FORT PIERCE — Soul food: It’s food from the soul, for the soul.
Fort Pierce native Willie Roundtree, 30, noticed a lack of places to find just that, and he decided to open a soul food restaurant on North 25th Street in 2018.
Instead of going elsewhere on the Treasure Coast, he wanted to keep it in his hometown.
“I was born and raised in Fort Pierce, so it was deeper than that for me to make sure we bring it home first and give our community something,” Roundtree said. “I just wanted to bring something to this side of town that people can appreciate.”
He was working to open the restaurant as Granny’s Kitchen in Fort Pierce was closing after 43 years.
This year alone, CNC Soul Food Restaurant in Fort Pierce and West’s Country Cook’n & BBQ in Port St. Lucie closed. Phatz in Fort Pierce has stopped its soul food Sundays, said co-owner Tessa Adams.
The roots of soul food in the black community go back to African-American slaves making food with whatever they could find, Roundtree explained.
“I feel there’s a shortage of soul food,” Roundtree said, “so bringing chitlins and oxtail and things of that nature was one of our top priorities.”
He also carries typical Southern food, including fried chicken, collard greens and baked macaroni-and-cheese, as well as desserts such as peach cobbler and banana pudding.
The menu varies daily at all the area’s handful of soul food restaurants, including NuNu’s Sweet Soul Food in Fort Pierce.
Patricia McNair Hearns, 50, started the food truck in the beginning of 2019 and runs it with her husband, Robert, also 50, and her 21-year-old son, Levie Dixon.
“Things had died down with soul food,” Hearns said. “We didn’t have that many places open with soul food. We have a lot of Jamaican restaurants, barbecue restaurants and wings, but I wanted to do soul food because I wanted to bring that to the community.”
In her travels to California, New York and Puerto Rico, she noticed food trucks becoming the norm. Hearns thought it would be a good idea to bring that to her hometown.
She was working at the VA clinic while cooking and selling dinners out of her home when she quit her job to pursue her passion.
“I just left to follow my dream,” Hearns said. “The reason I wanted to follow my dream more was my son passed.”
She named the business after her son’s nickname. Davonte Paschal, 23, died in 2016 after his vehicle went into a neighborhood lake in Indian River County. He had told rescuers to save his 2-year-old daughter first.
“I wanted to make sure my son was remembered,” Hearns said. “I wanted his name to carry on.”
After outgrowing its previous two locations, the food truck now has been parked in a convenience-store parking lot, at Delaware Avenue and South Seventh Street, since 2019.
If she’s not feeling well, she doesn’t open.
“Every time I cook,” Hearns said, “I cook with love.”
But she puts her own twist on soul food.
During the week, Hearns carries lighter options, such as cubed steak, as well as healthier options, including salmon, broccoli, cauliflower and special requests for keto diets.
She doesn’t over-season her food and uses a lot of natural herbs.
“People don’t eat soul food seven days a week,” Hearns said, “so we actually do comfort food during the week.”
However, she always has soul food items on the menu, including crunchy fried chicken, as well as peach cobbler and strawberry cheesecake dessert cones.
“Soul food is something that came so deep from my family,” Hearns said. “Growing up, my mom always did it. My grandma always did it. My family members always did it.”
It’s not an easy job to make soul food, she said. It’s tough to prepare, and it’s tough to serve.
“You’ll get people that complain if it’s too salty or if it’s not seasoned enough and it’s bland,” Hearns said. “That’s why it has to come from the soul.”
In Indian River County, Sir B Jamaican Food Bar-B-Q Grill has a different take on soul food.
Winston and Rosene Brown opened the takeout restaurant with outside dining in Gifford, north of Vero Beach, in 2009 after she moved from Jamaica the previous year, said her 27-year-old son, Marlon Dayes.
He moved from Jamaica in 2010 and currently works for Delta Air Lines, but he’s been helping his mom without pay after Winston Brown, his step-father, died two weeks ago.
The couple started the restaurant because Brown was in the restaurant business and his mom was a really good cook, Dayes said.
“The food here is pretty authentic,” Dayes said. “All of our seasonings and everything, we basically get them from Jamaica.”
The biggest seller is oxtail, and people have driven from Melbourne, Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale to get it.
The second-best seller is chitlins, which his mom had to learn how to make because it wasn’t something his family had back home in Jamaica.
She also makes traditional Jamaican dishes, such as curry chicken and curry goat, and carries authentic Jamaican sodas.
“In Jamaica, we just call it ‘food’ for the most part,” Dayes said. “We come here, and we hear it’s called ‘soul food.’”
Laurie K. Blandford is TCPalm’s entertainment reporter and columnist dedicated to finding the best things to do on the Treasure Coast. Follow her on Twitter at @TCPalmLaurie or Facebook at faceboook.com/TCPalmLaurie.
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Treasure Coast soul food restaurants
Chicken and Waffle at Kinfolk
Address: 7319 Indrio Road Suite 5, Fort Pierce
Hours: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday
Menu: Southern breakfast, lunch and dinner classics. The “Treasure Coast Classic” breakfast features a waffle with eggs, grits, sausage and bacon. Fan favorites include the fried seafood basket and fried chicken, available in tenders or combos of leg and thigh or breast and wing. Sides include coleslaw, collard greens, mac and cheese and black eyed peas. Desserts include banana pudding and strawberry crunch cake.
Kinfolk Southern Eats and Treats
Address: 1410 N. 25th St., Fort Pierce
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday
Menu: Fried chicken, pork chops, catfish, chicken and waffles, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, cornbread, potato salad, green beans, fried green tomatoes, fried okra; daily specials include braised oxtails, chitlins, ribs, meatloaf, smothered pork chops, beef stew, herb-baked chicken, roasted turkey wings, red velvet cake, lemon pound cake (varies daily)
NuNu’s Sweet Soul Food
Address: 708 Delaware Ave., Fort Pierce (food truck in convenience store parking lot)
Hours: Vary daily; check Facebook page
Menu: Buttermilk fried chicken, oxtails, meatloaf, fried shrimp, fish, curry chicken, wings, seafood, collard greens, cornbread, green beans, fried okra, cabbage, macaroni and cheese, potato salad, yams, fries, broccoli, asparagus, peach cobbler cone, strawberry cheesecake cone, red velvet cream cake (varies daily)
Sir B Jamaican Food Bar-B-Q Grill
Address: 2605 45th St., north of Vero Beach
Hours: Noon to 9 p.m. Wednesday-Monday (closed Tuesday)
Menu: Oxtail, chitlins, cornbread, cabbage, curry chicken, curry goat, fried food, Jamaican sodas
This article originally appeared on Treasure Coast Newspapers: Here’s where to find best soul food restaurants on Treasure Coast