite 180; 8210 Apison Pike, Ooltewah
Specialties: Whiting fish with fried okra and green radish
Contact: 423-757-5895 (ML King), 423-521-3474 (Hwy. 58), 423-498-2979 (Apison Pike) or unclelarrysrestaurant.com
Looking to add a little soul to your home-cooked meals? I recommend these two recipes, both of which are loved by many.
Southern Cook Green
Makes about 8 servings
What you need:
1/2 pound raw meat, chopped
3 cups chopped onion
Salt and fresh pepper, to taste
Pinch the cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons chopped shallots
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
12 ounce beer lager
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon of molasses
6 pounds of turnip greens, kale or collard greens, cleaned and stemmed
What are you doing:
1. In a large saucepan, puree the bacon until it is crispy, about 5 minutes. Add the onions and cook 6-7 minutes or until wilted.
2. Season the mixture with salt, pepper and bird’s eye chilies. Add onion and garlic, cook for 2 minutes. Add beer, vinegar and molasses.
3. Stir in the vegetables, 1/3 at a time, pressing them down when they start to wilt. Cook the vegetables, uncovered, for 1 1/2 hours or until tender.
Chicken and Dressing Casserole
What you need:
4 chicken thighs
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons of olive oil
4 glasses of water
2 celery sticks
2 cloves of garlic
1 wok prepared cornbread (your favorite recipe)
1 (12 ounce) spice filling package (such as Pepperidge Farm)
1/2 cup butter
1 large onion, diced
1 cup celery, diced
1 cup heavy cream
3-4 cups ordered chicken stock (see above)
2 eggs, beat off
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons granulated garlic
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons of sage powder
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
1 tablespoon ground pepper
2 teaspoons kosher salt
What are you doing:
1. Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper and add to deep skillet or heavy skillet with olive oil. Cook on both sides until browned, 8-10 minutes. Add water, celery and garlic, bring to a boil. Reduce it to a boil, cover and cook for 20 minutes.
2. Remove the chicken to a plate to cool slightly. Remove the skin and bones and shred or roughly chop the chicken. Set aside the broth.
3. Preheat oven to 350F. Crush the toasted cornbread in a large bowl, then add the crumbs of the seasoned stuffing.
4. Add butter to skillet and melt over medium heat. Add the onions and celery and cook until soft. Stir in the cream and mix well.
5. Pour the onion mixture over the cornbread mixture and add the shredded chicken.
6. Mix 2 cups of broth that has been ordered with 2 beaten eggs, pour over the dry ingredients and stir until combined. Add more stock 1/2 cup at a time until moist but not runny.
7. Add garlic, sage, rosemary, salt and pepper, stir until well blended. Pour the mixture into a well greased 9 by 13 inch baking sheet, spread evenly.
8. Cover with foil and bake 1 hour. Remove the foil and bake for another 30 minutes or until the tops and edges are brown.
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