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The stage is set for good food and good music

California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas

Where Soul Music Meets Soul Food

By: Peter Bothum

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  • States:
    California
    Florida
    Georgia
    Louisiana
    New York
    Pennsylvania
    South Carolina
    Tennessee
    Texas

Soul music and soul food both bring comfort and evoke feelings of home.

Both are at their best when they are served at the same time. Check out these places and events where you can feed your soul in every which way.

Fort Worth, Texas – Plenty of Comfort to Go Around at Buttons Restaurant

The connection between soul food and soul music is unmistakable at this eatery in the Arlington Heights neighborhood of Fort Worth, where Executive Chef Keith “Buttons” Hicks features his signature chicken and waffles, juicy steaks and pot roast. Hicks describes the music as “smooth ’70s” and “old-school cool music,” reflected even in the names of popular drinks like the Stevie Wonder, The Jackson 5 and the Diana Ross. Local artists on the Buttons stage cover soul classics by Whitney Houston, Mary J. Blige and Chaka Khan.

Looking to explore more? Go to the Scat Jazz Lounge to see local, regional and national acts in a venue with a speakeasy vibe in downtown’s Sundance Square, or drive to nearby Irving and visit the Texas Musicians Museum to view artifacts and memorabilia from a variety of genres and catch live shows on Friday and Saturday nights.

Chicken and waffles, a satisfying soul food staple

Chicken and waffles, a satisfying soul food staple
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Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – Brotherly Love with a Crescent City Kick at Warmdaddy’s

Find a heaping dose of southern hospitality on the streets of Philadelphia. At Warmdaddy’s, a restaurant and music club in South Philly, you’ll experience live jazz, lovingly prepared comfort food and a laid-back-yet-lively vibe straight out of New Orleans, Louisiana. The locals swear by the Sunday jazz brunch buffet, which is not a light affair. Bring your appetite for all-you-can-eat smoked fish, turkey collards, turkey bacon, shrimp etouffee, fried chicken and barbecue beef brisket. The music sizzles with local soul and gospel artists performing daily.

Learn more about the city’s storied music history by visiting the Philadelphia Music Alliance Walk of Fame along the Avenue of the Arts. Read plaques dedicated to about 150 inductees, including the R&B group Labelle featuring Patti Labelle, gospel’s Sister Rosetta Tharpe and the legendary Solomon Burke, one of the founding fathers of soul music.

Benjamin Franklin Parkway through downtown Philadelphia

Benjamin Franklin Parkway through downtown Philadelphia
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Memphis, Tennessee – Singing the Praises of Earnestine & Hazel’s and Bar DKDC

They say music is food for the soul, but food can also make the soul sing. Case in point: The Soul Burger at Earnestine & Hazel’s. It’s considered a Memphis must, and many food connoisseurs rank this burger among the best in the country. Known as one of the best dive bars in the USA, according to CNN, it was around in the 1960s during the peak of Memphis soul, and all the local and touring legends – such as Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and Chuck Berry – hung out here. Their sounds are heard today on the Stax- and soul-stuffed jukebox.

If you want live music, go to the Cooper-Young district in Midtown Memphis and visit Bar DKDC, short for “Don’t Know, Don’t Care.” You’ll hear funk, soul and jazz by mostly local artists at this neighborhood gem. The menu is more soul-fusion, shifting from Jamaican to Creole to Mexican each month. The impressive array of cocktails – including the Blue Suede Tini, Blackberry Julip and Jamaica Ting – are all served in mason jars. Learn about the history behind Memphis’ chart-topping soul music legends by visiting the Stax Museum of American Soul Music and the Memphis Rock ’n’ Soul Museum.

New York, New York – Channeling the South at Southern Hospitality BBQ

Surprisingly, one of the best places to find delicious, authentic southern-style soul food is 225 kilometers north of the Mason-Dixon Line in the heart of New York City at Southern Hospitality BBQ. Representing all regions and all styles, menu highlights include Texas brisket fried rice, an Elvis Presley-style burger with peanut butter and fried bananas, jambalaya and several varieties of fried chicken, including the Tennessee-style “hot” fried chicken popular in Nashville. All this soul food will make you crave soul music. One place to check out is Terra Blues, where you’ll experience soul from national and local acts in a classic Greenwich Village setting.

Switch gears by going to the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, a Smithsonian Affiliate, to view exhibits, listen to archived radio broadcasts, attend lectures and see live performances. While you’re in Harlem, catch a show by a rising star at the famous Apollo Theater, where legends like Ella Fitzgerald, Jimi Hendrix and James Brown launched their careers.

Savor the flavors of Southern Hospitality BBQ in New York City

Savor the flavors of Southern Hospitality BBQ in New York City
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Miami, Florida – Cuban Cuisine at Lario’s On the Beach and Estefan Kitchen

Cuban soul food is a cuisine all to itself. It is a delicious Caribbean blend of flavors featuring juicy, slow-cooked chicken and pork, mangoes, salsa, lime juice and fried bananas. Cuban soul music is equally delicious, a combination of slow-dancing rhythms of boleros with fast-tempo early 1960s sounds of jazz, mambo and soul to come up with unique musical concoctions. Find these two worlds at Lario’s on the Beach and Estefan Kitchen, two Miami eateries in a restaurant group owned by Cuban-American singer Gloria Estefan and her husband, Emilio. Lario’s, an award-winning restaurant overlooking the water on Ocean Drive in South Beach, boasts authentic Cuban dishes such as arroz con pollo (chicken and rice) and bacon-wrapped maduros (plantains). Estefan Kitchen, in Miami’s Design District, is more fine dining, with Cuban-style steaks, fish and chicken on the menu, and also offers live music outside. Acts include a mambo symphony, soul acts playing 1980s and ’90s covers and even Emily Estefan, Gloria and Emilio’s daughter, who has a style somewhere between hip hop, Latin soul and pop.

For a deeper immersion into Miami's Cuban culture, join the Little Havana Cultural Walking & Food Tour for an insider’s look at a four-block stretch of the historic neighborhood. While you’re there, stop at the Cubacho Museum & Performing Arts Center, featuring a bar, art gallery and live music under one roof.

Plate of Cuban soul food including pork, beans, rice and plantains

Plate of Cuban soul food including pork, beans, rice and plantains
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Soulful Festivals with Food and Music

The musical offerings each October at the Taste of Soul Festival in Los Angeles, California, sets the bar high for the food it also offers. Any festival bringing in acts like R&B star Brandy and rap legends Kool Moe Dee and Doug E. Fresh better supply some serious soul food, and it does. Menu mainstays included creole (gumbo and jambalaya), African (coconut rice, plantain and chicken stew), Jamaican (jerk chicken) and traditional southern U.S. soul food. In West Palm Beach, Florida, the Taste of Soul Music & Food Festival every November delivers a lineup of R&B and Latino – such as Brenda K. Starr, Brian McKnight, Tito Puente Jr. and Sito Rocks – as well as Caribbean flavors alongside the usual soul food offerings. The four-day Taste of Soul Atlanta festival, held every year in late August in Atlanta, is fully loaded to satisfy. On the food front, you’ll find favorites like chicken and waffles and barbecued ribs as well as plenty of Jamaican, tropical and Cajun flavors. The musical offerings are also impressive with a lineup filled with up-and-coming soul and R&B performers.

Long-Time Traditions Meet New Gospel Brunch

Sunday brunch is big across the USA. Whether it’s to relax after a long night of dancing and drinking or to keep the party going, people across the country spend hours enjoying breakfast dishes, seafood platters and cocktails while listening to live music. Sunday is also a day for gospel music, an uplifting, often piano-based style that served as the root source for countless soul greats, from Otis Redding to James Brown. Thanks to a growing trend of gospel brunches, locals and visitors alike can gather in restaurants and clubs to enjoy a sizable meal while taking in some of the genre’s sounds and traditions.

The Gospel Brunch at House of Blues New Orleans features a dazzling show complete with choirs of up to a dozen performers as well as an all-you-can eat breakfast buffet and carving station with various meats. Sylvia’s Restaurant, on Malcolm X Boulevard in Harlem, New York City, has been one of the top soul food spots since 1962. Nosh on chicken (served smothered or fried) and waffles, eggs paired with cornmeal-dusted fried catfish, pork chops, or chicken livers with onion and peppers. Wash down the food with bottomless mimosas while listening to the soaring gospel voices. Or, try gospel brunch in South Carolina, which could be considered the USA’s soul food capital, at Halls Chophouse in Charleston. A hometown a cappella group, the Plantation Singers, performs while you enjoy shrimp and grits or a Lowcountry omelet with shrimp, crab and collard greens; either pairs perfectly with a chilled Bellini made with champagne, peach Schnapps and passion fruit.

Visiting Sylvia’s, open since 1962, in Harlem in New York City

Visiting Sylvia’s, open since 1962, in Harlem, New York City
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