The food we create is often one of the most obvious outward symbols of our cultural identity. The ingredients are a testament to the places we — or more accurately in the modern world — our ancestors, called home.
February is Black History Month and, as in any culture with a long history, the cuisine often tells a story as vibrant and rich as any aspect of the past, present, or future of a group. This story weaves its way through humble, living-off-the-land beginnings; through a journey into a new world, as full of suffering and degradation as it was of unfamiliar plants, fauna and flavors. It lands itself in the modern age with a celebration of overcoming great adversity; a culture truly coming into its own and creating food with soul, and honoring its history.
In observation of Black History month, we have compiled the best places to enjoy a delicious, comforting meal of soul food.
This little place just off of College Ave. and 18th St. is packed every single evening, and there are many reasons for this. First off, the food — my goodness, the food — you can't go wrong here, from cube steaks and fried pork chops, to the roast beef manhattan with some greens and yams. Everything here is packed with flavor. Then there are the prices, for less than $15 — including tip —you'll leave feeling a little short of breath, and you'll be smiling about it. Finally, the people; everyone from the owners, staff, and fellow diners will treat you like you're family. This is a huge part of soul food, the community, and you won't find a better one than in Kountry Kitchen. Oh yeah, try the neck bones. I repeat. Try the neck bones.
1831 N. College Ave., 317-926-4476, kountrykitchenindy.com
It's a family affair. The menu at this SoBro establishment is built to bring everyone together and to continue bringing them back time and time again. Order a “family style” meal where everyone at the table agrees on four side dishes — might I suggest fried corn, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, and greens. Then each person picks their own meat: Smothered chicken is the way to go, but the slow roasted pork is heavenly. Don't worry you won't have to fight each other for a bigger portion of the mac and cheese, you can get unlimited refills of sides and meat (you just can't take them to go).
2170 E. 54th St, 317-466-0522
Maxine's Chicken and Waffles
Maxine's has made its way into the mouths, and subsequently, the hearts of a great many Hoosiers. Over the nine years since opening, Maxine's has been mastering the art of one of soul food's staple ingredients, fried chicken. Following with a tradition popularized in 1930s Harlem, waffles have been paired with the chicken to make a mouth-watering and belly-filling combo. While this is the eponymous dish at this food spot, there are plenty of other options such as the perfectly fried catfish, the classic fried green tomatoes, or a twist on a southern staple fish and grits. No matter what you order, the will be “a taste of love in every bite.”
132 N. East St., 317-423-3300, maxineschicken.com
Harold's Soul Food & Chicken
It's a sad fact, but rarely do you walk into a restaurant and feel like you're being welcomed in by a truly happy and caring person. At Harold's, Mr. Jessie will greet you and you will feel like you've been going here for years. Not only will you feel like you’re at home, but you're about to eat some damn good food. Starting from a young age I've had a few foods that I can't pass up on a menu, and two of these are gizzards and okra — Harold's does both of these better than I've ever had. Show up between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. and you can get a full meal for $5. Doesn't that sound nice?
4558 Shadeland Ave, 317-492-9551
Chef Dan's Southern Comfort Restaurant
For a long time you could only get Chef Dan's from their popular yellow food truck, now they have a brick and mortar establishment in the heart of Irvington. Chef Daniel Carter's mother hailed from Louisiana and then moved to Mississippi where she raised the chef and taught him how to cook. Chef Dan has brought this combination of soul food cultures to Indianapolis, and we now get the best of both worlds, comfort and creole. We're so damn lucky.
5539 E Washington St, 317-737-1801, chefdansindy.com
His Place Eatery
The key to this Eastside eatery is Minnie Sue's chicken and dumplings; sadly they're seasonal, so I would suggest sleeping through the other seasons. If you're unable to hibernate, you can make it through with some hickory-smoked ribs with their unique side of bourbon creamed corn. Go ahead and add two chicken wings. What's soul food without a little chicken? Then, to make sure your belt no longer fits, finish off your meal with the best combination of two desserts, a slice of sweet potato cheesecake.
3709 Shadeland Ave. # F, 317-545-4890, hisplaceeatery.com