Food & Drink

For soul food, Charlotte rocks

It's no secret that Charlotte's soul food restaurants are contenders.

We know because two are finalists again this year in a contest for the nation's best soul food place.

La'Wan's Soul Food Restaurant brought home bragging rights last year from syndicated radio host Steve Harvey's Hoodie Awards.

La'Wan Adams is defending her South Tryon Street restaurant's title this year, thanks to listeners who voted online.

But for Tamara Thompson, co-owner of Sadie's Soulful Southern Experience on North Sharon Amity Road – and now a two-time finalist – it ain't over 'til the fussiest customer's plate is clean.

“We want (the best soul food recognition) to stay in Charlotte,” Thompson, 38, said playfully. “We want to be the ones to bring it back this time.”

Harvey created the Hoodie Awards to honor small businesses, educators and community leaders. Four finalists are named in 12 categories. The 2008 winners were to be named Saturday in Las Vegas.

Growing up among Charlotte competitors such as Mert's Heart and Soul and the Coffee Cup, Thompson is surprised her three-year-old restaurant, co-owned by Joseph McGuire, was nominated twice.

Yet, she believes Sweet Potato Waffles and Fried Chicken Wings ($7.99) might make her 49-seat restaurant a winner.

Adams said becoming a winner last year brought changes at her 40-seat, seven-year-old restaurant.

“Our customer base has increased, I would say, at least 40 percent,” said Adams, 45.

She wins over customers with side dishes of macaroni and cheese, made with medium cheddar, and collard greens with smoked turkey.

It's a tough day if she can't serve those alongside entrées such as beef tips and gravy ($9.35) or fried or broiled shrimp ($13.75).

“Customers will either wait or not order,” Adams said.

So far, she and her husband, co-owner Kenneth Adams, are managing the growth.

“We had to go into fifth gear because business was booming,” she said. “If you get that title, you've got to be able to deliver.”