Nicole (L) and Mr. Roland (R)
So, it goes without saying that any sign that advertises oxtails and pork chops is going to get my attention. I had gone online and ciphered out what specials were offered what day, and was leaning heavily towards Thursday, but busy schedules being what they are, Wednesday was going to be our Roland day, no matter what the daily specials were. So we decided to hit the joint around 11am, to miss the rush, and found ourselves the only diners present, which was fine, because it gave our effervescent waitress, Nicole, time to run us through the whole menu and tell us all the backstory that we needed to know, as we grooved along to the gospel music playing inside.
Shane had to order the chicken fried chicken; he always has to have the chicken fried chicken, no matter where he eats. Dude even ordered the chicken fried chicken at Hit the Spot Café over their superlative chicken fried steak. That’s how nuts he is for chicken fried chicken. I had a hankering for meat loaf, but also wanted to try the catfish, so we decided to split three plates, and then we could try all of the vegetables also. I was really tempted by the smothered neck bones. I’ve had some seriously good pork neck bones in Thailand, so that’s a cut of meat that gets my stomach growling. But I finally settled on meatloaf with dressing and mashed potatoes on one plate, cabbage and greens with the catfish, while Shane went for the dressing and spuds also. Nicole decided that since we were newbies, we needed to also taste the mashed yams and black eyed peas (they didn’t have any fried okra, because they couldn’t find any fresh okra from the produce guys, and the mac and cheese wasn’t ready yet).
Chicken fried chicken with beef tip gravy
Slab o' meatloaf
After a bit of a wait, Nicole came out of the kitchen bearing plates. Shane’s massive chicken breast was coated in a thin, crispy, golden batter and covered with brown gravy (with some meltingly tender beef tips included, so we could taste them also), with sides of gravy-coated dressing and spuds. Side orders of sweet yams and rich blackeyed peas found a home in the middle of the table, and Nicole brought us a taste of the succulent smothered pork neck bones. My hefty slab of meatloaf was delicious, and coated with a tangy tomato gravy, and my dressing and fluffy spuds were covered with the luscious gravy from the neck bones. The huge filet of catfish was sealed in a cornmeal crust that was a little thicker than I prefer, but the fish underneath was sweet and moist, the tartar sauce assertive, and the greens and cabbage spot-on. Big squares of sweet cornbread accompanied all, and mine went straight to soak up the potlikker under the greens. I really wanted to try the peach cobbler, but I was as full as Monty Python’s Mr. Creosote, and another bite of anything might have proven fatal.
Mr. Roland, as Nicole called him, came out to meet us and make sure we liked everything, while chatting-up several regulars. Mr. Roland is a very friendly and likeable guy, giving Nicole a run for her money when it comes to welcoming his guests. He has plans for converting the patio slab out back into an outdoor Zydeco music venue this spring, to go along with the gumbo and gator he serves. I loved my meal, and I will definitely be going back to see my new pals Mr. Roland and Nicole. The gentrifying hipsters in the area that are tearing down east Austin bungalows and throwing up McMansions as fast as they can would be wise to drop in to Roland’s for a bite of some real food and a healthy taste of what East Austin is really all about. This is soul food served up with a heaping garnish of genuine soul.
Mick Vann ©
Roland’s Soul Food
1311 Chestnut; 512/499-8833
11am-5pm daily (4pm on Sunday)