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On a Sunday in July I headed to Lena's Soul Food Cafe to support a black-owned business. I had called first intending to place an order for pick-up. The friendly voice told me that Lena's is so busy on Sundays that they cannot accept phone orders but I was welcome to come in person. This convinced me to wait for the afternoon lull. Arriving at 3pm, I was stunned to find more than 20 people ahead of me in line. Yet I had already scored the last space in its parking lot and decided to stick around. I set a stopwatch and timed that it took me almost 30 minutes to reach the head of the line. But it was a pleasant wait with all customers wearing masks and respecting social distancing while humming along to piped-in gospel music.
The Sunday specials were oxtails or turkey wings, in addition to the extensive regular menu. When you start in the line, the staffer asks what you want and marks it on the to-go box. As a first-timer, I didn't know that I could have ordered off-menu turkey dressing that I spotted as I moved along the counter. Oh well. I did get the turkey wings that came on a bed of rice and a separate place of blackened catfish. Observing the other customers, most of them got at least one order of the oxtails, and nearly all asked for extra gravy on whatever the entree.
The regular scoop of gravy with the turkey wing was substantial as can be seen in the photo. Yet, it was so tasty, I wish that I'd had more of it on that rice. I also loved each of the sides: perfectly seasoned collard greens, Cheddar-heavy mac n cheese with chewy pasta, okra-corn-tomatoes now a new favorite, creamy textured and not overly sugary fresh yams, and the blessed long-braised green beans seasoned with softened sweet onions and ham hocks. And not to forget the warm corn muffin wrapped in foil or the peach cobbler. The blackened catfish turned out to be dry.
Maybe the best strategy is to go with whatever is doused in luscious gravy as that's a strength though I am curious about the fried chicken too. Actually, I'm tempted to try all the 99¢ menu. The food was replenished often during my time in line. So though a steam table operation, the food is freshly prepared and turns over quickly.
What are your favorites here?
Lena's Soul Food Cafe
6403 Foothill Blvd
Oakland, CA 94605
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