Soul food restaurants in and around Orlando, Florida, tend to be colorful places with personal photos and memorabilia covering the walls. The Soul Food Kitchen has no such personality at all. It is a minuscule carry out-only storefront with no décor and no seating except for a few tables out in an adjoining hallway and, on Sundays, a couple of extra tables set out in another hallway for families to share supper. Everything is sold in take-away Styrofoam containers.
In this bland location, you will find brilliantly flavored food, made with expertise and from scratch. “We use no cans,” explains Dennis Cox, who runs the place with his wife, Paula. “We snap our own string beans; we’re getting our collard greens now from Valdosta, Georgia, but the main thing is that we cut them right.” He and Paula use their parents’ recipes, but with a healthful twist: smoked turkey necks replace ham hocks to add meaty savor to greens and cabbage.
Among the nearly dozen entrees available every day, turkey wings are a standout, delivering incredible amounts of good dark meat; Sunday roast pork is as sweet as cream; chicken wings are fried crisp and a joy to worry; and baked chicken is butter-rich, drenched with natural juices, and so tender that applying knife and fork seems sadistic. We love it on a pallet of herby, slightly sweet cornbread dressing, which imbibes all the seeping juices.
Essential side dishes include glazed pieces of extraordinarily dark beets and peppery rutabaga served in big, velvety hunks. Baked macaroni and cheese is made with four different cheeses and – although Dennis is mum on the subject – we suspect a dab of sour cream.