Come Together: A Soul Food Thanksgiving
On Thanksgiving, Gerard Klass remembers his childhood table, an oak one, with leaves that reunited and snapped into place each year like relatives getting reacquainted after too-long absences. It felt longer than a ’67 Lincoln Continental—but it could never fit all the family, the in-laws, new girlfriends, old boyfriends, neighbors and friends. No matter. Space was always made. The china hutch dispensed its cake servers and tureens. There were suit jackets and ties, heels that matched the dress, collars for kids, flouncy skirts for babies.
“Thanksgiving is my absolute favorite holiday—so much so that ‘Thanksgiving’ was one of the names in the running for my restaurant,” Gerard says. Instead, the chef and his wife and co-owner, Brittney, opted for Soul Bowl. They opened their fast-casual cafe a year ago in Graze Provisions and Libations, a food hall in Minneapolis’ hot North Loop. With dishes like fried chicken, cauliflower mashed potatoes and vegetarian braised collards (most named for hip-hop stars and all served in millennial-friendly, mix-and-match fashion), Soul Bowl brought a taste of Black Minneapolis into the heart of the city’s booming, Instagrammy food scene.
In doing so, the Klasses bridged cultural divides of experience and opportunity that became undeniable months later, when the city erupted in racial protest. The Twin Cities metro has a Black population of just 10 percent; that figure doubles in Minneapolis proper, yet due to long-standing inequities, you’ll find few Black-owned restaurants—even in heavily African American areas. One bright spot is Kindred Kitchen, a business incubator with a social-justice streak. Soul Bowl was born there, as a series of pop-up dinners. After three years of honing recipes and building a reputation, the Klasses opened in Graze, dishing Snoop Dogg Smoked Mushrooms near vendors serving banh mi and empanadas. Just recently, they opened a second restaurant, B.A.D Wingz. “I like the feeling you get when you give someone a nice meal,” Gerard says. “You can change their mood or how they feel.” Maybe, even, the way they think.
African American cooking has long been plagued with wrong-headed stereotypes: unhealthy survival food handed down by enslaved people with no choice but to make lemonade out of scraps and leavings. Soul Bowl’s modern, vegetable-rich menu challenges those stigmas. Gerard grew up visiting his grandparents in South Bend, Indiana. Meals came from the garden, or Grandpa’s fishing line. His mom makes a macaroni and cheese to “lust after,” he explains, but they ate vegan fare too. Growing, preserving, fishing and barbecuing are embedded in his DNA, a legacy he and Brittney are passing to 3-year-old Gerard Jr.—and to anyone who comes through the door at Soul Bowl.
The couple starts Thanksgiving at the restaurant at daybreak. They wouldn’t feel right knowing someone who needed to eat that day hasn’t. “But luckily, Black people don’t eat till like five, so we stop at noon sharp and go home. It’s exhausting but worth it,” Gerard says. For their sprawling family, he makes homey candied yams and heaping pans of cornbread dressing. Brittney channels her own mom’s flair for “pinky-in-the-air” extras with soup or deviled eggs. Laughter flies; trash talk too. “Someone will say something sly,” Gerard says, “and out come the dominoes.” Grits, greens, a well-played double six … they can’t mend all our divides. But they’re a good place to start.
Juicy J Salmon At Soul Bowl, Gerard Klass sears filets, then brushes them in spiced cranberry sauce. But for holiday drama (and ease), you can just roast a whole side of salmon. Toss a few citrus slices on the pan, too, for a garnish. Make Ahead: Have the sauce ready, but leave the salmon for last. It roasts in just 8 to 10 minutes. Get the Juicy J Salmon recipe.
Common Cornbread Dressing Gerard says he’s still chasing his mom’s holiday dressing. But by our measure, he’s there. The cornbread is flecked with chopped jalapeño, the dressing with fresh sage, rosemary and thyme. Make Ahead: Bake the cornbread a day or two early. Get the Common Cornbread Dressing recipe.
Jill Scott Collard Greens A combination of collards and lighter bok choy, this spicy, smoky side cooks low and slow on the stove top. Be sure to serve them with their flavorful juices, known as potlikker, which seep into the other dishes on the plate like gravy. Make Ahead: You won’t hurt this dish a bit by reheating it. Get the Jill Scott Collard Greens recipe.
Spiced Cranberry Sauce Empty the recycling bin before guests arrive, so no one will know your secret: This shortcut recipe starts with a can of jellied cranberry sauce. Gerard purees it with onion, cayenne and Chinese five-spice powder. Make Ahead: Prepare the day before. (The flavor improves overnight.) Get the Spiced Cranberry Sauce recipe.
J Cole Cauliflower Mash These mashed potatoes are a staple on the Soul Bowl menu. Roasted cauliflower brings nutrition and nutty sweetness, but powdered ranch seasoning adds the real X factor. Make Ahead: Cauliflower can be roasted in advance. Make It Extra: Stir chopped fresh parsley and thyme into softened butter, then wrap in wax paper and chill as a log. Melt a pat over the potatoes; pass the rest for bread. Get the J Cole Cauliflower Mash recipe.
Lemon-Pepper Cornish Hens When he was growing up, half of Gerard’s family were vegetarians, so instead of a big bird, Cornish game hens (and an alt-meat called dinner roast) graced the table. If your family can’t bear to part with the turkey, file this recipe for a Sunday night dinner instead. Make Ahead: The hens reheat beautifully, staying moist and getting even crispier skins. Get the Lemon-Pepper Cornish Hens recipe.
Candied Yams A “use what you have” cook, Gerard’s mom always put SunnyD in her yams. So he does, too— along with plenty of butter, brown sugar, nutmeg and cinnamon. Make Ahead: Assemble the dish a day early; remove from fridge an hour before baking to take off the chill. Get the Candied Yams recipe.
Pecan’t Pie This genius sweet-and-salty recipe calls for pretzels, so the nut allergy folks at the table can finally have in on the goodness of pecan pie. Make Ahead: You can freeze pie pastry for up to a month; the pie holds well for a day. Take the Time: One place you won’t find a supermarket shortcut on this menu—the pie. Gerard’s crust follows the classic butter-shortening formula. Get the Pecan’t Pie recipe.