What is soul food? It’s not just fried chicken and mac and cheese anymore. According to Adrian Miller, author of Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time, “Soul food is best described as the food that African American migrants took with them when they left the rural south and settled in different parts of the country.”
Florida Avenue Grill in the U Street neighborhood markets itself as the oldest soul food restaurant in the world. The restaurant opened in 1944 and is the longest surviving soul food restaurant. Imar Hutchins, owner of Florida Avenue Grill says, “What we're calling soul food today, is probably the original fusion cuisine. There's so much African cultural retention in what we eat. It's also a blend of Native American or indigenous people and the European food ways.”
Traditional soul food has grown into a neo-soul movement with healthier dishes and a resurgence of vegetables. Miller believes that the original African American cuisine used meat sparingly, included vegetables in season and whole wheat flour, and excluded processed ingredients. He says, “The resurgence of kind of vegetarian and vegan cuisine is not a departure from traditional soul food. It's really a homecoming because that's closer to what people were actually eating.”
DC has a variety of soul food restaurants from the traditional and no frills spots like Oohh’s and Aahh’s on U Street to more upscale atmospheres like Carolina Kitchen. You can even find high-end soul food with live piano at places like Georgia Brown’s.
Missy Frederick, editor of Eater DC says, “Comfort food has been a trend in the food world now for going on five or six years in D.C. I think part of it started with the recession. People were looking for something that they could relate to at a cheap price.”
See what DC soul food brings you comfort and nostalgia.