CSF falls short of home cooking mark
The GLOB Master grew up in Florida and has a complete understanding of the joys and delights of Southern cooking. When Celebrity's Soul Food opened downtown next to Mark's Prime Steakhouse I quickly had visions of collard greens, country fried steak, black eyed peas, and cornbread.
There is nothing fancy about home cooking. The simplicity of southern cooking, in my opinion, does not leave a lot of room for interpretation, modification, or embellishment of hearty entrees that comprise a just-like-mom's home-cooked meal.
Celebrity's Soul Food is the fourth location opened by Executive Chef Dr. J, the first being in Hollywood California. The CSF formula is explained as 40 years of strict standards following recipes for comfort food, soul food, and southern specialties of the owner's grandmother, Miss Dorothy Mazon, and mother, Linda Jacobs.
Walking into the CSF, the dining area appears to be designed for an intimate, low-light candlelight rendezvous. There are a few tables located under overhead lighting, and I picked one of those tables hoping to shed light onto my plate. Some interesting light fixtures -- sure to impress customers during the evening hours -- include an extra large chandelier directly overhead as you walk into the restaurant.
Ned, our lunch time server (image above), stood next to a good size CSF bar that spanned the West wall of the restaurant. The entire restaurant is decorated with plush black furniture. black cement tables and dark red accents usually associated more with intimate conversations and private transactions than a soul food home cooked lunch hour.
There is no lunch menu or daily specials at this soul food kitchen. Since they are recreating a Hollywood experience, the categories of the menu are cleverly labeled with movie jargon such as Opening Acts, Dress Rehearsal, and Dr. J's Grammy Winners.
The menu includes some familiar, tasty-sounding entrees from my past, including fried gizzards (but no fried livers?), golden fried pork chops, and Mississippi fried catfish. I did not see a manager during lunch. I was curious as to how much cooking oil was used during a typical lunch hour. Was the oil vegetable oil? How do they get rid of the used cooking oil at the end of the day? These are questions the old Mike Sanford Eat-Everything-In-Sight used to never care about.
My lunch partner was GLOB Content Editor Lynn Dirk, who had just returned to Gainesville after a month in the San Francisco area except for a week in Costa Rica, Central America. the GLOB's Content Editor saw traveling companions try Costa Rican home cooked whole fried red snapper, beans and rice with Lizano sauce - Salsa every day. I figured this Southern food lunch should bring her back nicely into the good 'ol boy world of North Florida.
CSF has a good mix of sandwiches including a Pulled Pork Sandwich ($10) and a Bayou Po Boy ($15.90).
The menu also included several Dress Rehearsal Salads, four seafood entrees, and seven pork and poultry options ranging from Chicken Tenders ($10.50) to Southern Fried or Blackened Catfish & Shrimp ($23.50). FOLLOW THIS LINK for a complete Celebrity Soul Food menu.
Looking the menu over, Lynn made a good point: "Well I guess we're eating fried chicken since this is a Southern kitchen."
That thought worked for me as my mind went to the state of Gainesville's fried chicken scene.
There are a lot of chicken shacks in Hogtowne GLOBers:
The Mojos Buttermilk Fried Chicken & Gravy is unbelievably delicious.
The Captain's fried chicken suggestion started working on me as I started thinking fried Chicken skin. As usual, we decided to share lunch and opted for the four piece fried chicken Headliner Dinner ($13) that included two sides and cornbread or a roll.
To start our meal, however, we were curious about the Collard Green Spring Rolls ($7.95). Discounting any idea you might have about 'rolls' these won-ton nuggets of delight were stuffed with collards and a very good pimento cheese dollop and deep fried. Lynn thought there could have been more pimento and green stuffing, but I thought the bite-size flavors of cheese, greens, and crispy wrap were perfect. We hungrily shared the six rolls and I could have been talked into ordering six more.
Our side dishes of black eyed peas and cole slaw missed the Southern home cooking mark for me. The cole slaw was creamy and crunchy albeit unremarkable, missing any highlights of horseradish or other seasonings.
I was contemplating my peas thinking something was missing when Lynn mentioned, "These peas could use some salt."
That was it I thought and immediately announced. "It's not the salt, Captain Dirk, they forgot to put a ham hock in the black eyed peas."
The plate of four pieces of fried chicken looked inviting as Lynn and I quickly divvied up our share with me choosing the wing and breast and Lynn, being a dark meat chicken fab, selecting the two chicken thighs she requested.
The chicken was tender and juicy and quite flavorful. There was a small amount of cooking oil residue on the less than perfectly fried chicken pieces. I'm saying that because if we are going to be charged for a 'perfect fried chicken price' I think the pieces should be magnificently cooked.
I enjoyed my chicken. The sides were good. The Collard Green Spring rolls were the hit of lunch and made me glad I was lunching at Celebrity Soul Food kitchen.
Unfortunately for a $21 lunch ticket, I was expecting a little more home cooking satisfaction, perhaps a lot less Hollywood ambience.
The Pluses and Minuses of the Celebrity's Soul Food
Celebrity's Soul Food (+) indicators: Awesome 'fried collard green rolls.'
Celebrity's Soul Food (-) indicators: Lacks in lunch stop appeal, pricey.
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- Address: 201 SE 2nd Ave #101
- Urban GLOB Location: Downtown
- Web Site: Celebrity's Soul Food
- Latitude: 29.650111
- Longitude: -82.323292