A Taste of Soul
by Lee Lawrence
From the April, 2014 issue
It's easy to miss A Taste of Soul by Biggie's. A cement block building on Ypsilanti's Spring Street near Huron, it looks more like a TV repair shop than a restaurant, but actually it's a takeout place that serves some hard-to-beat chicken and an astounding array of sides. Astounding, particularly because both counter and stove are often manned by only one fellow--Victor Swanson, the owner--which also means orders can take awhile or he may be out of an item or two. After having moved his restaurant a couple of times around Ypsi, Swanson has been at his present location for a few years; let's hope he stays for the long haul.
I could easily eat the baked chicken once a week. Tender, moist, infused with spice and salt and a bit of heat, it is falling-off-the-bone delicious. With a square of cornbread--light, not too sweet--and sides of red beans and rice; sharp, long-cooked turnip greens; or herbed green beans, I can finish my meal content, with leftovers for lunch the next day. The portions are incredibly generous and incredibly inexpensive given the amount of food. The combo dinners--two meats, two sides--could easily feed two normal appetites.
While I kept exclaiming over the baked chicken, my mother favored Biggie's lightly breaded, crispy fried chicken, also moist and tender, and his creamy black-eyed peas and coleslaw. Even if I have a preference, I can't really say either style of chicken wins big over the other; both deserve accolades.
Ribs always engender debate--meatiness, smokiness, tenderness, sauciness. While Biggie's slabs were meaty, tender, and flavorful, they didn't have the characteristic smoky taste of wood, and they were drenched in an overly sweet, undistinguished sauce. Next time I'll see if I can order them sans sauce.
Among the other dinners, I found the meat loaf well seasoned, light, and quite tasty, though I'm usually not a fan of ground beef. Thin pork chops, seasoned similarly to the baked chicken and fried, were also surprisingly scrumptious.
Fried catfish fillets, breaded with cornmeal, were cooked perfectly; I wish Victor made his own tartar sauce rather than pass out the tiny packets of prepackaged stuff, however. A great lover of pork and all the "lesser" cuts, I kept trying to order the neck bone dinner, but it was never available. Roast beef, fried shrimp, and a couple of other fish, along with a list of sandwiches, round out the entree choices.
Sides, numbering around twenty, are an entire menu in themselves. The red beans and rice, greens, coleslaw, black-eyed peas, and green beans are standouts, and the mac and cheese and potato salad are fine. Fans of chicken gizzards probably don't number in large figures, but they, like my father and husband, will enjoy Biggie's fried morsels, sauced with a bit of gravy. The baked beans, though, were honey-sweet and almost glazed (a sweet tooth definitely rules this kitchen), and the braised cabbage had cooked so long its essence and texture had disappeared. The chicken dressing was too heavy and dense for me, and the fried okra too heavily breaded for my husband. Hand-cut sweet potato fries were limp and dusted with cinnamon and powdered sugar. Of the sides I didn't sample--French fries, onion rings, spaghetti, candied yams, rice and gravy--the only one dish I really wanted to try, fried corn, was usually not available.
But eventually I'll taste that fried corn, because I'll be going back to Biggie's regularly on nights I don't feel like cooking. Baked chicken, fried corn, red beans and rice: home cooking without cooking at home. What could be better?
A Taste of Soul by Biggie's
97 Spring Street, Ypsilanti
Mon. 1-8 p.m., Tues.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Fri. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Sat. noon-10 p.m., Sun. 2-8 p.m.
Sandwiches $2-$6.99; entrees, dinners, combos, slabs $5.99-$23.99; sides $2.50-$4.50
[Originally published in April, 2014.]