I stumbled upon the House of Soul Food in Santa Clara the other night and knew I just had to try it. So, last Saturday, I dragged my long suffering ("but Dad, I don't want to order that") junior Chowhound Andrew with me to try out a few selections from the menu.
Saturday was definitely the day to go, as the menu expands on Saturday. We started off with a baby back ribs meal (ribs prepared on a giant smoker out front, and served with cole slaw, by choice), a Soul Food platter (catfish, snapper, more ribs, hush puppies, and fried wing-dings). I also ordered a smothered pork chop, served over rice, with a corn cobbette and hot-water cornbread. We finished off with peach cobbler and sweet potato pie. Okay, so we ordered too much -- I like to try several things the first time I go to a restaurant in order to decide if its good enough to try again.
First the winners. The smothered pork chop was delightful. A rich onion gravy (with sweet strips of onion) bathed a thick pork chop served over long grain rice. The blending of the nicely seasoned gravy with the sweetness of the onions and a well-cooked pork chop were a triumph. And being Asian, I really enjoyed the leftover gravy on the rice. (Personally, I could just go for rice and gravy/sauce most of the time). The hot-water cornbread that was served with the pork chop was interesting. It was much denser than the risen cornbread I'm used to, with a tighter crumb, and surprising density. Lightly sweet, it appeared to have been grilled before serving. I've never had cornbread like it and I'll have to ask about its preparation the next time I visit.
The catfish was also a revelation. Lightly floured and fried, it came out juicy and succulent. Cooked to perfection and without a doubt, the best catfish I've eaten (I've had catfish prepared similarly at home, at Wiltz's Cajun Kitchen (San Jose, but closed, I think), and in New Orleans).
Finally, the sweet potato pie was an excellent choice (if I may say so). It was spiced just right, with a complex flavor that was not overcome by either cinnamon or sugar. The delicate scent of the spices were apparent in each bite, drifting from the forkful even before Andrew and I wolfed down the slice in seconds. Simply delicious. The crust, while appearing to be machine-processed (the fluting was mechanical and not handmade), was light and reasonably flaky. But as I said, the filling is where it's at.
Some of the items we had were simply okay as opposed to outstanding. The baby back ribs were meatier than I expected, but the sauce was a simple, sweet BBQ sauce that didn't knock my socks of. Andrew noted that he preferred the sauce at Uncle Frank's (East Palo Alto). The fried snapper pieces were firmer (naturally) than the catfish, a bit fishier tasting, and not as interesting. The cole slaw that Andrew had with the ribs was, in his words, "not full of very much flavor, sorry, Dad."
The real disappointment was the peach cobbler. I guess I should have known better at this time of year -- it was made from canned peaches and a crust that was, shall we say, resilient. Andrew complained that the sweetness of the cobbler made his teeth hurt.
Service was friendly (order at the counter, pick it up at the order window), and the place was immaculately clean (including the lavatories). Water is serve yourself, as are soft drinks. There's a semi-private dining room and the restaurant also caters.
Not the cheapest meal of this type I've had ($52 for everything we ordered), but I would certainly go back. Next time, I'll drop the ribs and combo platter, go for some catfish and another pork chop, and then try out some of the many sides I want to sample (fried okra, collard greens, red beans & rice, and black-eyed peas). Andrew wants one of the foot-long links from the smoker.
The restaurant is located at 2015 Lafayette Street Santa Clara in an unlikely part of town. Open every day (on a varying schedule) except Monday.
If you're looking for soul food in the South Bay, this isn't a bad choice.
PS Chitlins available the first Saturday of the month, if that's your thing.
PPS Anyone know if Soul Brother's Kitchen in Oakland closed? I drove by there last night and it looked less than alive.