Soul food is like the more seasoned version of Southern food and with staples I’d never tried before — specifically, the oxtail.
A friend told me that if I was going to eat soul food and wanted to be adventurous, I needed to try oxtail. It was definitely an experience, and one that took some getting used to. However, I was glad I took the plunge to try the new-to-me dish.
When I ordered from Esther’s Cajun Café & Soul Food at 5204 Yale St. in Independence Heights, I got multiple dishes for me and my family to try. The oxtail came on a bed of rice with a side of cornbread, the smothered pork chops also came on a bed of rice with mustard greens and red beans on the side. With the fried chicken we got black eyed peas and a side of okra, sausage and shrimp.
Oxtail isn’t pretty. It comes from the tail of cattle, and its knobby appearance turns some people off. It’s fatty and tastes like beef, and while I’d probably compare it to short ribs, I think has a deeper, heartier flavor.
The smothered pork chops came with two thick, bone-in chops covered in a gravy. The gravy on top was a thicker consistency than regular brown gravy and had hints of garlic and paprika. The chop was easy to slice through, but I find pork in general a little tougher to chew than other meats.
The fried chicken came with three wings. Out of all the dishes, I could most tell a seasoning difference with the chicken. It was saltier and the breading had more seasoning mixed in it. I’m already a big fan of fried chicken, but this was the most-seasoned fried chicken I’ve tried. I really enjoyed it, especially since the chicken wasn’t dry.
My favorite side was the mustard greens. Considered an herb, mustard greens have a peppery flavor. The sautéed side dish was soft without being mushy. I’ve had kale and spinach before, which might not be exactly the same in taste, but they have similar textures. The mustard greens were cooked perfectly.
The red beans had an earthy quality with hints of sweetness and the black eyed peas were savory and left a nutty aftertaste. The okra, sausage and shrimp dish was mixed together in an orange sauce that tasted like tomato. I liked that the okra was soft with just a little bit of a crunch, but overall, I preferred the other sides.
The cornbread was dense but had a soft top layer and was made a little sweet with sugar. The bread was a great companion to the main dishes, whether I ate it alone or dipped it in some of the gravy.
For dessert, I got another staple, banana pudding. It was sweet and a little tangy. The vanilla wafers were piled on top and already softened.
The pricing at Esther’s is reasonable — the most expensive thing on the menu is the oxtail, which is around $20 depending on if you plan to make it a combo or not.
While Esther’s is on Yale, its sister concept, Esther’s Signature Dish, is at 1102 Pinemont Dr. and focuses on brunch and Cajun lunch options.
Esther’s Cajun Café & Soul Food
Address: 5204 Yale St.
Hours: 11 a.m.–8 p.m. Monday–Saturday, 11 a.m.–7:30 p.m. Sunday
Healthy options: No
Star of the show: Fried Chicken and mustard greens