Soul Food Recipes Make Family Legacies on the Southern Tier

Tina Archie outside The Outlet Bar and Lounge in Endicott. (Sarah Gager/WSKG)

Juneteenth is Sunday, June 19. The holiday celebrates the liberation of enslaved African Americans in Texas. To remind you, all this week WSKG is looking at the legacies of African Americans in the Southern Tier.

Soul food is a cuisine from the American South, popularized throughout the United States as African-Americans migrated to other parts of the country.

“It’s just the way we’ve seen people cook our whole lives. It’s not even written,” said Tina Archie, co-owner of Outlet Bar and Lounge in Endicott. It opened in October 2021.

In The Outlet’s kitchen, hot oil crackles as a piece of breaded chicken is dropped into a deep cast-iron pot on the stove. The restaurant serves food all week, with rotisserie chicken, mac and cheese, and candied yams, but on Sunday it plays to a larger crowd with old-school music and a soul food dinner. The menu of the day includes roasted turkey wings, beef ribs, vegetables and potato salad.

The restaurant is a place black people can identify with and call their own, Archie said. He brings back memories of gatherings for Sunday dinners, prepared by his mother and his grandmother.

“When you’re young, all you have to do is get up, sit down and eat. But now, you have to prepare it. Serve it up,” Archie said.

Times are different and values ​​have changed, but Archie said family dinners must be preserved.

“I hope to instill this in my children, and then they will instill it in theirs. I am waiting,” she added.

Tina Archie, left, and her daughter, Rocky Brown, co-own the Outlet Lounge and Bar in Endicott. (Provided by Rocky Brown)

Archie’s daughter, Rahkiya “Rocky” Brown, is also his business partner. They don’t always agree with business decisions, such as how to promote the restaurant on social media.

“It’s very, very stressful working with my mom,” Brown began. “It’s inspiring at the same time because she taught me how, not how easy it is, because it was hard work, but it’s not out of our reach as young black men to open our own establishment.”

Brown wants The Outlet to be a “refreshing, young” environment.

“We need the youngsters,” Archie agreed. “We need your ideas.”

recreating the home

Soul food has a legacy of ingenuity and ingenuity.

“And also a taste of what our African ancestors ate,” explained soul food scholar Adrian Miller, “It’s a creative combination of West Africa, Europe and the Americas told through the story of food.” .

According to Miller, one of the earliest documentations of fried chicken in the US came from a reference in the diary of Virginia Governor William Byrd, a slaveholder.

“Enslaved Africans, and later enslaved African Americans, were able to find a way to survive and create something beautiful that people all over the world love,” Miller said.

Grilled chicken with mac and cheese, candied yams, and cornbread at the Outlet Bar and Lounge. Rocky Brown is an only child, but he grew up with the 10 children of the Fernández family. She said the brothers “just cooked for each other all the time” and for her. Now, they run the restaurant’s kitchen. (Sarah Gager/WSKG)

Soul food evolved as African Americans resettled across the country. As the Great Migration brought millions of African Americans from the rural South to the urban centers of the North, the country’s food system was still emerging. Delicate mustard greens were not as readily available in northern states as they were in the south, and because kale leaves were tough and could withstand travel, collard greens became the most dominant green leaf in the food kitchen for the soul.

“When immigrants go from one place to another, they try to get to the new place and recreate home,” Miller explained. “And food is often an important way to recreate the home.”

Home cooking also changed as black communities were exposed to the kitchens of their immigrant neighbors.

While certain ingredient substitutions have been made, soul food preparation and performance have remained consistent for decades. Dishes are heavily spiced and spicy, blurring the lines between salty and sweet.

Soul food also makes use of what Miller called the “funky cuts” of meat, such as ham knuckles, oxtails, and chitlins. Although these cuts weren’t seen on the rich tables of the past, he noted that they appear more frequently on fine-dining menus today.

Miller said society’s understanding of soul food is limited to celebratory meals (fried chicken and peach cobbler) and often misses out on the much more complete part of cooking.

“If you look at a lot of superfoods and what nutritionists tell us to eat: more green leafy vegetables, more sweet potato, more fish, hibiscus and okra, superfoods. These are all the building blocks of food for the soul,” added Miller.

sweet and cheeky

Theo and Barbara Felton moved to Southern Tier from South Georgia and opened Theo’s Southern Style Cuisine in 1995. For 20 years they served soul food and Creole dishes at the restaurant, located just off the arches on Main Street in Johnson City.

“When we were at church, all I was sitting there thinking was, ‘Oh, I can’t wait to go back to Theo’s and have a piece of fried chicken,’” the Feltons’ daughter, Linda Osborne, laughed. “Even now, on Sundays, when I see fried chicken, I start thinking about Theo’s.”

Press & Sun Bulletin article “Seasoned to the bone” from January 15, 1997. Features photos of sweet potato pies and Theo Felton in the fryer.

Osborne remembers how you could smell the barbecue before entering and the cornbread once inside. People said that he felt at home.

“It was a really family-oriented place because the whole family worked there,” he said.

Felton’s eight children worked in their parents’ restaurant. One brother worked in the fryer while another did the dishes or manned the cash register. Even when he moved to Texas, Osborne said he would manage the finances of Felton’s business and write the menus.

When Theo closed, Osborne wanted to keep his family’s recipes. He started a line of sauces they used at the restaurant, including the barbecue sauce made from his grandfather’s recipe, the sweet and hot sauce his father named sweet and cheeky. The sauces, sold in bulk, are available at select stores in Rochester and at Tom’s in Binghamton. Osborne also plans to launch a new honey and herb vinaigrette: his own recipe.

After Theo Felton died and Osborne’s husband suffered a stroke, she started demonstrations of heart-healthy foods for the American Heart Association.

From the Press & Sun Bulletin of October 13, 1995.

“I call it healthy cooking for the heart, not only healthy cooking, but I want to cook, that we are doing things, to take care of our hearts,” he explained.

She uses smoked turkey on her vegetables instead of pork fat or bacon. Her family still fry food, but maybe only once a week. Otherwise, she bakes it with olive oil, panko crumbs, “seasoned really well.” She said the result is still crunchy but healthier for you.

Osborne released a family recipe cookbook in 2016, Theo’s sweet and daring cooking. He dedicated it to both his father and his mother, explaining that while the restaurant is named after his father, his recipes come from both sides of his family.

Sections of the book deal with her family tree and her “joining” legacy.

“Because food is also our legacy. But the unbreakable love part, to me, is even more important,” Osborne said.

filling your plate

Osborne participated in the Support Black Business 607 (SBB607) Accelerator program, a course that educates entrepreneurs in business models, marketing, and finance. Participation also makes businesses eligible for $2,000 grants.

According to Fabiola Moreno Olivas of Koffman Southern Tier Incubator, a collaborator of the program, so far three people have qualified.

Flyer for the June 16, 2022 celebration in Binghamton. (Facebook)

Osborne called the grant and accompanying business training a blessing, “which really helped me find the resources I needed to be able to take my business to another level.”

Black businesses from the Binghamton area will be featured in the June 16 celebration on Saturday, June 18 in the downtown space commonly known as Assata Shakur Park.

Rocky Brown and Tina Archie from The Outlet are on the planning committee for the event and are responsible for sourcing vendors. Your restaurant will deliver hotdogs and hamburgers.

“I’m following in her footsteps,” said Brown, who is also a new mom, of her mother’s dedication to the community. She said they both keep their plates full.

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