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Cheap Eats; The menu is simple, but eating is hearty at Taste of Soul

We were the only customers in the place when we walked in for lunch a few weeks ago, with snowflakes still flying outside.

Sometimes an empty place is a clue that a restaurant might not be serving the best food at the moment. At Taste of Soul, though, the empty tables were just a crying shame.

It's soul food all the way here, dished up from a steam table. The day we stopped by, that meant fried chicken, smothered pork chops, braised pork or beef ribs, stewed ham hocks, Salisbury steak, fried catfish and more.

The menu could hardly be simpler. You want a drink? Two kinds of Faygo soda, in cans, were our choices.

For eats? Nine dollars gets you a "dinner," a main dished up with three sides and a corn muffin. You could also pay less for various permutations of one or two pieces of fried chicken and the number of sides you want. Or, order side dishes at $2.50 each.

The variety of side dishes was broad enough to give diners trouble choosing just three. There were collard greens, corn, crusty macaroni and cheese, rice, green beans, candied sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, black-eyed peas and more.

My lunchmate chose the fried chicken, mac and cheese, black-eyed peas and sweet potatoes. I went with the stewed pork chops, two half-inch-thick bone-in loin chops that had been simmered in gravylike surroundings. I went with collard greens instead of the black-eyed peas, but took more mac and candied sweets.

The pork chops turned out to be slightly chewy, but I didn't have any problem cutting them with my plastic knife. They were hearty, homey in a good way, and nothing but bones minutes later.

My friend's golden brown fried chicken still had a pleasantly crusty exterior despite its time on the steam table. It wasn't dry, the meat easily coming off the bone.

One forkful of black-eyed peas and my friend urged me to try them. They were firm without being crunchy, deeply savory with a touch of smoky flavor. That macaroni and cheese we both got was acceptably cheesy, but I wished I could have swapped mine back for more of those black-eyed peas.

Taste of Soul's candied sweet potatoes lived up to their name, sugary as anything you'd find in an Easter basket. But they're a vegetable, so they must have some redeeming nutritional value. That's why we ate every last bit.

No question the collard greens packed vitamins and minerals. They were an oasis of astringency amid the sea of richness.

We also got a little sweet potato pie for $1.50, made fresh like everything else, our server Inez said. It disappeared between the two eaters in a few pleasant, cinnamon-scented bites, but any more would have been too much.

e-mail: agalarneau@buffnews.com

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TASTE OF SOUL    

3 pennies (out of four)    

"Satisfying soul food classics"    

WHERE: 2383 Fillmore Ave.    

HOURS: Noon to 10 p.m. Sunday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday.    

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes

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