Big E’s Soul Food
1831 Nicollet Avenue S.
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55402
GPS coordinates- N 44º57.859′ W093º16.661′
Monday thru Saturday 11:00 am to 11:30 pm.
Sunday Brunch 10:30 am to 2:00 pm
Sunday Mardi Gras Dinner 3:00 pm to 9:00 pm
by Kevin Wynn
Clear your mind. You’ll need all your mental capacity to get through this first paragraph.
A week ago Denise and I ate here with some friends who had just brought another couple here a few days before. When we walked in, our friends friends were seated in the corner with yet another couple. They couldn’t resist for more than a few days either. After now having eaten here twice in the past week myself, I’m telling everyone I know about it and I can’t wait to go back again, with more friends or not! Didja follow me on that one? Big E’s Soul Food is like a contagious addiction. And it’s a habit you won’t want to break
I’d say it’s all about the food, which it could be, but it’s not. The attraction starts the minute you walk in the door. The room is alive with music and energy and artwork. There are only five tables, though an expansion is in the works, so come early or you may have to enjoy the art and black history that adorn the walls and extend into the restroom. It feels good to be here and that’s exactly how Eric Austin wants it. Big E, who may only go by Eric Austin when he’s not a being a minor deity in the kitchen, has been around. His training started in his grandparents Mississippi kitchen when he was just a kid, and has taken him from a variety of fine restaurants in Memphis to the Culinary Institute of America in New York. After stints in some of New York’s best eateries, he spent a couple years working in Amsterdam, Italy and England. The tour continued through the top restaurants in Minneapolis. Combine all this with his training in jazz and blues music, and his artistic talent and throw it all together and what comes out is something extra nice.
This is a story I’ve heard from owner/chef’s before, although not usually with this much variety. All of Eric’s hard work pays off for the selfish food lovers amongst us because we get to enjoy his cooking for a mere pittance. You’ll have to look pretty hard to find anything on the menu over thirteen bucks. But that’s the trick to any healthy addiction isn’t it? Keep the price of the fix low enough so you can’t use lack of money as an excuse. Very clever.
Hey, would ya quit blathering and tell us about the food please?
Sorry. On my first visit, Big E’s had just won the Wing King Festival’s First Place award for Best Wings. The special of the night was a sampler of big, meaty chicken wings in Teriyaki, Caribbean Jerk, Buffalo and “Soul” flavorings. (If you get a chance, ask Eric about his experience at his first ever Wing King Fest. It’s analogous to a TeamStrange Rally experience.) All iterations of were delicious, and I surprised myself by giving the nod for my favorite to the Soul Wings, which are basically the least seasoned or sauced version. Even with all the food on my platter, I couldn’t pass up a taste of the Louisiana Gumbo. This was an absolute taste sensation. It’s Low Country style, with so many ingredients I can’t list them all, but what a great combination. I crave more of this Gumbo but in the interest of professional moto-gastro-journalism I resisted the urge and tried something else on my next visit.
After briefly admiring my bike parked in front Big E’s I went inside to see what the special of the night was. Wait, let me take a deep breath- Cornmeal Catfish Filet over Succotash Rice with Creamy Creole Sauce. That’s a mouthful for a simple man like me, but an excellent dish of complex flavors and textures. My Norwegian momma never cooked nuthin’ like this.
I also tried the Louisiana Smothered Pork Chop (a two-inch thick pork chop covered in bourbon apple brown gravy and onions, garlic mashed potatoes and red beans and rice for my selected sides) and the Big E’s Pork Spare Ribs (beer marinated, mesquite-smoked BBQ ribs, I selected the Texas sauce). Sides of Hush Puppies, Baked Macaroni and Cheese, Dirty Rice, Mashed Sweet Potatoes and at least one of each the cornbread, sweet potato muffin and buttermilk biscuits accompanied my selections. Think I was getting carried away? Well, every dinner includes three sides, and I still haven’t been able to sample half of the choices. Certainly, leftovers found their way into my saddlebags and have kept me happy and soulful for the past couple days.
Big E’s is a guaranteed favorite for anyone who appreciates good food. Classic, down home southern style recipes, with a kind of Creole, gourmet French twist. Comfort food with a bit of Cajun spice, just so you don’t get too comfortable. Around Big E’s it’s called “neo-Soul Food”, that would translate into traditional black American cuisine with a modern, even international flair. If you like to eat, you’ve got try this place.
Big E’s is just south of the Minneapolis Convention Center, across I-94, from downtown Minneapolis on Nicollet Avenue. Set your GPS and go. Eat well. Ride well.
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