Whether you think of soul food as the food Grandma served or as something outside your range of experience, there aren’t a lot of options for it in Arlington, so Taste of Soul by Annie Mae is a welcome taste of something different.
Our experience was seasoned with highs and a few lows.
The highest of the high at Taste of Soul was the fried chicken, among the best I’ve ever had. Each serving is cooked to order, which means there’s a wait but, more importantly, means it’s served piping hot — so hot we had to wait a bit before we could eat it. The coating on our two-piece white (a large breast and a wing) was thick, crispy, crunchy and peppery. As I bit into the breast, droplets of juice dribbled onto my chin. Napkins were in order. We can’t wait to get back for more of that fried chicken, one of the two items that are always on the menu.
Catfish, the other item that is offered at all times, was strips rather than fillets, lightly breaded with a coating that included corn meal, crispy but moist. The individual who packed up our meal had forgotten to include the tartar sauce, but the fish was so sweet and moist we didn’t bother to walk back to the counter and ask for it. (It’s a good idea to check your order before you leave, as we observed other customers who were missing items.)
Aside from the fried chicken and catfish, the menu changes daily. We’d heard good things about the smothered chicken, so we were happy to see that on the daily-specials menu when we were there. The recipe is a family favorite from Annie Mae, the restaurant’s namesake and mother of owner Janice Clark (Clark co-owns Taste of Soul with her husband, Orlando Clark). Bone-in chicken is floured, seasoned and browned, then smothered with vegetables and broth and cooked till the chicken is falling-off-the-bone done and a lovely brown gravy covers all. A bit sloppy to eat in the foam container it’s served in. Much of Taste of Soul’s business is take-out, and the smothered chicken might be best eaten at home with real cutlery and a plate.
So, high marks for all of the main dishes we tried. But there were several stumbles among the sides. The cornbread at our first visit, baked in a paper muffin liner, was so hard and dry as to be inedible. On our second visit, we were served a fresh, warm cornbread square. Much better.
Red beans and rice was sloppy with juice, nicely seasoned and sporting visible hunks of green pepper. Corn and cabbage both had an unappetizing brownish tinge. The corn was heavily spiced with black pepper, which we appreciated, but the cabbage was too salty. Candied yams were a nice mix of inch-sized sweet potato chunks and sweet potato puree, but were served cold.
We haven’t mentioned prices because pricing is confusing. The take-out menu indicates that two pieces of white-meat fried chicken is $4.63. We were only charged $3.99 for our two-piece white, but the side, which the server said “comes with it,” came with an additional charge of $1.89. Two pieces of catfish with two sides is $8.88.
You should know: 10 percent discount for seniors, faculty, students and municipal employees. The Sunday after-church hours are the busiest time of the week.