This month PIMP MY PLATE visits the USA to see if Boston can pimp my plate. With AUD$19 currently equivalent to USD$14.50 excluding tips and taxes there’s no set budget in my search for flavour.
‘Soul food made with 100% love’
The Coast Cafe
I don’t have a bucket list as such. My plan is to munch my way around the world, leaving a stack of empty plates behind me.
Some of those plates would have been heaped with soul food – collard greens, wing tips, BBQ, cornbread…
And if you live in Australia like I do, it requires a passport to achieve this particular soul food goal.
I’m so dedicated to this concept that in 2013 I wrote a book about soul food, Soulicious, after eating my way through as many soul food restaurants in the USA as I could waddle into.
I remember my first taste of collard greens – my Collard Greens Initiation – at Brown Sugar in Oakland. I remember munching my last plate of greens in 2015 so it’s been a long time between greens!
Before flying to Boston, I sat in wintery Sydney reading Korsha Wilson’s article about Tony Brooks’ COAST CAFÉ. For twelve years this iconic soul food café has been serving Southern dishes to hungry northerners from its tiny storefront in River Street.
In the article, Brooks explains that the recipes originally came from his mother, who grew up in Mississippi, and his father, who was from Connecticut. These days he adds his own tweaks to recipes.
I add THE COAST CAFÉ to my Boston ‘To Do’ List.
* * *
I finally arrive in Boston on a Sunday, after 27 hours travelling time.
THE COAST CAFÉ is only open Wednesday to Saturday so I’ll have to wait.
* * *
As we drove across the Charles River, my taxi driver informed me that we were now in Cambridge, not ‘Boston’.
As we neared THE COAST CAFÉ signage and pulled over at 233 River Street, I was suddenly VERY HUNGRY.
Special side orders.
After my collard greens drought, my choice of two sides is easy – collards, and mac’n’cheese.
BBQ Pork and Beef Ribs (USD$15.49) are on the blackboard menu but then I see CATFISH (USD$16.59).
Back home, Australians are big on BBQ but we don’t eat catfish. There’s catfish in some of our waterways, but it’s not on our menus.
Barramundi is our rock star fish as any tourist knows. It can live in freshwater or saltwater – in streams, rivers, lakes, billabongs, estuaries and coastal waters. We also eat a wide range of saltwater fish that includes snapper and bream, and river fish like rainbow trout.
Pretty much everything except catfish, so I seize the opportunity.
There’s a choice of BBQ Wings or Coast Wings (USD$10.59). When I ask the difference between the two I’m told the Coast Wings aren’t rolled in a layer of flour before frying, so I order them. There’s homemade BBQ or Jerk sauce for the wings – I order Jerk Sauce.
That covers the entrée, sides, and main. What’s missing? Dessert.
It’s been a long while since I last ate Banana Pudding…
I take a seat and check my phone messages, IMs, emails, Facebook, and flight times.
A black box with plastic cutlery arrives with cornbread and coleslaw.
I flip it open and dive in…
It’s the best Catfish I’ve ever eaten – super fresh, perfectly crumbed and perfectly cooked.
And that first mouth full of collard greens is Oh-So-Good after oh so long!
There’s no satisfactory substitute for collard greens. Not mustard greens. Not spinach. Not turnip tops. Just …. no.
As soon as the Coast Wings arrive in their red striped box, I crack open the container of Jerk sauce and start dipping. Oh. My. Yes!
When the banana pudding arrives there’s no meringue topping – ok I am disappointed – but the custard is studded with fresh banana slices and Nilla Wafer pieces.
We do have banana pudding in Australia, but we don’t have Nilla Wafer biscuits and we do it differently – no vanilla wafers.
No collards, no catfish, no Nilla Wafers – now do you understand why I mainline soul food at every opportunity?
Soul food is feel good food. And I feel good.
Looking around I notice a number of soulful messages pinned up on the walls of the café, and I’m sure there’s a backstory to each of them.
However, the owner, Tony Brooks, takes me by surprise by suddenly appearing from the kitchen to say hello! It’s really nice to meet the man on the t-shirt and have a chat. I tell him I’ve travelled all the way from Australia to eat at his café, and that’s no lie.
It’s also no secret that Tony has plans to expand to other locations soon. I suggest he opens a store in Australia as well, Sydney perhaps?
He seems to think it’s a good idea, but I better not hold my breath. But why not plant the seed, right?
Wherever they do open next I envy their customers because COAST CAFÉ serves some of the most mouth friendly soul food I’ve eaten. It’s not fancy, it’s simply delicious.
RATED: Pimped! FOOD: 4/5
VALUE: 4/5 ATMOS: 4/5 VIBE: Feel Good & Good eating
THE COAST CAFÉ – 233 River St, Cambridge, MA 02139
Visit me on facebook at Awia’s Kitchen or twitter: @pimpmyplate