- AMEN TO THAT: Bell's chops.
You know, brothers and sisters, there’s a reason they call it soul food. Can we get an amen? Maybe it’s a flaw in our otherwise sterling character, but for this writer, nothing can pull us out of the dumps like a big ol’ bowl of turnip greens, a platter of greasy pork chops, or a wedge of sweet potato pie.
While we still haven’t brought ourselves to indulge in some of the, shall we say, more robust offerings of local soul food joints (though we’ve wondered if the only thing keeping us from gastronomic nirvana is that we’ve never eaten a steaming bowl of chitterlings), we’re happy that there are some places in town that can dish up the tried-and-true as good or better than Mama ever dared.
To those soul survivors, we have to add a new name: Mr. Bell’s Soul Food and Seafood. Though it’s a bit pricy at present, a homey atmosphere, mom-and-pop owners and some of the best soul food around make it a sure-fire remedy when your karma needs a kick-start.
Situated in the old Black Angus building on University Avenue, Mr. Bell’s is surely positioned for greatness. The whole Mid-town corridor has become something of a soul food Mecca in recent years, with a new Mama Bea’s Big Burgers only a block away, Aisha’s just down the street, and old hand Kitchen Express a little further down and around the bend, on Asher.
Inside, Mr. Bell’s certainly looks the part, too, with a down-home interior accented with gospel music and decorated with photos of old-time gospel acts.
Lucky for them given the competition, Mr. Bell’s does it up right in the kitchen. In addition to standard fare — spaghetti with meat sauce, fried chicken, catfish, pork chops and short ribs — their big menu of favorites includes such urban delicacies as pig feet, ox-tail, beef neck bones and the aforementioned chitterlings, any of which can be paired up with sides like greens, red beans, home-style macaroni and cheese, and homemade dressing.
On a recent stop into Mr. Bell’s, we settled on the fried pork chop dinner ($10.99) with sides of mashed potatoes and greens. For later consumption, we also ordered a large order of jambalaya ($6.99 for the 16-ounce size), which came with a generous slab of cornbread.
While fried pork can be tough and dry as a saddle horn if not cooked correctly (heeding their mother’s dire warnings about pork, most cooks scald it to the exact consistency of a sidewalk paver) they don’t call it “The Other White Meat” for nothing. In the right hands, the flesh of the most flavorful four-legged animal we know can be tender, bursting with goodness and nearly slick with sweet grease. Such was the case with the two big pork chops we were served at Mr. Bell’s. Thick, with a great breading and meat that almost slid off the bone, they were soon nibbled down to a nub in our sticky fingers. Probably not much good for our ticker, but — as we’ll undoubtedly tell our cardiologist someday — it sure tasted good at the time.
Turning to the sides, we were unimpressed by the mashed potatoes, which seemed a bit dry and uninspired after the pork chops. The greens, however, simply sang: tender, whole-leaf greens, seasoned spicy and sweet, swimming in a flavorful pot liquor that we eagerly sopped up with the slab of cake-like cornbread. That, in itself was a meal, one that would be all the better had we thought to snag a few drops of pickled peppers that grace the tables at Mr. Bell’s. We know what to get the next time we stop in.
Later on, back at headquarters, we reheated and sampled our take-home order of jambalaya. While eating their grub reheated isn’t exactly fair to Mr. Bell’s, the dish held up surprisingly well: a hearty mix of rice, big shrimp, hot sausage and spices. We can only wonder how good it would have been if we’d eaten it in house instead of plunking it into the fridge for a few hours.
In short, while the prices run a little high for our tastes (the dinners on the menu all run upwards of $8, with some of the high-end items like the chitterlings and large gumbo spiking well north of $12) there are a number of very reasonable selections on the menu, including the Mr. Bell’s Burger ($4.49), the fried clams with fries ($4.99) and the three-piece catfish snack ($4.99), which — if memory serves — pretty much crushes the price of the same item across the street at Catfish City.
Too, you get what you pay for, and in this case, it’s carefully prepared, very authentic soul food that will leave you licking your fingers, guaranteed. We’ll be back soon to sample their other fare, though there’s going to have to be a bet involved before an order of steaming pig plumbing comes anywhere near these lips.
Mr. Bell’s Soul Food and Seafood
1810 S. University Ave.
Be sure to try one of Mr. Bell’s great desserts. No cellophane-wrapped phonies here, just some of the best homemade banana pudding, pies and cobblers you ever laid lips on.
11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday. 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed Sunday.
Moderate to expensive prices. Credit cards accepted. Full bar.