Though the term ‘soul food’ wasn’t introduced until the 1960’s, this heritage cuisine has roots extending back to African slaves in the 14th century. Its original dishes were forged out of the off-cuts and leftovers they were given by their owners, supplemented with whatever produce they could grow or forage and the wild game they hunted. Over time, it evolved to include a broader variety of ingredients and has become the backbone of what most people consider Southern cuisine. Traditionally, this comforting cooking was served mainly below the Mason-Dixon line, though now you can easily find it to the north in New York City and beyond. To honor Soul Food month, we’ve assembled six super satisfying soul foods that will stick to your belly and give you a little taste of history.
Blujeen, Harlem, New York
Chef-owner Lance Knowling is a master of elevating rootsy cuisines to new heights. A perfect example is his smothered pork tenderloin, which comes spangled with sweet potato succotash and a dappling of pan drippings. No wonder Chelsea Clinton hired him to cater her wedding.
Café B, New Orleans, Louisiana
Mac ‘n’ cheese may well be the ultimate comfort food. This winning rendition is made with Irish white cheddar, Gruyere, and Parmigiano-Reggiano – plus a Parmesan topping. Gloriously gooey and über-rich, it’s the perfect kickoff to a meal or a satisfying side.
Macon Bistro & Larder, Washington, D.C.
There are few more satisfying sides than a basketful of warm biscuits. These butter-rich rounds are flaky, fluffy, and filling. Split one open to spread on your choice of sweet honey butter or piquant pepper jelly.
Paschal’s Restaurant, Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Dizzy Gillespie, and Aretha Franklin have all made pilgrimages to this soul food mecca. They came for the restaurant’s blue ribbon fried chicken, which has been made with the same recipe since 1947. Each order comes with a breast, leg, and wing, plus your choice of a side (go for the collard greens or black-eyed peas).
Punk’s Simple Southern Food, Houston, Texas
Crispy on the outside, tender on the inside. That’s the key to Punk’s perfectly balanced chicken fried steak. Topped off with a hearty ladleful of gravy and accompanied by a mound of horseradish-laced mashed potatoes, it’s the taste of the South in your mouth.
Sissy’s Southern Kitchen & Bar, Dallas, Texas
There are hush puppies and then there are squash puppies. These golden orbs have a crunch exterior and a soft center hiding a hint of their namesake. Eat them plain or slather on your choice of fluffy butter or a slightly spicy jalapeno jelly. Either way, your stomach will smile.
Celebrate Soul Food Month in June! Make a reservation at one of these restaurants or an eatery near you.
Nevin Martell is a Washington, DC-based food and travel writer and the author of several books, including Freak Show Without A Tent: Swimming with Piranhas, Getting Stoned in Fiji and Other Family Vacations. Find him on Twitter @nevinmartell.