How the Soul Food Scene is Growing in Minneapolis
Eat soulfully in Minneapolis. It can be done. You just gotta know where to look.
Article By Mecca Bos
Why don’t we think soul food when we think Minneapolis?
The answers are complicated. Unlike other major cities in America, Minneapolis did not see a large influx of black people to our city between the first and second world wars. By the 1940 census, there were only 4,646 black people living here—compare this with almost a half million in the same year in New York City.
And much like many other parts of America, Minneapolis was not historically immune to discriminatory practices, keeping African Americans from business and entrepreneurial pipelines.
When we think “#north” we don’t exactly think soul. But like many things in Minneapolis, you just gotta know where to look. A new generation of culinarians are rejuvenating what it means to be black, and cooking, and eating in the Twin Cities. Just like the rest of our city, surprises abound.
Take a look at these local restaurants and businesses that are bringing soul food to Minneapolis.
Currently Minneapolis’ best-known soul food restaurant, this North Minneapolis gathering place is a bright, sunny space for breakfast or lunch Monday through Friday (typically closed on weekends, but watch for popups where up-and-comers test out their specialties.) In addition to classic fried chicken, top-notch macaroni and cheese, and vegan greens, check out breakfast all day (blackened shrimp and grits!) an express lunch if you’re on the go, and plenty of vegetarian and vegan friendly options. I love their full-service patio and homestyle friendly service. Breaking Bread is a social enterprise restaurant, and is a tool to bring health, wealth, and social change to North Minneapolis, our most populous black neighborhood.
While I’m typically not the biggest fan of “fusion” cooking, Wendy’s House of Soul has struck culinary gold with their “Soul Rolls,” a traditional egg roll treated with soul: combos of greens, fried chicken, mac ‘n cheese, and more. Wendy is also known for her excellent wings, chicken and waffles, and even cherry kool-aid to wash it all down. Also watch for the upcoming Happy Soul Eggroll Shop, with a similar menu, coming soon to an undisclosed location.
Every Friday, May through September, watch for food trucks along West Broadway, featuring cuisine underrepresented elsewhere in the city. Look here for barbeque, Jamaican, loaded hot dogs, and more. This is the place to go if your cravings cannot be sated elsewhere in the city, like Wha’ Jamaican who serves fiery jerk chicken, handmade Jamaican patties (not the frozen ones many Caribbean restaurants serve) and even ackee and saltfish, Jamaica’s signature dish.
This brand new counter service space in South Minneapolis is breathing fresh air into this historically black neighborhood. “A side of Southside pride” is their mantra, and owner Jared Brewington is a neighborhood native. For him, Funky Grits is more than just a restaurant. Much more. But, food first: on the “Soul Signatures” menu, you can find country ham over aged cheddar grits and biscuits with hock braised greens; or shrimp and grits with andouille and buerre blanc. Vegan and vegetarian friendly dishes include a Hoppin’ John burger, and grits with black beans and avocado. The menu, peppered with musical references (Purple Reign: a vegan dish with roasted beets, sorghum popcorn, and citrus vinaigrette) is a nod to owner Jared Brewington’s love of black musicians of all kinds. Funky Grits is as good of a place to dance as it is to dine, and if you want to take in a full dose of Minneapolis community, head here. Also serving local beer and wine.
Justin Sutherland is our local hometown culinary star of the moment, having recently bagged a win at Iron Chef, and appearing on an upcoming season of Top Chef. His two restaurants, Handsome Hog, and Pearl and the Thief are not strictly soul spots, but flashes of elegant southern cooking can be found throughout both menus. At the Hog, urbanized southern is the name of the game, with Pimento cheese dip, bacon fat popcorn, and whole roasted hog jowl. At Stillwater’s Pearl, a posh whiskey and oyster bar means chicken fried ribs, Tennessee Hot Octopus, and Catfish and Grits. Check out one, or the other, or both, and say you knew Sutherland way back when. Those in the know project that his impending national celebrity chef status is almost inevitable.
While Trio Plant Based is not strictly a soul food restaurant, they are contributing to the vegan soul food movement by including a soul food section on their all-vegan menu at this brand new Uptown spot. Choose from smoked ribs, cornbread with artisan maple butter, macaroni and cheeze, and more, all using zero animal product. Trio is also the only vegetarian restaurant in Minneapolis that is minority owned and operated. “Built upon a foundation of racial justice and love” is in their mission statement, and the All Are Welcome Here vibe is a breath of fresh, diverse air for the neighborhood.
Fast becoming known as the best soul buffet in the city, the newly opened Mama Sheila’s is a lesson in African American cooking, as well as trip down the history of black music, with walls lined with images of great musicians. At the pay-by-your-plate-weight buffet, find smothered chicken, candied yams, black eyed peas, rice and beans, and many, many more items that are difficult to find around the Twin Cities. Check their social media often for information on rotating surprises like Sunday jazz brunch.
If you’re looking for a casual place for a sandwich, soup, and hot coffee, look no further than Sammy’s, a bustling West Broadway cafe with sunny window seats, newspapers in the sill, and a stay-all-day vibe. But in addition to scratch soups and salads, Sammy’s is a best kept secret for homestyle hot soul food dishes, like gone-when-they’re gone greens with smoked turkey tails, available hot at the counter, as well as in the cooler case for at home (or hotel) eating.
An eating trip to Minneapolis really isn’t complete without a stop at the Midtown Global Market, an internationally-themed indoor market with gifts, music, and best of all, food. Find 18 specialty food vendors, and among them, Mama D’s, a grab-and-go counter with all the soul food faves you’re craving. Wood smoked chicken, rib tips, fried catfish, pulled pork sandwiches, and too many sides to mention. Mama D’s was the first Soul Food restaurant to offer food at the Minnesota State Fair, with a BBQ split, a scoop each of pulled pork, mac & cheese, and coleslaw. Try them all at the Midtown Global Market.
A pop-up collective made up of a handful of rotating chefs (currently Kenneth Jordan, Bershawn Medlock, Jason Leibel, and Vaughn Larry) Onyx Culinary Collective takes a look at black cooking from many angles and presents a monthly dinner series. Past events have included a celebration of Prince’s life and favorite dishes; the intersection of Native and African American cuisines; and the black BBQ tradition. They’re on hiatus for the winter, but watch their social media channels for developments and surprises. Find them on Facebook and Instagram. Pastry chef Bershawn Medlock’s textbook perfect sweet potato pie is worth a trip alone.
At the Theodore Wirth Parkway Trailhead, Teona Washington, who lived in The Big Easy for years perfecting Creole and Cajun cookery at some of that city’s best restaurants, has just set up shop. Upon return to her hometown of Minneapolis, requests for her authentic gumbo and red beans and rice were relentless, so it didn’t take long before it became clear that she needed a restaurant of her own, and now she has one. Don’t miss her signature “Jambosas,” a jambalaya-stuffed samosa, a nod to Minneapolis’ large Somali population’s signature fried dumplings.
As he searches for the perfect permanent storefront, chef Gerard Klass has become famous for his super popular Soul Bowl pop-ups, taking place at different locations throughout the city. Gerard is a classically trained chef, and is taking all of his knowledge and technique to the soul food he grew up on in his family’s native Indiana. At Soul Bowl, you can choose your own adventure with your own base, veggies, meats and sauces. His are not just the usual suspects, either. Cauliflower Mash, Dirty Yellow Rice, Five Spice Candied Yams, and smoked deviled eggs are just a few of the over-the-top creations you’ll find at Soul Bowl pop-ups. Keep an eye on their social media for updates on appearances, including upcoming ones at the above mentioned Breaking Bread.
Mecca Bos has been writing about the Twin Cities food scene for more than 15 years and she’s been cooking in professional kitchens for almost as long. If there is something to be tasted in town, she’s tasted it. She loves few things more than bragging about her beloved hometown and food cities, Minneapolis/ St. Paul. Her work can be found both locally and nationally, and at meccabos.com.