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Sunday, July 17, 2011

A Little Off-Topic: Southern Food and "The Help"

By Tom

If you've been to the movies lately, you've most likely seen the trailer for the movie "The Help". It looks interesting; I can quite decide if if they've watered down the wholly wonderful and difficult to read 2009 book by Kathryn Stockett. "The Help" chronicles the lives of women on different rungs of the social ladder in early 1960's Jackson, Mississippi from the ladies of the Junior League to the African-American maids that run their homes and raise their children. It's by turns, funny and heartbreaking and I consumed it in two evenings. It is not, however, a comedy, which the trailer sort of makes it, and I hope they didn't try to "humanize" the main villain. This isn't "The Devil Wears Pappagallo" and there's nothing redeemable about Hilly Holbrook. She is a monster. She makes Miranda Priestly look like Mary Poppins. I'll go see the movie because of the flawless cast (I could watch Viola Davis read a telephone book) but I hope it's not watered down.

Of course, being a book about domestics in the South, food is a part of the plot. I defy you not to get hunger pangs over the descriptions of fired chicken, grits and caramel cake. Here in Los Angeles we're lucky enough to have a couple places that serve excellent Southern food. Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles is of course renowned, with three locations in Los Angeles that are always crowded. More off the beaten track in Eagle Rock is Larkin's which mixes up traditional southern food with a bit of a twist. Chef Larkin Mackey sparks up his dishes with a dash of Mexican spice. I can highly recommend the fried chicken and the mac and cheese. Bring a friend or three; portions are large and you'll want to taste everything. Reviews on Yelp mention that the service can be kind of lackadaisical, but frankly I want to enjoy my food so I don't much care that they are taking obvious care in cooking it. I don't want chicken that's precooked and "held" for g-d knows how long before being finished and served to me.

If you're in LA it's really worth a trip to Eagle Rock. If you're in Pasadena it's only one stop away going West on the 134. The address is 1496 Colorado Blvd (between Loleta & Hartwick), Eagle Rock, CA 90041. They don't have liquor, but you can bring your own with no corkage (at least when I last was there). They also don't have much in the way of signage; they're on the South East corner in a little brown bungalow with parking in front. Cindy's Diner is on the South West corner; you can practically see that from space, so navigate by that.

Great, now I'm hungry..

If you have a favorite place for soul food (or read the book and are looking forward to the movie) please discuss in the comments.

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Anonymous Jiyin said...

I live just a couple blocks from Larkin's, and can heartily second the recommendation. I love the fried chicken, but even better is the brunch, especially the french toast and the bacon grits. Also, if you've been very very good, sometimes for dessert they have a buttermilk pie, which is to die for.

12:07 AM EDT  
Blogger Carrie Meredith said...

I've never really had soul food, but I'm vegetarian and have been for about 20 years. I have heard that there's a vegetarian soul food joint on the south side of Chicago (where I live), but I haven't followed up on tracking it down. It sounds awfully good right now, the more I think about it. :)

1:56 AM EDT  
Blogger Tama said...

Carrie Meredith, there is a wonderful cookbook called Vegan Soul Kitchen by Bryant Terry. I read it cover to cover and have made a couple of things. Really good. The "vegan" in the title might scare some people off, but it shouldn't.

2:34 AM EDT  
Anonymous Koki2 said...

Loved the book and will check out the movie carefully before seeing it. I spent some of my childhood and all of my college years living in the region and era described.

I'm going to be extra careful with The Help because I am *very* disappointed in the last Harry Potter movie, and that's saying a lot from someone who took a bus for 5 hours to see JK Rowling read aloud at Radio City Music Hall several years ago. I wanted to love this movie but I found myself wondering at points if it was even the same book. Very disappointed.

10:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Doc Elly said...

Many years ago I lived in Durham, North Carolina, where THE place for southern food was Bullock's Barbecue. I don't know if it's still there, but it would be worth checking out for anyone in the area.

Carrie, if you haven't had hush puppies and fried okra (both vegetarian), you should try them. They're some of my favorite foods!

5:12 PM EDT  
Anonymous Olfacta said...

Glad to see that Roscoe's is still there! I never went to Larkins, but maybe it wasn't when I lived there. I live in the South now and can get all the fried okra I want, but miss the big salad bars in L.A., and Falafel King, and delis. Such is life, I guess.

7:19 AM EDT  
Blogger tmp00 said...


I will have to check out the brinch!

11:39 PM EDT  
Blogger tmp00 said...


I would live to try vegetarian soul food! I think that's a great idea..

11:40 PM EDT  
Blogger tmp00 said...


I'm taking notes. I'm leaning more vegan because it makes sense, even if I'm going to have the odd burger once in a while, even if I feel bad after. It's a process..

11:42 PM EDT  
Blogger tmp00 said...


That's what I'm afraid of..

11:43 PM EDT  
Blogger tmp00 said...

Doc Elly-

A college friend introduced me to both, and I thank that Georgia Peach for it. Soooo good.

11:45 PM EDT  
Blogger tmp00 said...


Beverly Falafel is still there. I am happy about that.

11:46 PM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Looking forward to the movie but I want to read the book too - I saw someone reading it on the bus today.

Lots of good soul food in this town although I rarely eat like that since I have waistline issues, but I do love me some sweet potato pie. My local farmers market sells a very good version, so I wander by their booth when I go over there. That way I can have just one piece with nothing to tempt me when I get home.

1:13 AM EDT  

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