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Nov 10, 2006 06:22 PM

Rack and Soul

I've been out of NYC forever, doing this Chow Tour. Am only now hearing about Rack and Soul, Charles (of "Charles Southern Kitchen" fame) new venture.

Any old time Charles patrons (who remember what the food was like when he actually cooked) out there who can paint a comparison for me? I'm eager but scared to try it....

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  1. Hey Jim:

    Welcome back! Lots of chow chatter about both spots running on here. Search under Rack and Soul and you will find a thread started by Ora. Then do a search of Charles and you will have some converging discussions. Hope this helps.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Uptownflavor

      Here's my orginal post,

      Many other posts since the above one as well...

    2. Rack and Soul was nothing special. Basically a diner which served ribs. Dinosaur isn't far away from thee and a much more satisfying experience, IMHO.

      1. Jim: many many CHounds and lots of "other" food board & food blog people have been there by now and the conclusion is... well, we all disagree! This is one solid case of folks I respect having widely divergent positions on the same place. CH has several threads but, when I looked for my posting from June, I couldnt find it. So... here it is. Again, this is a one visit report. I havent been back:

        "Someone should smack Charles and ask him wtf he was thinking, putting his name on this. There are 2 reasons that 5 (food board) members could order only 4 entrees (each comes with 2 sides) and leave food over. Forget the one where there's just too much good food and we're all completely sated and happy. The portions are not that large. It's the other one.

        I dont like Bayou and the owner has done it again. "Hi, I'm Aspen, I'll come over to your table as soon as you've been there for 2 minutes and see if you're ready... then I'll come back every 30 seconds to see if you're ready now... then I'll bring your food within 2 minutes of your ordering it, proving that everything is made to order, then I'll try to remove plates that are still half full without asking if you're done, then I'll ask you if you liked it and when no one says yes, I'll ignore the issue and walk away quick". And, unfortunately, the service wasnt the main problem.

        There's a place on Columbia St in Bklyn, next door to Alma, called Jake's. I take a lot of flack for ordering in from Jake's when I really need to eat ribs or chicken or soul-ish food sides. That's because, by my own admission, Jake's is just this side of "not good". If Jake's and this place were next door to each other, I'd still be eating Jake's food. Bob Martinez will understand what I mean here.

        Entrees: 8-10 ox tail pieces delivered, 4-5 remained when the table was cleared. And I ate 2 myself. I was hungry and can't begin to explain it any better. Ox? I'll just have to believe them. Looked like it; tasted like... well, like generic overcooked meat with sludgy gravy. The 1/2 rack of ribs was okay, but not better than Virgil's on a crowded night. It was eaten but no one said "yum". The pulled pork a little better. Also finished. The fried chicken was NOT what I remember from Charles'. Better than many & not greasy, but nothing that I'd even mention to anyone if I was thinking about recommending a fried chicken place. I need to go back to Charles' to make sure that this isnt what he's serving up these days. There were 3 pieces to the order (one leg, one thigh & one small breast) & there was some left when they cleared the table. Enough said?

        Sides: small dishes, more than enough to not eat. The yams were "eh", the greens "ok", the okra was long on corn and tomato but way short on okra (& lots of added sugar), the 2 mac&cheese "blah" (with some nice cheese char on top of one order though -- we were optimistic and ordered 2 because we know how we'd fight if it was good and there was only one), the baked beans mushy, same with the black eyed peas (actually, even more so), and I didnt go near the mashed potatoes; someone else can comment. Eight sides, 5 were only half eaten by the end and no one cared. The words "severely overcooked" come to mind.

        Desserts: one slice of Red Velvet cake (someone please call Cake Man Raven for a recipe and give it to these folks) and one mediocre slice of pecan pie. Half left over.

        By the way, the Abita beers (at $5.50/bottle mind you) were good and, in my opinion, so were da biscuits. Total bill was $26pp so price is certainly not a major problem, although Jakes would have cost less &, for what we had, I know some local Greek diners that would have served just as well".

        Well, no doubt my review is up against experiences from many CHs that I know and respect and, again, I was only there once. Jim, I recommend that you go and let us know what you think. Maybe it'll be great and I'll have a place to go for fried chicken again. By the way, is Charles not in the kitchen uptown any more? I havent been there in awhile so I'm a little worried by your post. Happy eating (and welcome back).

        3 Replies
        1. re: Steve R


          Charles sounds overextended, and that may account for the disagreement. Charles is a great chef but a poor delegator. For past few years, his restaurant has been mediocre at best when he's not in the kitchen.

          Those who loved this new place probably coincided with him there cooking. Those who didn't probably ate there when Charles was elsewhere. I believe charles is still operating the 3 restaurants on 8th ave, PLUS the old branch of this. I miss the old days, when he did it all (out of his retrofitted ice cream truck, which I used to spend afternoons hunting around Harlem for).

          What I'll do from now on is circle between venues, watching to see where he is at any given time and eat THERE. And know what? He's talented enough that I feel he thoroughly deserves this level of exertion from his adoring fans (or at least from this adoring fan).


          1. re: Jim Leff

            Bayou has been shuttered for months. Right before they opened Rack & Soul. What are the 3 branches on 8th Avenue???

            1. re: Uptownflavor

              Charlie has three storefronts on Frederick Douglass Blvd (8th Ave). There's the the sit-down buffet restaurant furthest south on the block, the takeout counter in the middle of the block, and I think there's a seafood storefront on the north end of the block.

              I really don't consider them separate restaurants because they share the same kitchen--or at least the takeout place and the sit-down buffet restaurant do--I've never been into the place on the north end. The kitchen is in the middle of the two and, if there's a piece of the bird you don't see in the buffet, the girls will go over to the takeout place and carry it over for you.

              I live much closer to Rack and Soul, but I've never tried it. Charlie's place uptown has always just seemed like more fun in a warm, neighborhood kind of way. Like eating in someone's house. The older people that go there have known Charlie since he was a toddler and love to tell you stories!

              In many ways, it is quintessential uptown New York.

        2. I've had two disappointing early dinners there. Both times many items were 86'd. I agree that the biscuits were terrific.

          1. Charles rules! His Southern Kitchen is being renovated! Sure support Mr. Charles at Rack & Soul but go to Charles' uptown, too!

            2 Replies
            1. re: DeeBee

              Loves Charles' original restauarnt uptown. Went to Rack and Soul based on that. So disappointing. Chicken was clearly not cooked to order as it was not hot, dry and skin was already soggy. A far cry from his uptown restaurant. Here's hoping he re-opens to old place and gives it the attention I was used to.

              1. re: jdf

                My one experience with the chicken at Rack and Soul was exactly the same, though the sides were pretty good. I've seen no reason to return.