As summer fades to fall, our appetites invariably swing toward comfort food. And when it comes to comfort food, there's no topping soul food. It's the fuzzy blanket of American cuisine.
While every chef in town is busy updating the classics, Angie and the gang at Angie's Soul Café stubbornly cling to history, preparing the tried-and-true recipes of generations past. This is home cooking done the way it's always been done. And it feels like Angie's has always been a part of Cleveland, popping up in various locations on Carnegie, then Euclid, then Cedar, and back to Carnegie over the years. The restaurant's latest move may be its best: Angie's took over the former Town Fryer on Superior, an ideal position to serve its wide-ranging customer base.
Don't get me wrong; it was sad to see the physical changes to the old Fryer, a sassy joint that dished out live music along with hot food and cold beer. The front-room bar has been replaced by a cafeteria-style steam table that holds much of the food. Booze is gone too, swapped for soft drinks and sweet tea. Live music fans must now make do with piped-in jazz.
Diners looking for a light and lean lunch would do well to head elsewhere. Angie's dishes out hale and hearty fare that seems better suited to lumberjacks than office drones. Platters come piled high — and include a couple of sides and a pair of corn muffins. It's amusing to see what passes for "heart healthy" on the menu, with items like Salisbury steak and fried cabbage edging out chicken and dumplings for inclusion.
Angie's isn't exactly a cafeteria-style restaurant; it's more of a hybrid, where guests place their order at the counter, pay, then take a seat in one of two rooms. Staffers deliver the meal on a plastic tray, along with silverware and paper napkins. Hot sauce — an absolute must — arrives upon request in a massive squeeze bottle.
The expansive menu offers a combination of regular items and daily specials. Dishes like fried chicken and smothered pork chops are available daily, while specials like Salisbury steak and meatloaf appear only on certain days of the week. That fried chicken, by the way, is incredible: dark and crusty, moist and salty. Various white and dark meat combos ($5.25-$9) are offered, as is chicken and waffles ($6). As good as that fried chicken is, it actually gets better after lolling about in gravy as it does in the smothered chicken ($9). Whole pieces of fried chicken soak up the sauce, rendering the once-crisp skin soft and yielding. This is as soul-pleasing as food gets.
Of course, soul food is all about making do with less — using parts of the animal that come cheap because nobody else wants them. Funny how times change. Prices for short ribs, oxtails, and neckbones have all soared in recent years, thanks to their newfound appreciation among chefs and diners. Angie braises big and meaty oxtails ($13.50) till tender and serves them with plenty of sauce. The menu features nearly a dozen sides, but rice is a natural choice for dishes like this one.
Soul food side dishes seem erroneously named — after all, they rarely play second fiddle to the mains. Appropriately gooey macaroni and cheese, tender collards with a vinegary kick, sweet candied yams, and smooth mashed potatoes — these are the utility players of the comfort food world. (Slimy boiled okra, on the other hand, can stay in the locker room for all we care.)
At lunchtime, it's hard to beat a freshly fried catfish sandwich ($5) doused with half a gallon of hot sauce. Served simply on sandwich bread with lettuce and tomato, the cornmeal coated fish is crisp, peppery, and mild. Desserts like blazing-pink red velvet cake ($3.50) are difficult to pass up, in part because of their prominent placement atop the counter. Sweet and moist, with sugary cream cheese frosting, the layer cake makes a soothing meal-ender.
If time is an issue, try ordering a prepared item from the steam table. After all, all those made-to-order sandwiches, fried fish, and french fries can take their good sweet time getting to the table — and an onslaught of takeout orders can easily disrupt the dine-in ordering process.
But as the mercury continues its free fall into winter, those visions of Angie's smothered chicken will keep us warm.
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