Photo by Todd Cooper

Northern Soul

Eugene has soul food once again — and it’s better than ever

Sometimes, Tye Bell’s phone goes off at 3 am with an alert from DoorDash that a customer sent in a preorder for Straight Outta Soul Food. 

“I appreciate you’re up at 3 am thinking of me,” he laughs. 

But that customer is sending an early morning preorder because Straight Outta Soul Food is generating a lot of hype on social media and sells out fast every day. 

Straight Outta Soul Food opened in January. But business has been booming for Bell and his mother Deniece Blanton ever since online directories of restaurants open for takeout and delivery circulated, Bell says. Then business got even busier when people circulated Black-owned restaurants on social media as part of a recent upsurge in support as Black Lives Matter protests continue across the country. 

Part of the reason why they sell out of food so quickly is because it’s not technically a restaurant right now. And because Straight Outta Soul Food is a kitchen and not a restaurant, Bell and Blanton can’t do things like store food overnight. That means every morning, Bell goes out to pick up food and ingredients. And they can only sell about 40 meals a day. So he sells out fast — usually by the early afternoon. 

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Chef Tye Bell prepares his signature chicken in waffle. Photo by Todd Cooper

The other reason it’s so popular is because soul food has been dearly missed in Eugene ever since Papa’s Soul Food Kitchen closed in 2017. 

Straight Outta Soul Food keeps a small menu of main entrees — which includes chicken tenders, chicken in waffle, Jamaican jerk chicken and red ruby trout. There are only three sides to choose from: mac and cheese, potato salad and greens, but for $10, you leave with a tray full of food. 

I ordered one of the more popular items on the menu: the Jamaican jerk chicken. I sent the preorder the day before, and when I dug into the meal, I found out why Straight Outta Soul Food sells out so fast. The meat is tender and easily falls off the bone. And the marinade for the chicken has a kick but isn’t overpowering. 

Don’t think the side dishes are just measly sidekicks. The potato salad, whose recipe has been passed down in Blanton’s family for generations, is perfectly balanced.

And I’m not the only person who thinks so highly of the potato salad. 

“The potato salad since I’ve been alive, everybody who’s ever had it, anybody who said, ‘Oh, I hate potato salad’ — it’s the best thing in the world,” Bell says, adding that it’s the best in the West. “No one in my life has ever said no to this potato salad.” 

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The Mutha Cluck’n Chicken with Killer Greens and Mac & Cheese. Photo by Todd Cooper.

Just as Bill Bowerman reinvented the running shoe with a waffle iron, Bell is breathing new life to chicken and waffles. The gimmick Bell says he created is like a corn dog without the stick. 

“The chicken in waffle was a fun idea for the kids because it’s like a year-round fair food,” he says. “You rip the waffles off and dip it in syrup.”

Bell says he has plans for establishing a brick-and-mortar restaurant — but keep it takeout-focused and a minimal sized building like a coffee booth — with the meals staying priced at around $10. He looks to In-N-Out as his model; the California-born restaurant has always kept its prices affordable. 

“If someone is willing to sit outside in line at In-N-Out for four things on the menu, why can’t I do that?” he says. 

For now, Bell and Blanton are establishing themselves as the place to grab soul food. Or, according to Bell, they’re cornering the soul food market.

To order from Straight Outta Soul Food, visit DoorDash. 

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Chicken in Waffle. Photo by Todd Cooper.