Monday, May 2, 2011

Soul Daddy Brings Healthy Southern Cuisine To The Heart of Hollywood...

Jamawn "Jay" Woods and America's Next Great Restaurant got me to eat greens. And I liked it.

That's pretty monumental in its own way, but for the winner of the NBC reality series and new restauranteur, what was even more important was that his new chain, Soul Daddy, opened in three locations today: The Mall of America, New York City, and right here in Los Angeles. Needless to say a guy who created his own special BBQ sauce, a fried chicken and waffle melt, among wings, and flaky biscuits throughout the course of the season was easily my favorite. The fact that he was doing it all for his family was great and all, but the food is paramount. So today when the L.A. location opened its doors at Hollywood & Highland, I was one of the first to walk through them.

And I was not alone. NBC-Universal employees were given a discount by visiting the fast-casual southern style restaurant, and show judge and business investor Curtis Stone himself also showed up to show his support (and see that investment pay off).

The menu is somewhat small and much healthier than I was expecting: meal platters come Boston Market-style with one entree, two sides, and a bread. You can also add a drink (bottled or tap) to that. Unfortunately no desserts as of yet, but perhaps they will add some kind of red velvet option soon. The entrees range from a vegetarian platter to baked chicken to a pulled pork sandwich or ribs. All of the sauces are served on the side, at a special sauce station. Not only does that speed up service but it means you can control how much and what combination you use, creating completely customized palates. The BBQ sauce should not be missed, as it is Woods' own recipe and something worthy of bottling and selling in supermarkets everywhere!

The sides offer a wide variety of salads, as well as cheese grits and sweet potato dishes, while with the bread you have a choice of whole wheat biscuit or cornbread waffle. True to the message he delivered on the show, Woods is looking to introduce a healthier option for soul food. And while I must admit I was hoping for fried chicken of some kind to be back on the menu, my arteries are thanking him right now.

I ordered the ribs, for those who are wondering-- not something I usually eat but I had to try since everyone on the show raved about them. And they really do fall off the bone, seasoned nicely even before adding any sauce. I didn't need the sauce, but I felt like I just had to have it, too, even if I just ate it off the fork alone. Delicious!

(I'm not really a foodie. I don't know about terminology. I just know what I like :) )

For my sides I had the cheese grits (surprisingly light and not at all greasy) and the wild rice salad. Now, I know if it is a salad, I should have expected greens in there somewhere, but I...didn't. I thought it was just going to be a combo of wild rice and nuts (as the girl behind the counter nicely pointed out when I ordered in case I was allergic). Turns out there are greens included, though, with a sweet vinaigrette that actually had me gobbling it up.

I hope your eyes didn't fall out of your head reading that admission. That has certainly never happened before, but I'm sure it will happen again: the next time I visit Soul Daddy.

Woods was on hand at the L.A. location today to oversee and to meet and greet his new fans. He was energetic and excited, the same guy you saw on the show, and he didn't seem stressed at all, despite the fact that the restaurant was full both inside and out and had a line that wound around the circumference at one point. His idea was great, but I can't help but think even bigger for him. He could easily expand to include a food truck, too, as well as a more fine dining restaurant option. He could be the Wolfgang Puck of southern, soul food. And more importantly, he should.

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