My Temple of Steam-Table Soul Food

Originally posted on bon appetit

Growing up, I thought they were angels. Which I thought made sense because the restaurant was called The Beautiful.

My young life as a kid in southwest Atlanta—the historically black neighborhood I grew up in, the same one my mother grew up in—revolved around driving from one activity to the next. There was dance camp at Spelman College, baseball and basketball at Adams Park, tennis at McGhee and Washington—and those were just my obligations. We drove around so much, I rarely knew where the next stop was, and I wouldn’t ask. I was a happy child, eager to just look out the window, soaking up this hood that was my entire world.

Every now and then our car would start making familiar turns through the forest that is Atlanta and I would get both excited and nervous. Sure, I was ready to enter the booth-lined soul food temple and feast on my four vegetable plate of collards, yams, rutabagas, and macaroni and cheese (the latter is, in fact, a vegetable). Yes, the infinite refills of sweet tea with crushed ice and banana pudding in a to-go Styrofoam cup were gifts for my sweet tooth. But there were innumerable restaurants that could put that lineup of items together, a few on the same street, and just one with the ability to make my adrenaline rush.

I was about to see the angels.

“Hello, welcome to The Beautiful,” one would say to me with a smile as I grabbed a brown tray.

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