Food & Drink: Best place with soul (and delicious food)
“We don’t go out for soul food. We cook it at home,” said Sacramento High School student Sharon Higgins, with all kinds of charm and sass, when I asked where to find the best grits in town. Her friends recommended Broadway Soul Food, a tiny eatery just down the street from their school.
My best friend, Courtney Hoover, works at Sac High as an adviser to these girls, and last Saturday night our working worlds collided: She’d be my soul-food date if I helped chaperone the Sac High homecoming dance. I really needed a date.
Let’s back up for a second; this isn’t just a rambling on rhythm and food. There’s something bigger happening on Broadway between Land Park and Oak Park. It’s a spirit of community brought on by the bourgeoning culture of 40 Acres Art Gallery and Underground Books (see page 63), the empowering nature of Sac High’s new-ish academic program (one street over), and the preservation of African culinary traditions through restaurants like Queen Sheba and Broadway Soul Food. Why wouldn’t my posse want to be on Broadway every night?
My appreciation for this street started with dinner at Queen Sheba Ethiopian restaurant, which relocated from Howe Avenue last December. Ethiopian dining already lends itself to group bonding; you tear strips of spongy enjera bread from the communal round and use them to scoop up complex flavors that dot a single platter like a painter’s palate. Then, as your taste buds greet the buttery turmeric flavor of Alicha Doro Wot (chicken); the soul-warming, curried yellow split peas; the savory lentils; and the rich greens; your eyes pop out of your skull with enthusiasm. Making silly faces with your friends? Priceless. And that’s just a small ripple of Queen Sheba’s togetherness vibe.
“I’m not trying to put myself up but I’m probably someone who the [Ethiopian] community can come to for advice,” said Zion Taddese, the restaurant’s sweet, calming owner. “Let’s say someone comes from Ethiopia and wants information for how to get a job, get a place to live. I know a lot of Ethiopians here, so I ask around. I’m their information center in Sac.”
Taddese also hosts community-building events, like the Sunday night jazz and reggae parties on Sheba’s back patio, painted with scenes from Ethiopia. And on Second Saturday, the restaurant doubles as an Ethiopian market, selling clothes and art from abroad.
You don’t have to be Ethiopian to hang out. Zion welcomes everyone into her big kitchen, full of heart and, most importantly, full of soul.
Just up the street, where Broadway leaves Land Park and meanders into Oak Park, there’s another restaurant with soul.
Broadway Soul Food is owned by Ann Hill, a local businesswoman who also owns a bail-bonds shop next door and a Java City at the airport. “You can go to jail, get out of jail and buy something to eat in the same day,” joked Hill’s granddaughter, Mia Outland, in reference to the family businesses. But there’s nothing funny about this food: impossibly sweet yams, infused with sugar, butter and cinnamon; thick, juicy chicken fried to a crisp, peppered perfection right when you order it; and collard greens that kick your tongue alert with red pepper, ham hock and salt pork. It’s the real thing.
Outland said local community is hard to build “because they don’t have too many things going on in Oak Park. I have to go to the bookstore to find out about social events.” But in a way, Broadway Soul Food’s become a small-scale social event. Regulars abound, like local writer Darrel Venable. And the restaurant’s been plugged by several radio stations, most recently 94.7, which left them “outrageously packed,” according to Outland. They create special menu items for Oktoberfest, for Mother’s and Father’s days, and for Mardi Gras. And Outland says everything is made with love.
And speaking of love, I’d like to share mine with the students of Sac High, who led me to pure soul food, then danced with enough grace, confidence and irreverence to make those chaperoning hours extremely educational.When a 103.5 deejay spun “Crank That (Soulja Boy),” a lilting rap that I once thought defied rhythm, the entire school (no exaggeration) lined up in neat rows and proceeded to stomp out a dance, in unison, without prior rehearsal. It was a tricked-out version of the electric slide. Like something out of a teen movie—the kind of spectacle you watch and go, “No way. That would never happen in real life.” Turns out it does happen, just off Broadway.