Soul Training

Sallie's Southern Soul and Creole Restaurant
1628 E. Lake St., Minneapolis; (612) 728-9490
Hours: 11:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 11:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m. Sunday; buffet available all day, every day, $10.99 Tuesday-Saturday before 5:00 p.m.; $12.99 after 5:00 p.m. and all day Sunday.

Lucille's Kitchen
2013 Plymouth Ave. N., Minneapolis;
(612) 529-3350

Hours: 11:00 a.m.-7:00 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; noon-7:00 p.m. Saturday; noon-4:00 p.m. Sunday; buffet $10.95 for adults, $5.95 for kids 6-12, $3.95 for those 5 and under.

 

A few months ago I wrote about the Midtown Chicken Shack and, really, it set off an unprecedented wave of phone calls from desperate citizens demanding to know: Where else is there soul food? How can Minnesotans learn more about soul food? What the heck is a chitlin? (And also, from one woman demanding to know what services specifically I offer restaurants suddenly flooded with new customers. Dear caller, forgive this impersonal notification, but let this be your sign to drop everything, rush to your mailbox, and await 2001's coveted, gold-plated Just Fell Off The Turnip Truck Award.) Cleaning out my voicemail, I could only conclude that Minneapolitans are absolutely parched for soul food but, for some reason, cannot figure out how to get any.

Which is odd, because right now Minneapolitans are about as well-supplied with soul food as we're ever likely to be, since two--two!--soul-food buffets are operating on either side of the city right now, nearly every day. Down south, we've got Sallie's, which is dripping with ambiance and has been sort of going up and down for a few years now, but now seems to be on a distinct up-tick. Up north there's Lucille's, which is such a local institution that if you ever gave a thought to soul food but haven't tried it, well, I'm going to require a thousand words explaining why on my desk by Monday.

Recent visits to the two buffets left me staggering and groaning--there was a lot to try--but altogether very happy. Actually, to be perfectly fair, the folks at Sallie's warned me, repeatedly: "You be careful," said the chef, taking a break and shaking his head at my third plate of greens. "You're gonna hurt yourself."

Now, Sallie's is the place up on the second floor of the building that held the old Gustavus Adolphus fraternal hall on East Lake Street, and it's still got that Studebaker-era charm: A decorating scheme of age-burnished honey-maple paneling, muted lighting, and Rotary Club flags make everything seem sepia-toned. And the distant soundtrack of Otis Redding and doo-wop sends you into exactly the right sort of relaxed nostalgia.

The Sunday buffet is really a couple of steps beyond epic: Last time I was there I counted fruit salad, chicken-and-macaroni salad, peppery green beans, smoky collards, sweet and chunky yams, beef-and-bacon baked beans, red beans and rice, macaroni and cheese, barbecued smothered pork chops, beef rib tips, cream-gravy-smothered chicken, fried chicken, corn bread, bread pudding, three types of layer cake...are you groaning and spinning yet? You will be. The buffet at Sallie's is self-serve, so you can take a little sampler run-through to figure out what you like best. I'm calling my favorites the long-cooked green beans, which are served plump and swollen with butter and pepper, the deeply flavored red beans and rice, the desserts, and ,perhaps above all, the salty, irony, tart, and profoundly flavored collards, seasoned here with smoked turkey wings.

I know enough about greens to know when they're good, but somewhere among us walks a legend who knows her greens so well that she peered into Sallie's steam tray one day and exclaimed, "Whoever cooked these greens is from Jackson!" Which surprised everyone, because Sallie's current chef and kitchen manager is Cedrick Farris, and he did indeed grow up and learn to cook in Jackson, Mississippi. "I was shocked. How did she figure that?" wonders Farris, still amazed that such a clear signature lurked in his all-collard brew, a recipe he learned from his mother. "That's where you learn to cook the best soul food--at home, from your family," says Farris, who likes to take a peek into the dining room whenever time allows. "Ain't nothing nicer than to see people eat. I love to see people eat and know they're enjoying it."

While Farris was watching a few post-church tables devour his cooking, I took advantage of the moment to ask what approach to his vast buffet he'd recommend to someone who'd never had soul food before. At the thought, his eyes lit up. "I'd take my greens," he said, heaping up an imaginary plate with greens and pot liquor. "I'd take my corn bread," he continued, setting up an imaginary pile at one elbow. "Mix it all in," he mixed. "Set my silverware all the way over here," he set it a foot away. "And just go to town. You just gotta go to town."

So now you know. That's how you do it.

Once you've returned from town, you're sure to be irresistibly drawn to the big, silvery three-tiered stand Sallie's uses to showcase various layer cakes. I tried a really nice lemon layer cake; a sweet yellow creation with a buttery, zest-livened boiled icing. Then I tried a charming German chocolate cake ("You're gonna hurt yourself" indeed), which had beautiful icing that tasted of fresh-toasted coconut. These cakes are the work of just-hired baker Kathleen Anderson, who says a lot of her recipes come from her grandmother. There are precious heirloom recipes everywhere at Sallie's; Anderson says she soon plans to debut her family's homemade beaten biscuits. I can't wait.

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