Are you hungry for soul food with a twist? That was the winner on Sunday night's nail-biter of a finale for "America's Next Great Restaurant." Jamawn Woods, 32, of Detroit, above left, with the help of investors, will be opening Soul Daddy (which already has a Wikipedia listing) at the Mall of America on Monday at 11 a.m. The restaurant is located on the third floor south, #344, tucked between Tony Roma's and Noodles, behind the food court.
The judges clearly had a soft spot for Jamawn's story: Prior to the competition, he was out of work, broke, with three kids, cooking wings and waffles in his apartment to sell elsewhere. Jamawn made it clear, often with tears, that the results of this competition could change his life. Bobby Flay, in an earlier interview with writers, noted that Jamawn was "doing it for all the right reasons: for a better life for his family." Throughout the competition, Jamawn adapted his concept in line with the judges' recommendations (originally the restaurant name he chose was W3 - Woods Wings and Waffles), including moving from traditional soul food to a lighter version. He won several of the popularity contests among diners for best food and the judges were generally happy with his meals throughout the program.
During Sunday's final episode, he kept his calm and ushered out food that pleased the judges and guests (though Bobby Flay was disappointed initially that the fried chicken had instead become baked herb chicken). Check out Soul Daddy's website and menu: A full meal consists of a meat and two sides with a bread (a standard Southern approach to meals). They range from $7.95 for a roasted pork meal to $11.95 for a country-style ribs meal. Sides include black-eyed pea salad, collards and cheese grits (and more); bread include biscuits or cornbread waffles. Sweet tea -- a must! -- will also be available.
Jamawn was joined as a finalist by Joey Galluzzi, whose concept was the Brooklyn Meatball Co., and Sudhir Kandula, with Spice Coast, a modern take on Indian cuisine. Joey's heart was in the contest but he and his staff struggled at the execution of food service in the final episode. Though his food almost always got rave reviews, Joey also had made errors earlier that raised questions about his judgment, from calling his concept Saucy Balls originally to picking out a gangster-style outfit for a uniform and posing with a fake gun for a promo photograph. Still, his meatballs were popular and I thought for that reason alone he was a likely winner.
Sudhir, who had the most interesting and novel concept, went too far this week with his use of the Chipotle model. The judges complained that the food seemed to be like that of a Mexican restaurant, only with Indian flavors (Sudhir served an Indian taco and quesadilla, with toppings and fillings served in the manner of Chipotle, whose founder Steve Ells, was one of the
judges. In fact, at one point, Sudhir says, "I want to be the Chipotle of Indian food.") The judges were surprised at the lack of curry, a traditional Indian dish, on the menu, and Curtis Stone, one of the judges complained to the others, "Chipotle, Chipotle, Chipotle. He's got too much of this in his head." To which Steve Ells responded, "Well, not really."
So how does nouveau soul food taste? Stay tuned. We'll be out for a taste on Monday. And we'll be chatting with Jamawn on the phone since he's busy with the Hollywood opening and won't be in Minneapolis -- yet. But we'll let you know when he's in town.