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October, 2017

Terra Vita Festival 2017 Recap

I spent a few wonderful days in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The festival explores a wide range of sustainability issues. I was on a panel discussing healthy soul food with Ed and Ryan Mitchell (a father and son whole hog barbecue team) and Stephanie Perry who runs Sweeties Southern and Vegan Catering in Chapel Hill.

Ryan Mitchell, me and Ed Mitchell

Me and Stephanie Perry

We had a lively discussion, and as a bonus, my fellow panelists gave put samples of their product.

I’m still dreaming about the chopped, spiced pork shoulder that the Mitchells gave out. Mercy!

Terra Vita is a fun, informative event. If you live in that part of NC, you should definitely check it out next yesr!

National Dessert Day Tribute

I found out earlier that today is “National Dessett Day.” As a tribute, here are some of my favorite dessert pictures in recent memory:

Amish fried pie, Worth the Drive Bakery, southern Colorado

Cora Faye’s coconut cream cake

Jabo’s BBQ’s Utah scone

Brown Sugar Bakery’s caramel cake.

Cora Faye’s peach cobbler

Campbell Chapel AME Church mother’s pineapple upside down cake

Rye’s (Kansas City) lemon meringue pie

Bully’s Soul Food (Jackson, MS) blackberry cobbler

Sweet potato pie with a roasted marshmallow



8 Great Soul Food Spots in St. Louis

I’m always on the look out for “best soul food” lists. Christine Vazquez of Nourish Magazine hipped me to this one from Sauce Magazine. So, folks in the St. Louis area, is this list legit?
Tour 8 great St. Louis soul food spots
By Matt Sorrell | Photos by Virginia Harold
Posted On: 10/01/2017

Soul food is the most comforting of comfort foods, from fried chicken to mac and cheese. It’s easy to forget that so many of these feel-good favorites were actually forged in slavery, when black Americans used discarded or ignored ingredients like pig feet, oxtail and fibrous greens to create a cuisine that transcends the sum of its humble parts. The traditions and flavors of this beloved food continue to resonate with diners today. Soul food has been subjected to many riffs, spins and permutations over the years, but St. Louis is still rich with local eateries that continue to put forth the real deal.
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Brother’s Diner
1508 Whittier St., St. Louis, 314.533.2022
Once Brother’s is on your radar, you won’t soon forget it. Just off Dr. Martin Luther King Drive, the catfish here is flaky and utilizes a cornmeal batter for a lighter texture. The tripe is another standout – not too tough or funky – and the Brother’s wings, crispy and lightly seasoned, will ruin chain chicken places for you. There is some inside seating available, but takeout is the norm.

Gourmet Soul
1620 Delmar Blvd., St. Louis, 314.339.5658, gourmetsoul.com
Around the corner from the hustle and bustle of City Museum and Washington Avenue, it’s easy to miss Gourmet Soul’s blue awning, but this humble eatery is worth keeping an eye out for. More of a greatest-hits place, there aren’t any off-cuts here. The focus is on classics from chicken wings to smothered pork chops to some stellar fried catfish – cut into tenders for a superlative ratio of fish to crispy cornmeal breading. But the sides are the real standout, including standbys like mac and cheese, greens and a classic, ultra moist cornbread dressing.

H&M Best Fried Fish & Chicken
2903 Chippewa St., St. Louis, 314.664.2091
Cruising down Chippewa, H&M is a bright red and yellow landmark. Those who’ve been don’t need a fancy color scheme to remember the location. Do yourself a favor and walk up to the window to order a portion of the batter-fried catfish: it’s a melt-in-your-mouth, fall-apart-in-your-hand crazy good, and the warm peach cobbler will take you back to Grandma’s table. Carryout and delivery are available every day but Saturday, so plan your week accordingly.

Jaden’s Diner 
4251 Dr. Martin Luther King Drive, St. Louis, 314.534.3512, Facebook: Jaden’s Diner
Jaden’s serves up its fare cafeteria-style, and the room has panache to spare. Takeout is available, but it’s best to enjoy the ambience from the President Obama shrine at the door to the glitter scattered across the ceiling like so many constellations. Pull up a chair at one of the long, banquet-style tables and watch the big-screen TV in the back while noshing on a plate of neck bones with a side of black-eyed peas and mashed potatoes. The meat falls off the bone with virtually no assistance.

Mom’s Soul Food Kitchen & Catering 
1507 Goodfellow Blvd., St. Louis, 314.389.0916; 4909 Delmar Blvd., St. Louis, 314.328.1333, Facebook: Mom’s Soul Food Kitchen 
This buffet-style restaurant offers carryout and delivery, or you can kick back in the cheery, spacious, bright orange dining room and dig in. The menu features some really good tripe, oxtail and several types of wings, including a standout Buffalo-style version. As for sides, the greens at Mom’s are sumptuous and rife with chunks of unctuous pork. Plenty of daily specials abound, and early risers can hit up the extensive breakfast menu starting at 7 a.m. It’s no wonder a second location recently opened on Delmar Boulevard.

Son-Ja’s Soul Food 
9863 Edgefield Drive, St. Louis, 314.869.1388
Situated in an aging strip mall between a barbershop, a beauty supply place and a chop suey joint, this carryout-and catering-only spot is worth the extra effort of seeking out. The small size belies the expansive menu, which includes everything from baked meatloaf to barbecue ribs. Fans of off-cuts will appreciate the snoot here – crispy and warm, it’s similar in flavor and texture to pork rinds, served with a sweet barbecue sauce. For sides, it’s hard to go wrong with the candied yams – they taste just like Thanksgiving.

Mother’s Fish 
2738 N. Grand Ave., St. Louis, 314.533.4433; 9995 W. Florissant Ave., Dellwood, 314.522.4904; 5956 Natural Bridge Ave., St. Louis, 314.385.3008; 6 S. Central Ave., Clayton, 314.499.7074; Facebook: Mother’s Fish

Mother’s has been a St. Louis fixture since the 1980s. Though the original on Spring Avenue and Olive Street closed, the family has opened four other locations. The oldest, and my Mother’s of choice, on the corner of North Grand and St. Louis avenues is the height of minimalism – just a few laminated photos of menu items on the walls and a vending machine standing in the corner. Patrons place orders by ringing a bell and talking to the folks through a Plexiglas window. Despite this barrier, the service is friendly and personal. As expected, fish is the thing here. Try the fried catfish, mild and flaky, with the perfect ratio of batter to fish.

You Gotta Eat Here 
2812 N. Grand Ave., St. Louis, 314.371.3700, Facebook: You Gotta Eat Here 
A true neighborhood joint, there’s plenty of seating here under the watchful gaze of a vintage Michael Jackson poster and blown-up family photos. You gotta get the tripe sandwich: two large pieces of tripe, not too chewy or musky, fried golden brown and placed between a couple slabs of good ol’ white bread along with pickles, onion and mustard. No pretense, no messing around, just good, solid food for cheap served in a classic red basket with fries.

Source: http://www.saucemagazine.com/section/1

When Red Drink Flowed in Vietnam

A pitcher and cup of red drink

In response to the new Ken Burns and Lynn Novick documentary The Vietnam War, I recently blogged about soul food joints in southeast Asia during the Vietnam War era. Another soul food angle during that time was Kool-Aid, often in the form of red drink. Here’s an excerpt from the red drink chapter of my book Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a time:

The allure of red drinks within the black community isn’t limited to just special occasions. Like we saw with chitlins, Kool-Aid became an important feature of military life for black troops serving in the Vietnam War. Kool-Aid served a slightly different, but related, function. Chitlins were about building a community while in a foreign environment. Kool-Aid was about connection to their home back in the United States. James E. Westheider writes in The African American Experience in Vietnam,

For the men and women stationed overseas, these [black] items were particularly important because most of the service personnel in Vietnam often felt vulnerable and alone, and needed that tangible connection with life back in the United States, or what they called “the real world.” African Americans stationed in the United States could shop off-base for black magazines, hair-care products, and other necessities that were not available on-base, but for blacks posted outside of the United States, especially in South Vietnam, this option was seldom available. . . . In 1968, Kraft Foods shipped a free supply of Kool-Aid for the entire base at Kontum after Sgt. [Allen] Thomas wrote to the manufacturers and told them that the GIs stationed there missed the soft drink.

Vietnam veterans like J. Carle Abernathy,  a staff sergeant E-6 stationed near Denang, underscore the bond with home. He told me that getting a package of Kool-Aid was like getting a letter from home, and it was always red. “The brothers would call home for red Kool-Aid,” Abernathy told me, “but they wouldn’t even have to ask for it.” If the troops came upon a good source of drinking water that was pure enough, they would whip out the package and make some Kool-Aid right on the spot with the sugar in their rations. Black media also reinforced the importance of Kool-Aid for the troops. In 1966, Cleveland’s black newspaper The Call and Post reported that Private First Class Samuel Malone, a graduate from the local Glenville High School, “wrote his family that he had received the food package that they sent to him last March. Most of all he enjoyed the packages of Kool-Aid.” In 1968, the same newspaper reported, “Men in Vietnam have asked for items such as assorted greeting cards, plastic containers for Kool-Aid and Kool-Aid to put in it among other things.” When the Philadelphia Tribune held its First Annual Paddy Poll of servicemen in Vietnam, one of their ten worst experiences was “a fly in your Kool-Aid.”

Do you know a Vietnam War veteran? Ask her or him about any memories they may have of getting a care package containing packets of Kool-Aid. Please have them contact me because I’d love to hear those stories as well.