Comfort comes in all forms. Sometimes it is a phone call from a close friend. Other times it is warm sunshine on your face after a rainy day. Perhaps, it manifests itself as an encouraging embrace from a loved one. But every once in a while, happiness is a hearty, satisfying meal.
Arenthia Harvey knows all about food like this. From a young age, the Tallmadge native was certain that she wanted to own a restaurant. Her mother, a caterer, taught her how to prepare family recipes. Cooking has been a passion for her ever since.
In March of 2014, Harvey purchased the building on Tallmadge Ave. where her restaurant, LA Soul, now resides. Specializing in soul/Southern comfort food with items like ribs, catfish and fried okra, LA Soul is one of the best-kept secrets in Akron.
The restaurant is clean and modest. There are 24 tables and booths in the dining area. Two couples are quietly chatting over lunch. My waitress brings me an iced tea while I take in my surroundings.
“Let’s eat” is cheekily painted on the wall behind the counter. On the wall across from me is a sign that reads “$9.99 All-You-Can-Eat Fish Fry on Fridays.” I notice on the menu that they serve Kool-Aid. *What?*
I am definitely at the right place.
THE MAIN EVENT
My lunch arrives. I target the baked beans first. They are hearty and satisfying. Alternately tangy and sweet, there is onion and a bit of pork in every forkful. The combination of flavors is layered and engaging. This is a prime example of chemistry at work.
Few dishes exemplify “comfort food” as mac-n-cheese does. The decadent luxury created by the marriage of pasta, butter, milk and cheese-glorious-cheese confirms its designation as an American Classic. Rich, creamy and insanely indulgent, the mac-n-cheese has come to steal the show. It’s hard not to take a bite, close your eyes and just ruminate in the glory of the moment. In other words, it’s awesome, a sure-fire contender for the best to be found in Akron.
To cleanse the pallet, I munch on a corn muffin. Crispy-on-the-outside, moist-in-center.
Then there’s the fried chicken. Ever since I was a boy, I have proudly categorized myself as a “wing guy.” My mother never understood. She thought it was too much effort for the little amount of meat one gets. But I know better. I know the allure of a well-prepared wing. Therefore, I can’t possibly assign a passing grade to a chicken dinner if the wing isn’t up to snuff. And dry chicken is simply no bueno.
I grasp the wing on my plate and crack it at the joint. I take the drumette, douse it with a shot of hot sauce and sink my teeth into it. The breading is crispy and precisely seasoned. The delicate white meat inside is — savoring it — juicy and bursting with flavor. Bingo! That’s what I was looking for. That moment that only comfort food provides. I continue eating, alternating between the bird and sides. This must be how Hank Aaron felt in 1974 as he lazily jogged the bases after hitting home run number 715, the one that put him past Babe Ruth.
ROOM FOR DESSERT
The waitress tempts me with a slice of cake but my stomach is flashing a “no vacancy” sign. I pay my bill, a steal at $13.33 plus tip.
I listen to a lot of podcasts. I remember one from a few years ago in which a chef from Cleveland was interviewed. The host asked him why he thought that even in tight fiscal times, restaurants continue to flourish.
The chef said everything can now be experienced via the Internet. We can observe news as it happens. We can watch sporting events and concerts in real time. We can voice displeasure at the President or read a classic book, all without leaving our homes. However, the one thing we haven’t figured out how to experience online is the magic of taste.
Neither the crunch of LA Soul’s chicken nor the richness of the mac-n-cheese could be replicated with a series of “ones” and “zeroes.” The concept of “delicious” will never match the experience of “delicious.”
If you want to know what I mean, go experience it for yourself at 1001 E Tallmadge Ave., Akron 44310. Look for them online at LASoulFoodAndCatering.com for hours and other information.
Ted Zep is a freelance culture critic for the Devil Strip. He once met Chubby Checker at a Giant Eagle in Stow. He can be found daily at SuperNoBueno.Wordpress.com