Photo by Studio Laguna
When A.B. Cassius opened south Minneapolis’ Dreamland Cafe in 1937, it was a rare social center for black people at the time. And of Minnesota, Cassius had this to say: “Don’t be fooled by appearances… There were great restrictions placed on blacks.”
He would know. When he sought a liquor license for a downtown Minneapolis bar in 1946, Cassius was told that black people were only allowed to operate “barbecues, shoe-shine parlors, and barbershops.” Undeterred, he finally opened Cassius Bar and Playroom in 1949, which operated on South Third Street until it closed in 1980.
Cassius used to be an anomaly as a black restaurateur. Neighborhood redlining, combined with institutional blockades to traditional financing methods—not to mention Minnesota’s relatively tiny black population (now 6 percent, up from 3 percent during the Great Migration between the First and Second World Wars)—make our cities a difficult place to find black chefs. But there are more options today that deserves our attention, and dollars.
Tenacious and hardworking individuals across the Twin Cities have advanced Minnesota’s soul and heritage cooking in new and unexpected ways.
Here are 10 places to go, and what you’ll get:
Sarah and Dan Woodcock first bonded with business partner Louis Hunter over a shared conviction for social justice and their vegan lifestyles. Their newly opened restaurant in Uptown has a soul food section that includes barbecue ribs, cornbread, collards, and more, all without an ounce of animal product.
In recurring pop-ups, Gerard Klass reinvents the soul food format in a fast-casual style. Build your own bowl with inventive components like cauliflower mash, nutmeg-laced sweet corn, and vegan mac and cheese.
Find Mama D’s in the Midtown Global Market, with fast-casual takes on smoked and fried chicken, various cuts of ribs, and southern sides like “Da Church Lady Collard Greens.”
DeMarco Cavil transformed a corner pizzeria space in St. Paul into a revolving-door neighborhood hub. They come for textbook-perfect wings, blackened or fried catfish, and bulging sambusas with herbaceous dipping sauce. Sunday’s Soul Specials mean a menu explosion: smothered chicken, cornbread dressing, honey-butter biscuits, and other rotating specials, like oxtails and meatloaf. Grab-and-go only for now.
Iron Chef and Top Chef vet Justin Sutherland’s newest restaurant in Stillwater, Pearl and the Thief, is an elegant sister to Lowertown’s Handsome Hog that lends some desperately needed edge to the river town. Go for “urban Southernish,” like chicken-fried ribs with sorghum syrup and Tennessee hot octopus. Pair with a full library of brown liquor.
Fast becoming known as the place for an all-out Southern buffet feast, Bloomington Avenue’s Mama Sheila’s gets your Sunday done proper. Pay by your plate weight with groaning heaps of smothered chicken, turkey collards, black-eyed peas, and so much more.
At the Theodore Wirth Trailhead, Teóna Washington’s long-awaited Cajun restaurant comes after years cooking in New Orleans kitchens. Gumbo and jambalaya are her specialties, but keep an eye peeled for “jambosas”—jambalaya-stuffed sambusas—a nod to our local Somali population.
Watch Eddie Wu’s calendar for soul food pop-ups at Cook St. Paul, featuring up-and-coming chefs like Allena “The Peach” Dancer and Khadijia Green. Green is known for outstanding ways with greens and catfish, and Dancer assuages home-cooking cravings with smoked turkey, cornbread dressing, peach cobbler, and more.
Fine dining-pedigreed chef Mateo Mackbee and partner Erin Lucas have set up a farm-to-table restaurant in tiny New London (population 1,396).They work their plot of land about 10 minutes from the restaurant. This “heritage cooking” nods to Mackbee’s mother’s native New Orleans and makes ingenious use of what the land offers.
This long-awaited restaurant has finally opened in the historically black south Minneapolis neighborhood where owner Jared Brewington grew up. Grits are the basis for this “Minnesota soul” menu, which also features walleye cakes and a boudin burger. Their specialty? Shrimp and grits.