by David Cecelski
I don’t know why, but that heat wave last week made me want soul food something terrible. So one of those 100 degree afternoons I went looking for a plate of ribs or barbecued chicken, greens and cornbread. You can find good soul food all over Durham, but I went toward Fayetteville Street because there are just so many good choices there.
First off, on the way to Fayetteville Street, I stopped at Terry’s Country Kitchen at the corner of Cornwallis and South Roxboro. Terry’s has everything—plates of chopped barbecue, fried and baked chicken, meat loaf, pork chops, chitterlings, pig feet, ribs and all kinds of other down home specials. She serves them all with two vegetables (collards, cabbage, candied yams, fried okra, etc.) and hushpuppies or “flap jack” cornbread. She fries fish on Fridays and Saturdays and she calls her deviled eggs “angel eggs.” What’s not to like?
Only thing was, Terry and her crew decided that it was so hot—102 when I showed up—that they just couldn’t bear to fire up their ovens and fryers. They had only been serving sandwiches all day. I told Terry I’d see her some other time.
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My next stop was New Visions of Africa, a Halal soul food joint at 1306 Fayetteville St., a block north of N.C. Central. At New Visions, I always like the chicken curry and the stewed goat, both of which are served with yellow rice and a choice of 2 vegetables. But again, I had no luck. When I got there, the café’s owner had decided that he just couldn’t take the heat any more. He was closing down for the day, maybe the week, he told me. He said come back late next week, when he’d have stewed goat again. I probably will, but I still needed my soul food fix for the day.
Downcast, but ever hopeful, I headed for TheKnow Book Store and Restaurant at 2520 Fayetteville. At last, people not afraid of the heat. The Know is a lovely place, full of great literature, community news and, right now, the city’s best collection of Barack Obama buttons and t-shirts. Presided over by the warm-hearted spirit of owner, writer and community activist Bruce Bridges, the little café has mighty fine soul food. Sitting at a table beneath posters of Malcolm X and Ella Fitzgerald, I reveled in a plate of barbecued beef ribs, collards and black-eyed peas.
The Know is a great spot for vegetarians too. The cooks don’t season their vegetables with pork and they have veggie burgers and other meat-free fare daily. You can also get fresh-squeezed lemonade and wonderful desserts, including some amazing banana pudding and Rhonda Muhammad’s bean pies. On Friday evenings, the Know also hosts live jazz acts in the dining room, hosted by WNCU-FM’s old jazz DJ and my friend from days long past, Larry Thomas. The Know is a sweet place, one where everybody will feel at home. On a hot summer day, it’s one of the places that make you love Durham.
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Where would I have gone if the Know’s cooks had succumbed to the heat, too? On Fayetteville Street I’ve just scratched the surface when it comes to soul food. If you start at the south end of the street, by Hillside High School, there’s also the legendary Dillard’s Barbecue, home of a mustard-based barbecue sauce and a big buffet of soul food dishes. My favorite veggie special there: the carrot casserole. I could make a meal out of it. In business since 1962, Dillard’s is at 3921 Fayetteville St.
Moving north, you’ll hit Roy’s Country Kitchen, much beloved by the older set, and then, a block past the Stanford L. Warren Library, theRed Onion Restaurant (home, I hear, to some good poetry slams) andC’s Soul Food in the Phoenix Crossing Shopping Center, as well as probably half-a-dozen chicken and fish fry joints over the next 2 blocks.
Then, if you stay on Fayetteville St. past the Hayti Heritage Center (the old St. Joseph’s AME Church) and cross the Durham Expressway, you’ll soon find another place I love at the corner of Hood Street—J.C.’s Kitchen. The big mural on the side of J.C.’s says it all: “The Food is Sanctified, so you’ll know that you’ll be Satisfied.”
J.C.’s has everything—ribs, chicken, ox-tails, pork chops, etc. The only thing I’ve had there is the fried fish and grits for breakfast, an old dish that you can’t find just anywhere.
Another place I like way too much is next door at 102 Hood Street, between Fayetteville Street and Oldham Towers. Wingz and Things is a worth a visit just to spend a few minutes in the company of W.T. Wilkerson, the proprietor. W.T. calls all the ladies “Baby Doll” and brings a smile to everybody’s face. I love his soul food and street food—fried chicken, barbecue, fried fish, chili and hot dogs and hamburgers.
What really endears me to Wingz and Things is the way W.T. adorns his menu with people’s names. He’s got a special named after every one of his five daughters: Pet, Zora, June, Lexus and Tasha. But he didn’t stop with his daughters. You can also buy “Lucy’s Samosas” there—Lucy is W.T.’s ex-girlfriend. She’s from Kenya and she taught him how to make samosas. There’s also Jet’s Barbecue Sandwich—Jet is one of W.T.’s employees. (Check out the photo of him and W.T. in the window.)
Finally, there’s the “Boe Specialty”—a 5-piece chicken wing dinner. Boe apparently eats at Wingz and Things every day, so W.T. thought that he deserved a special named after him. The little note next to his special—“Eat like Boe, Look like Boe”—makes me want to meet Boe.
photos by David Cecelski