I developed my love of soul food thanks to my former roommate Kelvin. I remember spending many holidays with Kelvin’s family. His mother, Essie, was open and loving and treated me like her fifth child!
Rather than the bitter acrimony served up at my family’s holiday dinners, his family get togethers were always about love, acceptance and lots of good food. Nearly every dinner had at least three kinds of potatoes (mashed, sweet and au gratin) and, as if that alone wasn’t enough to make me happy, there were always a bunch of desserts to satisfy my sweet tooth.
Soul foods’ origins date back to the days of slavery and the limited rations given to African slaves by their masters. Slaves were typically given a peck of cornmeal and a few pounds of pork per week, most of that from the less desirable cuts and offal (innards). The slaves also usually had only vegetables they had grown themselves and often did not have access to ovens, cooking food over open fire or on makeshift stoves. That’s why so many foods are stewed, braised and breaded with cornmeal and fried. Cornbread could easily be prepared in a skillet. Tough greens could be simmered all day while folks were working in the fields.
Because it was illegal in many states for slaves to learn to read or write, soul food recipes and cooking techniques tended to be passed along orally, so family recipes were cherished. While many of the foods are not considered healthy by today’s standards, back then the high calories helped sustain those working in the field all day.
Among some of the most beloved dishes are; biscuits, black-eyed peas and butter beans, fried catfish and chicken, chitlins, ham hocks and pigs’ feet, neckbones, succotash and yams. I’ll admit that I haven’t worked up the courage to eat chitlins (pig intestines) or pigs’ feet, but pile just about anything else on my plate and I’m a happy camper.
Betty’s Soul Food Restaurant
601 NW 22nd Rd., Fort Lauderdale
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33311
While you may find a soul food restaurant or two in most major Northern cities, there are many more down here in Florida. One of the most established is Betty’s Soul Food Restaurant, founded 40 years ago by the restaurant’s owner and chef, Betty Taylor. Betty’s home state of Mississippi played a major role in her love of soul food. Wanting to share her love of home cooked, family-inspired meals, Betty opened her first restaurant at a young age. Betty’s is a staple of the community and, due to high demand for her authentic soul food, is open seven days a week, for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Start out your meal with some fried chicken wings, ribs and fried chicken livers or gizzards. Those looking for something healthy can order a salad topped with baked chicken, grilled shrimp or tilapia, but that’s not why you’re here, so let’s move on to the real deal.
Sandwich options include two fried chops, grilled hot sausage, meatloaf and fried chicken or fish, among others. Fries are an additional $3, but the portion is huge! For those with a big appetite, the large entrée portions also include a piece of corn bread and a choice of two sides from a menu that includes; veggies (collard greens, cabbage, black-eyed peas, corn, green lima beans, green beans, fried okra or tossed salad) and starches (baked mac and cheese, candied yams, potato salad, French fries). While there aren’t many dinner menu options for vegetarians, breakfast is served all day, or they may opt for the combo plate featuring any four sides for $8.99, but ask about those green veggies, most are cooked with meat.
Entrée options, priced between $10 and $15 include; beef stew, ham hocks, fried turkey wings, barbecue ribs or chicken, smothered or fried wings, meatloaf, oxtails, pigs’ feet or tails, smothered or fried chops, stewed chicken, liver & onions, fried chicken or sirloin steak. Fish and seafood selections include; shrimp, catfish, scallops, tilapia, grouper, snapper, trout or swai, all either baked, grilled or fried. Side dishes of yellow or white rice with or without pigeon peas are available, but the servings are so large you won’t need it. Besides, you’ll want to save room for desserts such as; cakes (red velvet
Pineapple-coconut, old fashioned chocolate, caramel pound), pies and cobblers (sweet potato, peach, lemon cream) and, on weekends, banana pudding with vanilla wafers.
Betty’s is by far the most popular and the star of the local soul food scene, but if it’s too crowded, you might try one of these other area eateries.
2662 N. University Dr., Sunrise
A regional chain with four locations in the Miami area in addition to the Sunrise location.
Magic Soul Food
2152 W. Oakland Park Blvd., Oakland Park
11244 Pines Blvd., Pembroke Pines
Both locations have received mixed reviews for food and service.