Tag Archives: Soul food

Zella’s brings smiles and soul food to West Oakland

Zella's short rib and cheese sandwich. Photo: Kate Williams
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Even when the display case is empty, there are still plenty of smiles at Zella’s Soulful Kitchen. The first time we tried to stop in for lunch, the counter-service restaurant was closed to a catering event. The disappointment was quickly tempered by a cheerful, helpful explanation from the staff and their encouragement to come back the next week.

The following Monday, we were greeted by more smiles and friendly banter as we ordered up a veritable lunchtime feast.

Zella’s Soulful Kitchen is one of many successful businesses to come out of the La Cocina culinary incubator in San Francisco. Owner Dionne Knox calls the restaurant a “a tribute to [her] grandmother,” named Zella, and said that it was her grandmother who taught her the “ value of a great meal and the way in which it can unify people.” Knox baked and cooked alongside her as a child, but it wasn’t until she left a career in youth development and community advocacy in 2005 that Zella’s became a reality. Knox worked out of La Cocina until opening her deli counter in the Mandela Food Cooperative last fall. … Continue reading »

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Tanya Holland: A soul food pioneer in West Oakland

Tanya Holland. Photo: Jody Horton
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You’d be hard-pressed to venture down Mandela Parkway late morning and not see a line tumbling out of Tanya Holland’s Brown Sugar Kitchen. Since its opening in 2008, the truly soulful West Oakland restaurant has garnered a loyal following. Some slip in for a cup of coffee soon after it opens its doors, others brave the long lines for a brunch of fried chicken and waffles, and still others come in for a late lunch of gumbo or pulled pork. There’s really not a bad choice on the menu.

Holland has been working in kitchens since she was in college at the University of Virginia, and she formalized her skills at a culinary school in France and with a stint at Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill. While her face may be familiar to some outside the Bay Area after a run on the Food Network’s “Melting Pot” television show, she is most well known here for her transformation of two small West Oakland storefronts — Brown Sugar Kitchen and San Pablo Avenue’s B-Side Barbecue. Holland has just released a new cookbook, Brown Sugar Kitchen: New-Style, Down-Home Recipes from Sweet West Oakland, and it’s chock full of recipes from both of her restaurants.

Berkeleyside NOSH sat down with Holland to learn more. You can meet Holland at Uncharted: The Berkeley Festival of Ideas, organized by Berkeleyside, on Oct. 24 and 25. (Note: this interview has been edited for length and clarity.) 

When did you land on the soul food concept?

When I was living in New York before I went to cooking school, I never really saw examples of soul food restaurants where the food and the room and the ambiance and the service all came together. I either felt like people would try to put their cuisine in sort of a high-end venue but it didn’t really deliver on all fronts, or else they’d serve their cuisine in a really low-end venue where people just went for the food, not caring about the service or the vibe. … Continue reading »

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Miss Ollie’s: Hits the spot for Caribbean soul food

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Since her days at Oakland’s Hibiscus, and even further back at Front Porch in San Francisco, chef Sarah Kirnon has infused the Caribbean flavors of her youth into creative dishes exhibiting the heart of soul food with a modern vision. Kirnon’s fried chicken, a recipe she learned from her grandmother while growing up in Barbados, is a bit of a cult classic that follows her around from restaurant to restaurant.

Once Kirnon left Hibiscus, she put her efforts into opening Miss Ollie’s, which made its debut on Dec. 4. Named after, and in tribute to, her grandmother the restaurant occupies a roomy, corner location of Swan’s Market in Old Oakland. There a friendly crew serves lunch only, Tuesdays-Fridays, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. … Continue reading »

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Rib-sticking soul food: The original Oakland cuisine?

Brown Sugar Kitchen Oyster Po'Boy Smoked Mashed Yams Black Eyed Pea Salad
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New restaurants are popping up like wildflowers in now hip Oakland neighborhoods like Temescal, Rockridge, and Uptown, and the foodie frenzy has descended on the city like a swarm of ravenous bees. But what many of these eaters forget is that Oakland has never lacked for good food, perhaps only Internet glamour. Tacos and barbeque are good bets for a taste of pre-hipster Oakland, but one of the best ways to eat in Oakland is a huge platter of soul food.

Arguably one of the few true American cooking styles, soul food is a multifaceted blend of cuisines borne in the Southeastern US. Most of the dishes one associates with soul food today could be traced directly to the resourcefulness of poverty-stricken slave cooking: pork scraps and fatback were used to flavor greens discarded from plantations and corn from the native soil. Ingredients like okra, sesame seeds, yams, and peanuts were introduced to the Southern American diet from direct imports from Africa, and techniques like alkalizing corn to make hominy grits were borrowed from the Native Americans scattered across the South. Frying in rendered lard was a cheap and easy method for cooking a filling meal, and it provided a convenient technique for preparing celebratory dishes like fried chicken when there was an abundance of food. … Continue reading »

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