Heart and soul

Soul food has a storied history that brings families together over dishes passed down through generations

Waking up in the morning to the aroma of sweet potatoes and the savory spices of fried chicken are some of my fondest childhood memories. Growing up in the African-American community, soul food is an existential part of our heritage. Soul food originated in the South during slavery, when oppressed families found happiness through sharing food that warmed the heart and captivated the soul.

Soul food brings us together to laugh, to cry and to socialize with relatives and friends we haven't seen in awhile.

“Some of my fondest memories come from soul food,” said Victoria Haggins, the owner of Tori's Place in North Sacramento. “I remember being 12 years old and watching my father and aunt in the kitchen. I was amused by it and loved growing up around soul food.”

With soul food's storied history and its roots in treasured family recipes, Haggins says the most important part is the love that goes into each dish.

“Soul food comes from the heart. Doesn't matter if its Southern food or soul food, as long as it's made with love,” she said. “Soul food should bring people together, put a smile on their face and inspire them to be kind.”

While Sandra Dee's downtown closed recently, Sacramento has welcomed a new soul kitchen, Fixins, located in Oak Park. The restaurant opened in August and is founded by Kevin Johnson, the former mayor and neighborhood native.

Customers are greeted by beautiful African-American art hanging on the walls. Each piece has an expression written in a black Southern dialect that relates to the food such as “Eye recall the sweetest sound eye can remember is ma-dear in the kitchen cookin' Friday night for the Saturday morning church bake sale” and “Big mama said that us youngins never studied no waffle until she put some chicken with it.”

Fixins offers a fried chicken meal, either two pieces ($14) or three ($18), with a biscuit with grape jelly butter and customer's choice of two sides such as mac and cheese, charred okra or candied yams. Other add-ons include collard greens, potato salad and black-eyed peas are $5 each.

On my visit, the food definitely lived up to Fixins' slogan: “Without soul, it's just food.” The most important step to successful soul food is the seasoning and the fried chicken had just that. It was crispy on the outside, juicy and tender on the inside with each bite leaving a lingering taste of flavor. The candied yams and mac and cheese complemented the dish perfectly. The yams were delicate with a sweet cinnamon aftertaste while the mac left me yearning for more after every cheese-filled bite. To quench a thirst, Fixins offers Kool-Aid ($4), much like when I was a kid. It was refreshing, served with a paper straw and was ideal to tie the whole experience together.

Frequent customer Xayvion Mitchell says he enjoys the food at Fixins and tries to come every Tuesday and some Sundays after church.

“My mom was born and raised in Montgomery, Alabama, which is the heart of the South. So I was raised on soul food,” said Mitchell as he ate his mac and cheese. “Soul food can be hard to get right, but Fixins has done a great job in bringing soul to Oak Park.”