fig. a: the original Lady Soul
Let's just say I had soul food on the brain for a few weeks there. That isn't all that of unusual with me because I'm a big fan of soul food and have been for a long time, but for some reason there was a period beginning in October and stretching into November where people kept bringing up the subject of soul food repeatedly with me. First, there was my friend J. who called me from Nashvegas to tell me about the Southern Baptist soul food and gospel reception he’d just attended down in Demopolis, Alabama. Then, there was my friend M. who hit a legendary soul food hot spot in Harlem over the course of a weekend in Manhattan only to get seated at the counter right next to Lady Soul herself, Ms. Aretha Franklin. And those were just the two most dramatic examples. Anyway, I was starting to have vivid dreams about fried chicken, sweet potato pie, collard greens with pot liquor, and the like. A little too vivid, frankly. So I began planning lightning road trips just far enough into the States that I could find the real thing. You see, the conventional wisdom is that Montreal has no soul food. It must have had some 60-70 years back, because I’d be shocked if the same forces that brought jazz to Montreal (Pullman cars and the Great Migration) didn’t also bring real Southern-style soul food along for the ride, but the only Southern idiom cuisine that you ever come across here these days is both overpriced and ersatz. I was honestly starting to go a little crazy, when I calmed down and reminded myself that although Montreal might not have all that much in the way of Southern-inspired soul food, it’s not without other traditions of soul food. Now, I’ve been known to extend the term “soul food” to a whole range of decidedly non-Southern comfort foods in the heat of the moment, from Ashkenazi deli fare to Vietnamese phô soups, and, in this regard, Montreal has no shortage of “soul food,” but even if one takes a somehwat more orthodox approach to the subject, Montreal isn’t exactly a slouch. That’s because insofar as the Southern soul food idiom is fundamentally Afro-Caribbean, and Montreal is relatively rich when it comes to West African, Caribbean, and especially Creole culture, Montreal can actually provide a pretty good primer on the roots of soul food. A case in point: Ange & Ricky, a little Creole casse-croûte on Jarry just a few blocks east of St-Laurent.
It was right in the midst of "soul food fever" that Michelle and I discovered Ange & Ricky quite out of the blue. We were driving along Jarry on our way to check out yet another Montreal eatery when our roadfood senses started to tingle. We looked over to our right and there was a little resto we'd never noticed before, packed to the gills with local CEGEP students and giving off the most heavenly aromas. Then we noticed the name. We continued on for a few blocks, but really the die was cast. We knew that on this particular occasion Ange & Ricky was what we were really looking for, so I made a U-turn and we headed back down for our date with destiny.
Ange & Ricky is about as “soul food” as you’re going to find in Montreal. It’s got a small, no-nonsense interior whose walls are cluttered with beauty care products and dry goods of all sorts because the space doubles as an épicerie; an interchangeable-letter sign that serves as Ange & Ricky’s only menu; and a take-out counter at the back of the restaurant that dispenses the restaurant’s authentic Creole fare presided over by Ange herself—the other Lady Soul. Try the tassot and you’ll find yourself eating a tasty jerked beef dish that’s surely a part of Southern barbecue’s extended family (you’ll also find yourself with a dish whose name calls to mind Cajun tasso*, even if Haitian tassot has about as much to do with its Cajun namesake, as French boudin has with its Cajun counterpart). Try Ange’s poulet and you’ll get served what must certainly be the city’s finest fried chicken. Of course, there’s not much competition in that department—this is by no means a fried chicken town—but that does nothing to diminish the greatness of Ange’s special, spicy, finger-lickin’ blend. Make no mistake about it, though: this is the real thing, bearing virtually no resemblance to that Kentucky Fried nonsense. Finish off your meal with one of Ange & Ricky’s cashew sweets and you’ll find yourself with a cinnamon and chili pepper-laced cashew praline (as opposed to, say, pecan) that’s among the best I’ve encountered since the last time I was in the Big Easy*. Add “dirty rice” with peas, fried plantains, and an amazing chayote and carrot vegetable dish with shredded beef to the mix and you’ve got yourself a little slice of soul food heaven.
For weeks there I dreamt of riding the Soul Train—well, the Soul Food Train—all across the Deep South in search of the genuine article. I haven’t let go of those dreams by any stretch of the imagination, but these days I find myself dreaming about Ange & Ricky more often than not.
For more thoughts on Ange & Ricky check out my review in the Montreal Mirror.
Ange & Ricky, 195 Jarry E., 385-6094 (hours: Sun–Wed, 9:30 a.m.–8 p.m,; Thu–Fri, 9:30 a.m.–9 p.m.; closed on Saturdays)
* Keep in mind that many Acadians made their way from the Maritimes to Louisiana via Saint-Domingue, which would soon become Haiti.
Monday, November 27, 2006
fig. a: the original Lady Soul