SOUL FOOD MN | Sunnyside Cafe: A soul food tradition in North Minneapolis

Sunnyside Cafe owner and head chef James Baker has been around the world, it seems. He first began cooking as a child, learning recipes from his aunties, but he credits his decision to cook while serving in the Navy during his tour in Vietnam with saving his life.Upon returning to the States, he followed the advice of a commanding officer and enrolled in culinary school. Over the next 40 years, Chef Baker worked in many areas of the food industry—from hotels and care facilities to restaurants and private catering. Cooking even brought him and his wife together. He tells the story of visiting her father’s restaurant on Broadway in North Minneapolis where she served him a slice of pizza. It was with her influence that brought him back to Minnesota to establish a long standing soul food catering business, and eventually, restaurant and catering.Sunnyside Cafe, on Minneapolis’s Northside, has been serving up a special kind of soul food since taking over the corner of Morgan and Glenwood from Milda’s Cafe in 2000. Continue Reading

SOUL FOOD MN | Chef Eric “Big E” Austin makes soul food an art

There are rare chefs who elevate every dish they craft, and display clarity of vision without the hangups of timing and measurement that plague the lesser cook. These rare artists of the kitchen can spin you a familiar story you’ve never heard before, from the same ingredients that others, by comparison, seem to be using for plain, utilitarian purposes.One of these extraordinary chefs is Eric “Big E” Austin. The dishes I was lucky enough to sample were seemingly the best parts of every variation of dishes I had eaten before. (These days, Big E is only catering for large company celebrations, teaching cooking classes, and making weeks’ worth of food at a time for NBA and NFL players.) There were no surprises on the menu—no French names or sous vide bags simmering for days. The foods were instantly recognizable, and yet, to the trained eye, different in a very special way.Somehow a carefully presented mound of jerk chicken wings that would fit perfectly in a restaurant seemed out of place to me as I sat on a couch in Chef Austin’s home. Continue Reading

SOUL FOOD MN | Chef Erin “Bayou” Lege brings a fresh new menu to Dixie’s on Grand in St. Paul

Dixie’s on Grand has been the Southern staple of St. Paul’s food scene since 1985. This year marks the beginning of a new era for Dixie’s with the introduction of executive chef Erin “Bayou” Lege’s menu.Raised in Louisiana, Chef Erin brings an air of Southern authenticity to Dixie’s. Beginning with making roux in the family hunting cabin at age eight, his culinary ambition has taken him to working in Cajun restaurants across Louisiana, including a stint with Emeril Lagasse himself. I got some time to sit down with Lege and talk a bit about Southern food in general and soul food in particular.To Lege, soul food as a cultural tradition means taking what you were raised with and putting your own spin on it. Continue Reading

SOUL FOOD MN | Nardie’s Cafe: A delicious St. Paul secret in the back of Arnellia’s

In the back of Arnellia’s Nightclub is a brightly lit kitchen that seems just big enough for one man to operate out of. On a busy night, the owner of Nardie’s Cafe, Leonard Lowe, will have a crew of five cooking, getting orders ready and running food out to hungry patrons. Nardie’s Cafe was established in 1997 and their initial run in Arnellia’s lasted through 2004. After setting up shop on Nicollet for three years, Lowe returned the restaurant to Arnellia’s. The relationship is a bit like that between a hotel and the restaurant inside. Continue Reading

SOUL FOOD MN | Lee’s & Dee’s Barbeque Express: From the back of a station wagon to a St. Paul institution

Lee’s & Dee’s Barbeque Express in St. Paul is a true family operation and is now a second generation business, having been handed over from namesakes Lee and Dee to daughters Linda Williams and Vickie Nash. The original business was born from founder Lee piling coolers of full wings and ribs into the back of his station wagon to feed workers during lunch breaks and bar-goers late at night. Lee and his wife Dee opened their traditional southern restaurant in the Summit-University neighborhood 22 years ago and, it has become a popular spot for people in search of authentic southern food.While visiting the restaurant during the lunch hour, before the busier dinner rush started, I looked over the whiteboard menu and landed on some dishes I knew I had to try. While the restaurant is known for its barbeque, Lee’s & Dee’s dishes are definitely soulful. Continue Reading

SOUL FOOD MN | Soul Food Heaven: Comfort food in St. Paul’s North End

Soul Food Heaven is a classic soul food establishment, nestled next to a small supermarket in St. Paul’s North End. Having only been open since October of 2012 hasn’t stopped the restaurant from becoming known as the place to get soul food in the Twin Cities.The small restaurant, which you may miss under it’s unassuming signage if you aren’t careful, has become a destination for the Twin Cities eater who needs a fix of soul food classics like Memphis-style chuck roast and fried catfish with all the sides, or the occasional “gangster burger” (three half-pound burger patties covered in gyro meat, Italian beef, steak, and cheese!). Chefs Michelle B and Eddie Addams will be adding lighter menu choices in the summer, with more salad options.I started my tasting with the Tuesday Taco special. A soul food taco? Continue Reading

SOUL FOOD MN | Golden Thyme Coffee & Cafe: Where delicious food is a family affair

Mychael and Stephanie Wright, husband and wife co-owners of Golden Thyme, started up their cafe and coffee shop 13 years ago this March, first serving only coffee and pastries. Before long, people were asking for food to go along with their jazz-legend-themed coffee drinks—and the Wrights delivered.Their menu now features daily breakfast including waffles and Mix-n-Go Grits—a bowl of grits topped with an egg, cheese, peppers, and a choice of breakfast meat. For lunch, there are sandwiches, a soup of the day, and a special that rotates daily and features hearty chicken noodle soup on Monday, nine-bean soup and cornbread on Tuesday, Golden Thyme chicken with spaghetti or red beans and rice on Wednesday, gourmet tacos and Baja soup on Thursday, and chicken gumbo or chili on Friday. On Saturday, soups and deli sandwiches are on the menu.I ordered the chicken gumbo, a plate of Golden Thyme chicken and spaghetti, and a side of horseradish coleslaw. The bowl of gumbo tasted like a true southern dish. Continue Reading