Whether you’re a native Charlottean or a recent immigrant, the Qcity’s soul food choices tend to be based on word-of-taste rather than the usual social media reviews. That’s why, as a vital community service, I offer you my Top 10 Soul Food Delights, both for your posterity and your never-ending debate.
First, a few things to note: It’s not all about restaurants, and it’s not all about fried. There are some things best purchased fresh or that stand on their own. Also, all our spots aren’t black-owned, mom-and-pop outfits, since good taste knows no bounds. Finally, there is no universal definition of what soul food is, beyond food that speaks to the soul – and your wallet – so free your gastronomical limits.
It’s nowhere on the menu, but truly plugged-in Charlotteans know to order grits and scrambled egg for about $2. Go big and order the breakfast platter that also has ham, a biscuit and juice for $6.
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▪ Shoutout to Showmars. They also do grits and eggs well – as in no lumps – for a low price.
9. Green Thumb Stand
Remember that big hunk of cheddar cheese your mom used to buy for the best mac ’n’ cheese ever? You can find it in the big hoop cylinder on display at the Green Thumb stand, as well as every kind of leafy green or dried bean imaginable. (Charlotte Regional Farmers Market, 1801 Yorkmont Road.)
▪ Shoutout to the Mecklenburg County Health Department and all the shade-tree produce sellers who set up shop in food deserts during the growing season, selling juicy watermelons and other farm-fresh goodies.
This is upscale eating at its best – finger lickin’ good with a few unexpected twists. Yes, go for the roasted chicken, but venture out to the fried oysters that practically melt in your mouth. The fried corn and mac ’n’ cheese made with Parmesan cheese are a must! (Uptown and SouthPark.)
▪ Shoutout to King’s Kitchen (129 W. Trade St.) It’s Rooster’s sister operation, but King’s Kitchen gets points for its fried chicken and for its soulful heart for hiring recovering addicts and others at risk.
7. Jerry’s Market
Expect old-school cooking ingredients like chitlins, collards or mustard greens. It’s the real deal, right down to the cut-to-order oxtails and fatback bacon. (4227 Statesville Road.)
▪ Shoutouts to Food Lion, Aldi’s and Wal-Mart for their strong focus on fresh food in communities that historically have gotten the fruit and veggie shaft.
6. Wiley’s Greens Seasonings
Drop two packets into your collard greens and your guests will swear you’ve been simmering smoked turkey wings for hours. Trust us, this is a case of cooking smart rather than hard. These seasoning packets can be ordered at www.unclewileys.com, amazon.com and found, if you’re lucky, at Wal-Mart or Food Lion.
▪ Shoutout to Num Num Sauce (Fresh Market). This all-natural dipping/grilling sauce is for meats and veggies. We’ve come across the young Durham-based owner, Michael Lloyd, cooking up samples locally using his family recipe. (Also can be found in Whole Foods or Raleigh’s Southern Season.)
5. Jewell Treats Natural Cupcakes
We’re BIG cupcake fans, and these get top marks for being exquisitely fresh and flavorful. Open during business hours, but it’s so worth it to spend lunch dashing in for half a dozen pink strawberry sapphire cupcakes. (Uptown at Hearst Tower.)
▪ Shoutout to Cloud 9 Confections (7th Street Station). OK, we’re BIG fans of anything sweet. While their bread and butter may be wedding cakes, don’t miss out on the red velvet cake hunks.
4. Nana’s Soul Food Kitchen
The food at Nana’s is vintage soul and good on any day of the week. But they seem to kick things up a notch on Sunday. Maybe it’s everyone rolling in from church, dressed in their Sunday best. (2908 Oak Lake Blvd.)
▪ Shoutout to Freshwater’s (516 Graham St.). This newcomer is making a strong play for the Sunday brunch crowd in a more upscale environ.
3. Niki’s Food Shop
When an eatery bills itself as “Home of the Grilled Chicken Salad,” it’s just stating the obvious. With a strong dose of garlic chicken, this salad has been known to last at least two days. (2200 Beatties Ford Road)
▪ Shoutout to Original Chicken & Ribs (1100 Beatties Ford Road) for its tender barbecue ribs, fried tilapia sandwich and hot dogs slathered with chili and slaw, just to name a few mouth-watering menu items.
2. House of Prayer - Uptown
You know you’re in a soul food joint when mac ’n’ cheese functions as one of your two vegetables. But this mac ’n’ cheese is juicy, similar to the stewed turkey wings that spill over the plate. This also is the place where you easily rub shoulders with financiers, city staff and construction workers. Note to all the single ladies: Be there on Fridays! (1019 S. Mint St.)
▪ Shoutout to Floyd’s Restaurant (4121 Graham St.). For nearly 30 years, Floyd’s has had a spot SOMEWHERE in Charlotte and sometimes more than one for great soul food standards. Try the Graham Street locale if you’re looking for a sit-down choice.
1. Mr. Charles Chicken and Fish
The owner’s name isn’t Charles; it’s Mike. And there’s no seating, but Mike and his dad will set the tone for a customer-friendly operation, serving the BEST fried chicken in town. That’s right, I said the BEST! It’s light, crispy and well seasoned and known for the four-wing special as well as catering. (3100 Statesville Ave.)
▪ Shoutout to Dessert Specialists (SouthPark mall kiosk in Nordstrom’s wing and online at dessertspecialists.com). Husband-wife team Sadruddin and Mahmuda Abdullah have set up a retail outlet to complement their growing word-of-mouth business. You’ll be spoiled rotten once you taste their pastries and candies exploding with flavor. And if you’re looking for a special occasion cake, splurge on their lemon cake with gold icing or other made-to-order creations. They’re truly the real deal for desserts.
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