A Soul Food Review

Published by Michael Durr on

From the Souls of Black Folk: A Soul Food Review

Atlanta is a hotspot of commerce and culture, and there is no better place where the two intersect than the kitchen. Atlanta has a variety of restaurants, but none are more well known than its soul food establishments.

I have been fortunate enough to eat at a variety of soul food restaurants, each one serving the same food in different ways and settings, and five stand out the most.

A plate of soul food. Michael Durr | Avant-Youth

Below are five of the most exceptional soul food restaurants in the city starting from the ones I have visited only once, to the ones I’ve visited multiple times. Each restaurant has been judged by the following:

(A) Aesthetic and presentation: What does the interior look like? How big is it?

(B) Hype factor and community: Why is this place so well-known? 

(C) Price: As in is the food worth what you’re paying for?

(D) Taste: Lastly, because this is what we’re all here for, and you know we couldn’t forget about the food: How does it taste, and is it consistent?

Meal: Fried Chicken, Macaroni and Cheese,  Collards and Cornbread 

Price: $15

I know this sounds blasphemous, because it’s considered an Atlanta must eat. That’s probably why it’s at the bottom of the list. The hype machine is strong with this one. Why? Because it seems that everyone who’s anyone in Atlanta knows about this place. 

It’s a restaurant that’s been featured in Southern Living, Thrillist and local Atlanta sites for how good it is. That’s why putting it at the number five spot is blasphemous. Everybody loves it and everybody can’t be wrong can they?

Yes they can.

If going to a restaurant was just about the food, then this article would be a lot shorter, but restaurants are, by and large, somewhat of an experience, and my time at Busy Bee Café was anything but. This is largely because of the hype machine.

I went with a small party, just me and two others. We knew about the popularity, so it was just a matter of getting there before the lunch rush. It didn’t help that Busy Bee’s aesthetic is very small and compact, so despite arriving 30 minutes before opening, there was still a wait to get inside.

For the price I paid and the food I ate it was, largely, OKAY. It’s obvious why people praise the chicken at this restaurant because the crunch was the best part. The brine they used was evident in the way the meat tasted: The breading was seasoned, but it doesn’t rock the boat, and neither the food or the money was worth the wait I had to go through to get it. If the dimensions of the building were bigger to reduce  the overall wait time, this probably would’ve been higher on the list.

Meal: Pork Chops, Corn, Collard Greens

Price: $10

This restaurant  was interesting because I heard about it through the grapevine: passed on to me by a hairdresser and friend to the family. When digging a bit deeper into the restaurant it became clear why. K & K Soul Food, which was originally called Bankhead Restaurant back in 1947, is a blue-collar place. It’s not the type of restaurant that you hear over the radio or advertised on billboards. Those who know about it, know through word of mouth and seeing it from the street.

That, in and of itself, should explain the type of aesthetic and personation they have. K & K is meant for the busy students of the beauty school situated near it, and the constant incoming and outgoing traffic of the truckers who frequent it.

Therefore, K & K has a spartan interior. It’s not a restaurant about looks or atmosphere. This place has stood the test of time on the premise of, “You are here to eat, and we are here to feed you.” That’s probably why my food was handed in a Styrofoam to-go box.

With such a straightforward attitude, it should come as no surprise that it follows the rule: “You get what you pay for.”  I didn’t spend more money than what the food was worth, and that could be considered a good problem to some, but what I had was just okay.

The food filled me up, because that’s what it’s supposed to do, but the taste wasn’t anything surprising or memorable. I went to a restaurant, I spent $10 I got $10 worth of food. Everything about this place was clear-cut, which is why it earns the number four spot.

Meal: Rib tips, collard greens and sweet potatoes

Price: $16

This one deserves the middle space because it’s a franchised soul food restaurant, which is rare in and of itself. As far as the hype machine goes, this is pretty big in the community. Black people know about This Is It because it advertises heavily on black radio stations.

Because of its commercialization, there’s not much that can be said about This Is It. The menu is targeted and basic, carrying the typical soul food sides of collards, mac and cheese, and candied yams, while boasting either barbecue or seafood. 

Its interior is what one would expect from a franchise, it’s well sized and the Camp Creek location is probably the second biggest dining area on this list. It’s lit in soft light, there’s plenty of movement and a good distance from where the food is being cooked and where customers can sit.

It cannot be stressed enough that This Is It is a franchise. For price, that means this restaurant is designed to turn a profit without taking too much consideration into the quality of the food overall, making it one of the more expensive places on this list. As such, I’ll admit I’ve eaten there two times, which is a first for this list, but for good reason.

Like most franchised restaurants, This Is It’s quality varies depending on the time of day. The first time I went it was early in the day, half past noon in fact, and the food was amazing. Returning to the same spot months later, at half past three and the quality dipped significantly.

That is why it holds a spot at number three. It’s not good, but it’s not bad, it just depends on when you get there. Because like most franchises, food is made for the day, and in surplus so more is added, not replaced, as things run out. This is different from other soul food restaurants where food can run out, and might be replaced with another food item, or will just be taken off the menu until the next day.

Meal: Fried Chicken, Dressing, Macaroni and Cheese, Collards, Cornbread

Price: $13 (first time), $17 (second time), $30 (the last visit)

Courtesy of the Beautiful Restaurant.

Through no fault of my own, I’ve visited The Beautiful Restaurant the most, and at different times of the day. I won’t hold anything back. Price wise, I’m not a fan of this place. It seems to be the only soul food restaurant where I can feel the effects of inflation as the menu doesn’t change but the prices seem to keep going up. That is my biggest criticism.

The Beautiful Restaurant does live up to its hype. It is another word-of-mouth establishment where those who do know about it don’t complain about the food, because the food isn’t just good, it’s both good and consistent. It is well seasoned, it is well prepared, and it is worth the price if you’re willing to pay for it.

Regardless of the indoor or outdoor seating this restaurant has a warm feeling to it. It’s compact, but it’s not cramped or congested. The interior is almost like someone expanded their living room and added more chairs and tables inside. The outdoor furniture is simple. It’s not like K & K’s spartan and bare essential look, but rather it’s simplistic, it’s lived in. I’ve rarely ever been to this restaurant where other patrons who either enter in with me, or were there before me, were not still there just talking and drinking tea long after their meal is done.

Meal: Brunch Buffet

Price: $35

Courtesy of Paschal's Atlanta.

This is number one because, despite my subjectivity, this is the one soul food restaurant on the list that means more to the Atlanta community than just great food. This is about history, this is a restaurant that is a part of Atlanta’s history, and you will pay the price for that going in. This is by far the most expensive restaurant on this list, because it’s not just about food, it’s about the past and the clientele that have eaten there.

From Northside Drive, to its express eateries in Hartsfield-Jackson airport, Paschal’s influence is felt throughout the city of Atlanta. The new restaurant on Northside Drive has an upscale modern aesthetic for the 21st century. Out of the other four places on this list, it has the biggest dining room hosting a ground level dining room and an upstairs VIP area.

As amazing as their aesthetic is, Paschal’s has never moved away from its roots. It is classical soul food packaged in an upscale dining twist. The food now is the same food that was served when it first opened, bolstering the same recipes and cooking techniques while adding new additions to the menu.

Overall Paschal’s has the consistency of The Beautiful, the hype of Busy Bee, a longer history than K & K, and the economic reach of This Is It. There is a good reason why, even without the food it would sit atop this list as number one.

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1 Comment

jeanettesdaughter · March 13, 2020 at 10:15 am

Add Twisted Soul Cafe to expand the menu for soul food. It’s really more than fried chicken and collard greens. I like turnip greens myself and mustards. And how about that oyster dressing, and some of that red gumbo from South Carolina? And don’t forget the chicken and dumplings and so much more on the menu. Anyone for lemon pound cake French toast with fresh strawberries?!

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