Monday, March 26, 2012

My New Neighborhood Soul Food Place - Cave's

The historic Vollentine-Evergreen neighborhood where I live recently gained a new soul food restaurant to go along with local institution Melanie's on Watkins, which I haven't gotten around to revisiting since my quest began. Since the recently-opened Cave's Soul Food and More on Jackson at Evergreen is so close to my house, I decided to wait until I'd made several visits before I posted a review.

The first time I stopped in it was with several friends after we'd spent an afternoon moving a gargantuan air compressor. I kept it simple on my visit with an order of barbecue bologna, beans and slaw. I asked for baked beans but they accidentally included green beans instead. They offered to correct the mistake, but by the time my order came out several friends who had ordered green beans ahead of me were already raving about them so I decided to keep them. They were packed with seasoning, cooked with a generous quantity of pork fat and ended up being some of the best green beans I've ever had. The slaw was also solidly good and the thick-cut barbecue bologna, which is a favorite comfort food of mine, was excellent. I also picked up a menu that showed the featured items for each day of the week, but every time I've visited there have been additional items available that aren't on the printed menu so if you go make sure to ask what else they've cooked for the day.

Macaroni and cheese: Still served at every soul food place in Memphis, but Cave's does call it a "side," not a "vegetable."

On my second visit I went for the rib dinner. The ribs had a good smoky flavor, but is was largely overpowered by the river of sauce they were swimming in. The sauce had a good, mildly sweet flavor but the amount was so excessive I ended up moping most of it off with my napkins. They also still had a lot of tough, unrendered fat on them. Between Cave's and my experience with Lil' Anthony's Cafe on Lamar I have a new rule: If a restaurant primarily identifies itself as a soul food restaurant but also offers barbecue, stick to the soul food. The baked beans were good, but definitely not as impressive as the green beans from my previous visit.

On my third trip I ordered pork neckbones, turnip greens and yams for myself and chicken and dumplings, green beans, and black-eyed peas for my wife. The neckbones were deliciously tender and so flavorful that I assume they were smoked in the restaurant's barbecue pit. The greens already had a strong vinegar bite and nice spicy kick, so I didn't even bother adding any of the Bruce's Hot Pepper Sauce I usually put on my greens. If you have a tendency to reach for the Bruce's before tasting your greens, don't do it at Cave's. The kitchen already knows how Delta greens are supposed to taste. The yams were naturally great as well. I love yams, but they are hard to write about since they pretty much taste the same everywhere. If you ever encounter a place clueless enough to  mess them up, definitely avoid trying anything else. That certainly wasn't the case at Cave's, where I enjoyed every bite.

My wife declared the chicken and dumplings better than the Tuesday-special dumplings at Dino's around the corner on McLean. My wife is a big fan of Dino's chicken and dumplings, so that counts as high praise. The black-eyed peas were also perfectly seasoned. We got carryout and arranged our dining room table with the standard southern combination of salt, pepper, Bruce's and Louisiana Hot Sauce before we started eating. Other than a bit of Louisiana Hot Sauce on my neckbones, we didn't add anything to any of our food. The green beans had the same spicy vinegar tang as the greens. My wife wasn't a big fan, but I gladly took care of the ones she didn't eat. 

Unlike me, my wife is one of those genetically blessed individuals who can maintain a flat stomach and a healthy triglyceride to HDL cholesterol  ratio while still eating starch-heavy foods like chicken and dumplings.

When I ordered my neckbones, I was torn between them and the excellent-looking meatloaf that I also saw available. I'll be returning soon to try that meatloaf. I've also heard from friends in the neighborhood that the giant, hand-pattied burgers at Cave's are some of the best in town. The restaurant is a welcome addition to the neighborhood and is now firmly on my mental list of nearby go-to carryout choices.

Cave's Soul Food and More on Urbanspoon


  1. This is a nice review of Cave's. However, after making my first visit last Sunday, I have to admit that I wasn't quite as impressed. I got the "meat & two" consisting of four whole barbecue chicken wings, spaghetti with meat sauce and turnip greens. Unlike the ribs you had, the BBQ chicken wasn't overly sauced but it was a little tough on the teeth, probably the result of setting on a serving table. With regards to taste, it had the requisite smoke flavor, but I've had better.
    The two sides that I had were far from perfect. The spaghetti and meat sauce had too much garlic in it for me. As for the turnip greens, I will respectfully disagree with your take on it. Although you thought the greens were spicy with a strong vinegar flavor, I felt that it was really salty. I guess we judge food from different perspectives.
    By the way, like you, I live in the Vollintine-Evergreen neighborhood. With us living close by, maybe we can meet up for lunch sometime soon.

    1. That would be cool. Always nice to meet both neighbors and fellow food people.

      I've been to Cave's a couple more times since posting this and I've noticed a lot of inconsistency with the sides, particularly the greens and green beans, which I order frequently. You can tell they aren't using recipes and seasoning everything on the fly.