Given our last conversation on the differences between soul food vs Southern food, I thought it was time we visited some Black-owned soul food restaurants you can try this month.
Tarrant County has always had a plethora of delicious soul food staples to choose from. Dating back even longer and much before its 1946 inclusion in the “Negro Motorist Green Book Guide” with often-mentioned YMCA café that operated on the side of the then popular community nonprofit.
Unfortunately, none of those restaurants of yesteryear are still in existence. But today, the legacy that is cooking and preparing soul food lives on in restaurants that are consistently serving not only delicious food but great service.
Although the expression “soul food” was coined in the ’60s during the height of the “Black pride” movement, the word “soul” was often used to describe the cultural contributions of Black Americans during this time, including but not limited to music and, of course, food. These traditions, nevertheless, have been around for generations – pre-triangular slave trade.
Their origins, of course, begin with the techniques and ingredients used in traditional cooking methods of West African one-pot meals, low- and slow-cooked green leaves and deep-fat frying was a frequent part of their cooking styles. After the forced migration, the enslaved African people would cook foods that were from Africa, like okra and certain grains of rice for example. They also found creative substitutes for foods that were familiar to them in their homelands but could be found (yet) in the Americas.
That’s when we began to see sweet potatoes replace African yams and collard greens substituted for their own green leafy pumpkin leaves or commonly eaten bitter leaf. And lastly, the once Southern favorite that has since catapulted into a dish beloved by many all over – fried chicken, which can be traced to the deep-fat frying techniques of Africans who prepared guinea fowl and other proteins as part of their meals.
You’d be hard-pressed to find Southern-fried guinea fowl on any menus today; however, many soul food restaurants are paying beautiful tributes to their learned ancestral teachings by creating some of the best food, soul food or otherwise, in Fort Worth.
I’m not certain if any of these have been on your radar, but if you haven’t patronized the following spots you should make sure you check them out. I encourage you to visit whether you’re trying to venture out of your typical neighborhood stops, or you’re looking for Black-owned restaurants to support. (Please do keep in mind that these are restaurants I have personally visited more than once and do not reflect the full scope of soul food offerings in Fort Worth, or Tarrant County. If it is not listed here, I have either A.) not yet visited or B.) visited but was not able to personally vouch for the quality of the menu offerings and service.)
Carpenter’s Café: The beloved brick-and-mortar is closed temporarily, but catering and food truck events are available with advance notice. It should also be noted that while “technically” Carpenter’s is not considered “soul food” — their menu is expansive and because now they offer catering as an option, you may be able to order more traditional classics. Call and ask about this beforehand. Check out their website for details. If you’ve ever eaten at Carpenter’s, you’d be familiar with their famous smoked chicken salads or other assortments of comfort foods. The menu leans toward a lighter fare and everything on the menu is a crowd-pleaser and their service is impeccable.
Drew’s Place Soul Food: 5701 Curzon Ave., Fort Worth. This Como community staple is truly one of the best to do soul food. The fried chicken is everything you want in a good classic fried chicken. The exterior is crunchy and well-battered, and the interior is cooked to perfection with the right amount of seasonings. They have a more “traditional” approach to soul food classics and even the sides are worth a visit if you are opting out of meat. The namesake, Drew Thomas, a Texas Tech alum and Fort Worth native, has been dishing out these amazing homemade desserts and soul food since 1987, when he opened in his Forest Hill neighborhood before settling in the historic Como district. I highly recommend you get there early if you plan on dining in. Parking can be tricky once they fill up, but you will not be disappointed.
Juicy’s Soul Food Café: 2220 Handley Drive, Fort Worth. I was introduced to the old-school joint a little over a year ago. The food is consistently good; however, the service can sometimes be slow if the kitchen is slammed, especially during peak hours. I’ve personally had the smothered specialties, both chicken and pork chops, and the braised beef tips were succulent and extremely appetizing. Mac and cheese, greens, cucumber salad and fried okra are also amazingly prepared as well.
I look forward to going back and trying the fried fish, although admittedly, every time I visit I have my “usual suspects” like the foods listed above. If you frequent soul food joints then you probably are aware of the strong relationship between soul food, Black culture and “red drinks.” More on that topic in later issues, but do try the red drink available that day. It’s usually an icy cold Kool Aid mix and will transport you back to your youth.
Mama E’s BBQ and Home Cooking: 818 E. Rosedale St., Fort Worth. Mama Ernestine has been featured in numerous newspaper and magazine articles and although barbecue is displayed prominently in her restaurant name I actually believe her soul food is the best pick for me. Located at the cusp of the Historic Southside and just minutes from downtown, the restaurant is known to have a strong heart for giving back to the community. Not enough can be said about soul food desserts, and it’s indeed a time-honored tradition. Teacakes, for example, are difficult to find, but Mama E’s makes them as well as other specialty desserts like her lemon chess pie. Call ahead to inquire about her soul food “down home” menu to see when it’s available.
Did your favorite make the list? What soul food spot would you recommend? Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Deah Mitchell writes about more than food. You can email her at email@example.com.