As Lou Reed put it, “The first thing you learn is you always gotta wait.” But when you are jonesing, you are always willing to wait. And the catfish at Cafe Soul definitely brings the jones down on me.
Cafe Soul opened this past October in the location that was formerly home to the Kitchen on 43rd Place. The changeover was so fast, I’m not sure the restaurant even closed its doors. Cafe Soul is retaining the Kitchen’s recipes and menu. They are even still serving the Kitchen’s “red pop” off the menu, which is actually red Kool-Aid. And yes, they are still serving the famous curry chicken. At this time it does not look like they will continue hosting jazz bands in the small upstairs area, but you never know.
I have been waiting for catfish like this for a long time – light, flaky fish with a tight, sandy cornmeal coating. The greens, which use lamb instead of pork, can be unpredictable. Most days, they are a contender for the best greens in town. However, on one visit they definitely tasted “off”. The short ribs fall off of the bone at the slightest touch, and they are blanketed with what may be the most complex, flavorful gravy I have ever encountered. The macaroni and cheese has a nice, crispy cheddar crust and thick custard. The fried chicken can be a bit greasy, unlike the catfish which is stellar every time. They serve chicken and waffles all day, and when you’re strapped for cash, there are a few dishes charitably priced at $3.50.
The kitchen can be slow when there is only one person running the place. Most of the food is cooked from scratch, so this is not the place to go when you’re in a hurry.
Cafe Soul is open until 10pm Monday through Thursday, and until midnight on Friday and Saturday nights, which is fantastic news for people visiting the World Stage around the corner. They close at 8pm on Sundays. But since the drum circle brings in the crowds, the kitchen tends to run out of menu items as Sunday afternoon fades into evening.
I am not too worried about Cafe Soul’s minor flaws. Considering the speed of the takeover and the hindrance of an insufficient staff, I am confident that once this place finds its legs and rhythm, it will be the star of the neighborhood.
Even though I occasionally want to interrupt the cook, like to ask for my drink while we wait, she is always so busy in the kitchen that I feel like I need to just stay in my seat with my hands politely folded in my lap.
Somehow when I’m sitting in the Soul Cafe I feel as though I am at my aunt’s house for dinner. The vibe is warm and comfortable, but you also get the vague sense that you had better behave yourself. Dinner will be ready when it’s ready.
Cafe Soul (323) 299-7797
3347 1/2 West 43rd Place LA CA 90008