The return of soul 

South Academy sees the reopening of Southern food eatery It's All Good Soul Food

It's a window decal so odd you can't help but laugh: "Food so good it'll make your tongue slap your brains out."

Just leave that thought at the door of It's All Good Soul Food Restaurant, and you'll do fine. Once inside, prep yourself for grease-born, lethargy-inducing comfort food and all its much-loved hallmarks: salt, sauce and a Southern hospitality-sized dose of sweetness.

That sweetness comes not only in fine sweet tea and pink lemonade options ($1.99), but also in the baked beans and syrupy, cinnamon-rich yam sides (sides are 99 cents to $2.99 à la carte) and homemade desserts ($2.95 to $3.95). One of my guests went ape over his banana pudding cup; I favored the pumpkin-pie-profiled sweet potato pie; and the hummingbird (spice cake with white icing, pecans and walnuts), chocolate and red velvet cakes were all dense, moist and better than most renditions.

The cakes are made by the third-oldest of owner Sheryl Burns' seven daughters. Several of the girls work at the outfit, which closed at this same location nearly five years ago when Burns fell ill. She dreamed of reopening her restaurant, she says, because she loves cooking — she mainly supervises the kitchen now — and seeing diners smile over her Arkansas-rooted family recipes.

The family has brightened the place up considerably with their return: New wall fixtures hang over magenta vinyl booths and burgundy carpet; faux flowers line the half wall that separates the dining area from the order line; and jazz art, well, jazzes everything up. Service is now sit-down, which is somewhat unique in a cuisine arena that often goes cafeteria-style.

Before the aforementioned desserts, you'll find a simple menu with five lunch options, some of which get repeated in larger quantities on a six-item dinner menu. All lunch offerings are a super-affordable $5.95 with one side and a roll or cornbread. Dinner plates include the bread and two sides and go for $8.95 to $10.95, with the exception of a chicken-and-rib combo for $14.95 or whole order of ribs for $19.95.

Though the menu says "made from scratch," a couple items, such as the green beans, do come from a can first. Burns then stews them with seasonings and ham hocks, or with turkey bits in the case of our favorite accompaniment, collard greens. She otherwise makes her own barbecue sauce, rubs and gravies, and marinates her chicken and ribs for 24 hours before cooking.

The skillet-fried, wet, salty pork chops are a highlight, tender enough to be cut with a plastic knife. The hotlink — sausage with barbecue sauce on a hotdog bun — also works. Though the catfish is good, and all you can eat on Fridays for $10.95, it can't touch Big Sarge's catfish, which reigned at this space prior to IAG's return.

Our gizzard basket was unfortunately foul beyond fowl, super-oily and fried to an unpalatable toughness. We also found the thick, fried chicken skin in need of more seasoning, and the ribs on the verge of being too chewy, though bearing a decent sauce and char flavor. The rib tips, despite requiring work around cartilage, are a better choice.

So: some ups, some downs, no all-out brain beatdown. Just set your hopes for mostly satisfying soul food, and it'll be all good.


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