We were on the road again, headed back to Charlotte after attending my friend KD’s vegan Hallowedding in Garner.
The Red Roof Inn Plus (where we typically stay because of our furbabies) surprisingly provides a decent enough breakfast for vegans. There’s coffee, orange juice, apple juice, toast, packets of jams and jellies, plain instant grits, several flavors of instant oatmeal, individual packaged cereal servings (if you remembered to bring your own “milk”). You can also finagle a couple of apples and bananas from the front desk. It’s not gourmet by any means, but it will get a vegan through till lunch.
And where would lunch be? We’d already done the Waffle House hash brown thing, so I was busy scanning vegetarian and vegan restaurants not too far off our route home.
Because it was Sunday (and everything else was closed) we wound up going to Souly Vegan Cafe aka Soul Good Vegan Cafe in Durham, NC.
Let me back up and explain that statement.
Currently, the vegan scene in Charlotte is soul food crazy.
Technically, soul food encompasses any cuisine with a strong African influence – traditional African dishes, Ethiopian, Carribean, Creole.
In Charlotte, soul food translates more to “down home cooking” or “Southern style.” A vegan can’t turn around without tripping over “chick’n and waffles” or “mac and cheeze.” Heck, during the winter months I cook up a mess of greens, an oven of sweet potatoes, and a pan of cornbread once a week!
We’d been hoping to find something a little different.
Little did we know, as we stepped out of the car that gray, drizzly, dismal day, that we most definitely had found something different – and special.
Don’t Let The Name Of This Vegan Cafe Confuse You
We located this vegan cafe on Google Reviews under the name “Soul Good Vegan Cafe.” It’s also how you find the restaurant on its Facebook page – and website! Yet, the sign on the outside says Souly Vegan Cafe – as did my emailed receipt.
Relax, it’s one and the same. I assume they are slowly transitioning through a name change – perhaps to differentiate this cafe from the Souley Vegan franchise?
Don’t Let The Outside Deter You
Soul Good Vegan is located in the end space of small strip mall shopping center – next to a Mexican grocery. It looks very unassuming from the outside, to say the least.
But never judge a restaurant by the crappy shopping center where they are located. Many of my favorite restaurants over the years have been “hole-in-the-walls” … my beloved Crown of India in Garden City, MI; the much-missed Monsoon Thai in Charlotte’s South End; Jaipur on South Boulevard, Charlotte.
Do Come Inside
The inside is another world – and about as different from the typical Southern soul food diner as you can imagine!
It’s simple and spare, but somehow welcoming and cozy.
An Egyptian wall mural decorates one side of the cafe.
Pieces of African art here and there.
In the back, near the (very clean) bathrooms, there’s a small shop selling African tunics, jewelry, essential oils, and nail polish – perhaps a few other things.
A queenly woman in a colorful African dress and head wrap came up to sweetly greet us. (I later learn she is Goddess Deborah Webb.) She informed us that since it was Sunday, the usual menu didn’t apply. Instead they had a brunch special of five pre-set items. She ran down the brunch menu, pointing out items with a well-manicured fingernail, ending with, “All this for $10!”
WHY NOT? We weren’t really looking for another breakfast, but the brunch seemed an interesting balance of sweet/savory. And, really, what other option did we have at this point?
We took a seat near the window, so we could keep a close eye on the puppers. The vibe was relaxed and chill. We watched the rain, listened to soft, jazzy r&b.
Service was friendly. Not super-fast or hovering – it’s a family-owned business, and the charming older gentleman who waited on us probably isn’t as spry as most of the energetic college kids who usually wait tables. However, service was not super-slow, either. Maybe not a place to go to on a tight schedule, but perfect for a relaxing lunch or dinner or “brunch.”
My one tiny complaint is that my plate of food was brought out – ladies first! And then there was a small gap in time before A’s food appeared. A. gets “hangry” and he was beginning to question whether I had ordered for him or only for myself. A quick, “Your food will be right out!” would have eased tension.
This was a large amount of food, and it was all delicious!
Clockwise on the plate:
Sauteed Collard Greens. Smoky, well seasoned. Bits of chopped mushroom, which was new to me but something I will probably try to replicate soon. Kids, DO try this one at home!
Buttery Grits. A’s one complaint was he felt the grits needed a little salt (easy to fix; I travel with a grinder of Himalayan pink salt in my purse). He also pouted they gave me more grits than they gave him.
Black Beans. A really nice surprise. Was expecting more smoky Southern-style, or more Southwest – but these had a little Creole sumpin-sumpin going on.
Pancakes. These came with individual small cups of melted “butter” and warm syrup – a very nice touch.
In the center – Home Fries. From the picture they look a bit like sweet potatoes, but these were classic chunky white breakfast potatoes. The yellow color likely came from turmeric. These were perfectly fried – crispy on the outside, thoroughly cooked on the inside, and not too greasy.
After receiving so many pleasant surprises at brunch, I filched a menu to see what their “regular” offerings were. The expected cornbread, greens, and mac-n-cheese were there. But also:
- Jerk Chikin Platter (Wow! I don’t think I’ve had Jamaican Jerk since – well, since Jamaica!)
- Curry Chickpea Platter (chickpeas and potatoes)
- BBQ – both Poppin’ (soy based) and Jacked Up (jackfruit based)
- Allspice Is Nice Sandwich (Allspice is a Jamaican spice; reminiscent of cinnamin, cloves, nutmeg, and pepper)
- Plantains (!)
- Ginger Lemonade
I thought $10 was fair for our brunch plates, especially given the generous serving sizes. Platters, which come with two sides plus rice and cornbread, run $12-13. Sandwiches run about $7. I don’t know how prices are in Durham, but compared to Charlotte this is very reasonable!
Of Additional Note
Soul Good Vegan Cafe/Souly Vegan Cafe seems to be a community hub, hosting or supporting such community events as vegan cooking classes, poetry jams, author readings, reggae-soul-hiphop-r&b live music … They are providing food for the soul in more ways than one!
Would I Recommend?
Absolutely ! Admittedly, this is based on only one meal. But since we sampled five things, and all were delicious, plus the very relaxed, happy, chill vibe, plus the intriguing menu – I would say, Put this one on your NC Vegan Bucket List!
4125 Durham-Chapel Hill Boulevard, Suite 1, Durham NC 27707
Monday: Closed; Tuesday – Thursday: 11am – 8pm; Friday – Saturday:
11am – 9pm; Sunday: 12 pm – 3pm