How much do I hate the Food Network? Let me put it this way: The only time I’ve ever watched it more than a few minutes is when my mother was dying. She kept the TV in her room at a nursing home tuned to it 24/7. My mother was a foodie and believe me, even Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners in a fancy version of death’s waiting room are horrific enough to drive people on the verge of dementia to foodless fantasy eating.
On Friday, February 15, the Food Network aired an episode of “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives” that included a visit to Twisted Soul Cookhouse and Pours in West Midtown. The unstoppably obnoxious Guy Fieri hosts the show, and as much as I’d irrationally like to avoid anything he recommends, I knew it was time once again to sample owner/chef Deborah VanTrece’s cooking. I’ve long liked the Kansas City native’s soul food, which she “twists” with international influences inspired by years of travel for work and family.
She’s also a graduate of the Atlanta Art Institute’s culinary program. I used to eat regularly at her initial restaurant and catering operation, Edible Art, in East Atlanta Village, which opened in 1998. In 2014, she opened the fancier Twisted Soul in Decatur, which only lasted a year. She opened this latest venture in 2016 in the space vacated by Bone Lick BBQ.
VanTrece, an out African-American lesbian, has garnered a lot of media attention. I find this especially inspiring because part of the reason I detest so much food TV is its obvious perpetuation of stereotypes. I would have loved to see VanTrece bang Guy Fieri’s head with the cast iron skillet in which she makes her beloved fried chicken. But, bless her heart, she was as nice as could be.
About that chicken: It’s juicy with a mild salt-and-pepper sting and a fairly thin crust, served with macaroni made with three kinds of cheese. On the side is a ridiculously brilliant roll made of collards encasing a flavorful mix of greens. A shot glass of pot liquor and a garnish of sweet potato-apple chutney complete the dish. If you want to reduce poultry calories, you can order a version of chicken and dumplings. VanTrece serves half a roasted chicken in a mushroom broth with “flat noodle dumplings” and whole-roasted carrots. There are lots of other classic dishes prepared in more exotic ways such as hoisin oxtails, cornflake-crusted black grouper with chermoula sauce, and seafood lasagna with a gumbo sauce. I am sorry to say that my own dish, the menus second-most-expensive ($34), was not a success. It was a rack of lamb roasted with a “cocoa crust,” served over thick goat-cheese grits with a super-thick cherry demi-glace. Unfortunately, the cocoa eclipsed the lamb’s flavor almost entirely. The demi-glace was tepid and coagulated. Our server said it was a new dish.
Appetizers we sampled included fried green tomatoes and chicken wings. The “Jack Daniels Honey Pecan Wings” were crispy, gooey, and sweet. The slightly sour tomatoes were garnished with goat cheese and a crawfish remoulade – maybe the table’s favorite dish. Alas, we were too full to sample the dessert menus “Baptist pound cake with a caramel-bacon glaze and sweet milk soup” or the “lemon chess crème Brulee and lavender sugar.” Nor did we sample the “pours” – the cocktail program developed by Lorraine Lane, VanTrece’s spouse. They get a lot of raves.
The restaurant’s service is seriously the best I’ve encountered in a long time. The room is predictably noisy. We sat at a table against a wall with a nearly blinding light. You might want to specifically ask not to be seated there. Also, be advised the restaurant has joined the new trend of serving brunch instead of lunch most weekdays. Check the website for details. Make a reservation and meanwhile improve your life: Stop watching the Food Network until you’re dying.
Twisted Soul Cookhouse and Pours
1133 Huff Road
Atlanta, GA 30318