I hope you all join me in welcoming new contributor Tracy Clayton to Consuming Louisville.
Tracy Clayton is a writer, humorist, and a big fan of edible things. She is also a Louisville native and graduate of Transylvania University.
One upon a time, there was a soul food restaurant at 5th and Chestnut. The food was decent, it was within walking distance of my house, and the people who ran the shop were very nice; I really wanted to see them do well. Unfortunately, they were out of the space seemingly as quickly as they moved in. I kind of blamed myself (I’m a woman; we’re sort of trained to do that even when we shouldn’t), because I had long intended to write a review of that restaurant and spread it around online to get the word out. But I didn’t. And now they’re gone. It’s all my fault.
So maybe this review is a measure of atonement for my past shortcomings. Maybe. I really think, though, that I was just so romanced by the chicken and atmosphere at Food 4 Ur Soul, the new restaurant the popped up in place of the one I helped murder, that I couldn’t wait to get to my computer and document it.
It was a couple if weeks ago when I first saw the “coming soon!” banner in the storefront window. The title of the new restaurant really struck my fancy–I love New Jack Swing music, and ‘Food 4 Ur Soul’ is, like, the ultimate New Jack Swing-style name (see: All-4-One, Soul 4 Real, II D Extreme, etc.). Last week, when my best friend suggested we go see if the doors were open yet, I congratulated him on the second best idea he’s ever had (the first best idea was forming a two-person Prince tribute band called Nothing Compares 2 Us. Best week and a half of my life.).
I didn’t expect it to be open, but it was, and newly so–our waitress told us that their grand opening was just two days prior. The interior was markedly different–the walls were painted a vibrant purple and golden-yellow (I can’t recall what color they were before), there was beautiful Afrocentric art on the walls, and, the addition that struck me the most–a hostess’ station.
“Oh, so this is like a for real restaurant,” I said to my cohort. I think I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been at a soul food restaurant that did not feature walk-up-to-the-window-and-scream-your-order-through-12-miles-of-plexiglass service. We were seated promptly since we were nearly the only ones there.
I was equally surprised by the menus our waitress, sat before us–colorful cardstock with delicious printed pictures encased in plastic sleeving, not the typical grease spattered paper menus. I smiled–I could feel the pride and care that was put into our ordering experience, and my eyes lit up anticipating the same pride and care in the food as I poured over the menu.
Apparently I have a horrible poker face because from across the table, my friend cautioned, “Don’t get excited… don’t expect too much and set yourself up for failure.” I tried. I swear I tried.
But the menu! The glorious, glorious menu! Everything on it sounded so good I just wanted to sprinkle some salt on it and eat the words. Fried catfish, rib tips, pork chops (grilled, smothered, or fried), sweet potato casserole, fried mac & cheese, fried bologna… wait, what??
You read that right. They have fried bologna sandwiches on the menu. Hold, please; my childhood is calling. Hello? Yes, this is Tracy. I miss you too! Of course I remember you! Yes, yes I remember all the fried bologna sandwiches I ate back in the day, and how proud I was when I finally mastered the art of cutting slits in the bologna to keep it from bubbling up. Yeah, man. Good times. Okay, talk to you later.
After a few minutes of salivating, we finally decided on what to order: the fried catfish dinner with green beans and sweet potato casserole for my friend, fried chicken, greens & cabbage, and macaroni and cheese for me, and fried mac & cheese as an appetizer (because who can see fried mac & cheese on a menu and not order it?).
While we waited for our food, our waitress stopped by often to chat. I had the feeling that some might be annoyed by the small talk, but I found her very charming and familiar, kind of like catching up with your cousin when at your grandmama nem’s house. We welcomed her, chatting about her homeland (a far away place called New Jersey), the hurricane, and how she ended up in Louisville. In the midst of the chatter my friend slid me his drink, a tall glass of sweet tea.
“Taste this,” he said, watching me intently. I took a sip and my left eye closed without my permission. To say that the tea was sweet would be understatement of the century. I got a diabete after two sips (I didn’t drink enough of it to get a full set of diabetes). Thankfully, that’s exactly how I and any decent southerner prefer our tea–too sweet to drink without a glucose monitor close by “Oh, yeah,” I said. “That’s the stuff.”
The fried mac & cheese arrived soon, and piping hot. It was decent. Not the best I’ve had–that would be the mac & cheese balls at Hammerhead’s–but not bad. They actually reminded me a lot of the Market Pantry appetizers sold at Target, and I wondered briefly if they were the same ones. My train of thought was soon distracted by the huge chicken breast set before me.
I got nervous. I’d been here before, presented with a piece of beautiful, golden, seemingly cooked-to-perfection fried chicken only to bite into it and taste just how deceiving looks can be. I wasn’t ready for the potential heartbreak, the arid, tasteless meat that could be lurking beneath the skin. It’s like thinking you have a winning lottery ticket, celebrating, and then finding out that you’d misread the last number. It hurts. It hurts so hard. I decided to start with the sides first (both mine and my friend’s).
A quick rundown: The macaroni and cheese was okay. The green beans were perfectly porked, the sweet potato casserole could double as dessert, and the greens and cabbage? I wanted to jump in them and swim for the rest of my life. They were seriously the best I’ve ever had. The only drawback was that when they were presented, they weren’t very warm; they were so good that I almost didn’t want to send them back when I noticed they were only lukewarm because I didn’t want to be separated from them, not even for a second. But I did, and was presented with a bowl twice as full. Well worth the separation anxiety!
As I jumped from side to side, I heard an ‘oh, wow,’ from across the table.
“It’s so meaty; I cut into it and it just went straight though,” my friend said. I don’t eat fish, so I can only assume that you typically need a chainsaw and a flamethrower to cut through it.
Speaking of cutting through things, you know all those heart-warming commercials of a turkey being carved that begin to air near Thanksgiving? The ones where the turkey is so juicy that it just cascades as soon as the knife presses into it? That is exactly what happened with my chicken. I cut into it, and a single stream of juiciness rolled down onto my fork, mirroring the tear rolling from my left eye. It was beautiful. The fried chicken is their best seller, and it is so easy to see why–it’s literally the moistest, juiciest, most flavorful fried chicken I’ve ever had. The chef told us that the thanks belongs to her Broaster fryer in the trailer in the parking lot that pressure cooks the chicken for about 14 minutes. I don’t know what happens in those 14 minutes, but I’m pretty sure it involves unicorn tears, fairy dust, and the sweet, innocent dreams of your first-born child.
We liked it so much that we were back the next Sunday–less than a week later–with a couple of friends. We were pleased to find that Sunday is buffet day (hooray!). I was particularly pleased to find the dining room completely full with mostly everyone in their Sunday best, having come straight from church. It was a very homey feeling–like a fellowship dinner after church in the basement after Reverend Pastor’s 10th anniversary service. Sister Cora could have been in the back stirring the greens.
Overall, Food 4 Ur Soul is just that–perfectly seasoned nostalgia that hugs you from the inside out. The only thing warmer than the feeling the food gives you is the staff–everyone there is on the floor and on hand to make sure you’re not only enjoying not just your meal, but your full experience. After we settled the check on Sunday, Chef herself came out with armfuls of slices of orange juice cake for us to try, free of charge. Are you kidding me? The most amazing chicken in the world and free dessert? If I’m 50 pounds heavier the next time you see me, you’ll know why.
Do yourself a favor. Go to Food 4 Ur Soul whenever you want to thank your stomach for hanging in there with you for so long. Get the greens, get the chicken, and tell them Tracy sent you. This probably won’t get you a discount, but I’m trying to get into heaven here. Thanks in advance!
Food 4 Ur Soul
612 South 5th Street