Tuesday, May 3, 2011

America's Next Great Restaurant?

Jamawn Wood's won the reality television show America's Next Great Restaurant on NBC with his concept of healthy soul food. The winner of the show was awarded three restaurants across the country to test out the concept. One of the restaurants was located in the South Street Seaport--two minutes from my apartment. I think its a great location for a quick-serve restaurant (QSR) because its an area that flourishes on the lunch crowd.

I was impressed by the concept, but that's not surprising considering restauranteurs like Bobby Flay and Chipotle's Steve Ell's were much involved--not only investing but also helping build the concept. Of course, Soul Daddy needs some work; but that's expected. I'm not usually one to visit a restaurant when it first opens because I believe it takes time to find its rhythm. Its like a bottle of wine that you opened too early--it has great potential but after some time all the components are in complete harmony and that's when it should be enjoyed. Soul Daddy has great promise. People love soul food. I'm a bit skeptical on how people will like healthy soul food, but Wood's seems up for the task.

The wait was long as expected, but that gave me time to check out the place. The line wrapped around the store, but moved along. An employee handed out menus to people on-line which was a smart idea to help distract from the wait time and move the guest along. The space was pretty unique and the design felt loyal to the concept. Although the space felt like it was still being renovated, it felt homey with that Jamawn edginess. I think there was a good mix of people, which is a must for a national concept. Just because something works in NYC, doesn't mean it will work in Minneapolis or LA: the other locations of Soul Daddy.

After twenty minutes or so, we arrive to the counter. It seems modeled after Chipotle in the style of an assembly line. Its a brilliant model that has made Steve Ell's millions. The menu is pretty simple offering 5 "meals and sandwiches" options. "Meals" come with 2 sides and 1 piece of bread. I was originally going to get the Country Style Rib meal ($11.95) but was disappointed when I found out that only three ribs came with the meal. The ribs were small and reminded me of baby backs. I made a game-time decision and got the pulled pork sandwich ($4.95), an order of cheese grits ($2.50), and a corn bread waffle ($1). The pulled pork sandwich was alright. I thought the pork itself was fine, but the big whole wheat bun had to go. I understand that Soul Daddy is about healthy soul food, but that bun killed the sandwich. Put double the meat or get a new bun would be my only criticism. The cheese grits were delicious and the corn bread waffle was also good. One of the best parts about Soul Daddy was the "sauce station", which gave guests the option of Soul Daddy BBQ sauce, Jamawn's Hot Sauce, and Sweet Honey Molasses. I filled up to-go containers of each and I'm a bit sad I'm all out.

Overall, I think Soul Daddy has potential to do very well. My roommate Jon and I decided that its not something we're running back for but it was a decent meal. Are we going to pick Soul Daddy over Chipotle?...noway! Chipotle is something that we could eat once a week while Soul Daddy was something different; something new and exciting.

Go check it out and tell me what you think. Is it America's next great restaurant???

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