Cooking takes all forms. Some stand at the stove like an artist at a blank canvas, adding ingredients free form style in hopes of a masterpiece. Fusion food, combining ingredients not traditionally thought to go together, follows few accepted culinary rules - and at times strives to stretch and break them.
Others swear by their cookbooks - favorites pages stained, corners bent, margins with scrawled notes in hopes of replicating the exact same dish every time.
Somewhere in between this is the "a pinch of this and a bit of that" approach. This mindset considers recipes to be glorified suggestions; many verbally handed down from generations of women and men cooking soul food for their family.
As the cold weather settles upon us my internal thermometer and energy level begin to need a boost. A protein rich, carb-heavy diet provides long lasting energy while smoky heat, spicy barbecue sauce, hot sauce and liberal use of cayenne stokes inner warmth. Be warned, you and your stretchy pants may become best friends after sampling some of the area's soul food and Southern cooking dishes.
At A Taste of Soul (14818 Union Ave. SW, Lakewood), Spicy gumbo combines Creole seasoned seafood, chicken and sausage with the perfect amount of rice. Meanwhile, Honey Bee BBQ and Bar (1314 E. 72nd St., Tacoma) does St. Louis style ribs the right way: fire-pit smoked and tender. Barbecue sauce is on the tomato-y side, with a distinct sweetness.
Uncle Thurm's Finger Lickin' Ribs and Chicken (3709 S. G St., Tacoma) recently added much-needed seating for dining and live jazz on Friday evenings. Flaky catfish in a delicious breading doesn't need splashes of hot sauce; it merely punches up the overall flavor.
In a new location on South Tacoma Way, Porter's Place (5026 South Tacoma Way, Tacoma) serves a super spicy hot sauce dubbed "The Man." The sauce actually comes with a warning to pregnant women and those with heart conditions. Drizzling it on the Grand Slam, a double protein hit of already spicy sausage and barbecued chicken, takes the hoagie sandwich into another dimension.
There's a bit of Jamaica right here in Tacoma. Quickie Too (1324 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma), a vegan operation on Hilltop, turns out burgers, wraps and sandwiches in Caribbean soul food fashion. Chilies dot steamed cabbage and collards in spicy sauce. Burgers are made with tofu, millet and quinoa patties seasoned to make you question your carnivorous ways. The Crazy Jamaican jerk tofu patty packs some heat. Potato salad, plantains, tomato and sweet onions give it a creamy mouth feel and keep it from being dry. All food is made fresh when ordered, so it can take a while.
Just down the street on Hilltop is newcomer Papa Jones BBQ (1902 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma). Self-described Tex-Arkana barbecue sees a garlic, brown sugar and smoked paprika spice rub. Fall-off-bone tender meats are smoked with alder and cherry wood from a stack outside the building. The "hot" sweet and tangy barbecue sauce is truly quite hot.
Who doesn't enjoy real strawberries floating in lemonade served in a mason jar topped with whipped cream? Yep, I'm talking about Southern Kitchen (1716 Sixth Ave., Tacoma). Jalapeno hush puppies are bready little balls of delight. Nicely crisp chicken fried steak dinner swims in brown gravy and grilled onions.
Federal Way is home to a tiny foodie find: Serious Soul Café (35501 21st Ave. SW, Federal Way). Tucked into a strip mall, the 10-seat café boasts a chicken and waffle plate worthy of the drive up Interstate 5 or through the Tideflats. Golden and moist inside perfectly describes both the waffle and fried chicken. The dreamy, buttery flavor of the waffle is set off by the syrup, and even the saltiness of juicy chicken (get fried fish as an alternative to chicken).