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Disappointed at House of Soul, Vallejo

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After telling my daughter about House of Soul and how great it was for lunch we decided to go there for dinner. She was a little taken back by the decor and how cold it was inside, but I assured her the food was great and would be worth it. We arrived at 5:15 and were the only “sit-down” customers there. After waiting a little over an hour for our food, I watched in horror as the owner dropped one of our ribs on the floor, picked it up and placed it on our plate. Needless to say, we left.

During this time, we watched customer after customer pick-up take out food and with the waitress only once coming over and apologized about the slow service. I felt the cook was just ignoring us. I Hate to think it was because we were the only Caucasians there.

Anyway, after leaving and still hungry, we discovered another place on Sonoma Blvd called Garcia’s BBQ. The service was much better and the pork ribs were good but a little on the fatty side. The cornbread was great and chicken tender and tasteful. The sauce is served on the side. Overall pretty good, Not great but better then we expected.

I just don’t know if I will go back to HOS again, it was very disappointing and felt uncomfortable

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  1. Chowhounding rule of thumb --- do not order "barbecue" ribs at a soul food place. It's usually awful, and House of Soul is not exception to this one. It's better that you didn't eat them, dropped on the floor or not. As I've mentioned before, I call in my order here at least 30 minutes ahead of time telling them I want it to go. Then when I arrive, I tell 'em I changed my mind and will eat it there. I've seen many a customer (black, white, all colors) have melt downs and throw hissy fits when they're hungry and not expecting to wait so long for their food. I waited an hour the first time I had dinner there too and changed strategies for subsequent visits.

    Was that Gracie's BBQ that you tried? If so, have the baby backs reappeared on the menu?

    3 Replies
    1. re: Melanie Wong

      I'm astounded that you go to such lengths to work around such poor (beyond poor) service.

      1. re: Mick Ruthven

        If you tasted the gravy, you'd understand why!

        I don't consider it poor service. This kitchen takes ages to put food on the table. Frying chicken a couple pieces at a time to order in a skillet takes longer than deep-frying a massive amount and putting it under a heat lamp. Do you know anywhere else around here that pan fries chicken, pork chops, and catfish one order at a time? But I've never had more perfectly fried catfish and it's the individual attentiveness, watching each piece in that crusty cast iron skillet, I'm convinced is what makes the difference.

        Other Southern-style restaurants I've tried are no faster, and the food is better here. And, I've found the service here quite warm. Sure, there are idiosyncracies that the industrial engineer in me wishes they could improved on, e.g., bring the cornbread, butter, and relish tray immediately instead of serving it with the entree so that customers don't faint from hunger, or remember to put the mac and cheese in the oven so that it's ready by noon. With the size of servings here, you need to arrive hungry, so the wait is even harder. I have even orderd a dessert to go and tried to nibble it at my table while I'm waiting for my food, only to be rebuked by my waitress that I shouldn't spoil my appetite! the motto is "Happiness is homemade" and House of Soul does well on both counts with homestyle food that is very satisfying.

        Most of the customers aren't in a rush. It's a gathering place and the regulars visit with each other hopping tables. With the pace here, there's plenty of opportunity to socialize. Don't go expecting fast food --- slow is standard operating procedure here. House of Soul is not a model of efficiency. Consider this fair warning if that's important to you.

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          There's a big difference between waiting and being served food that has dropped on the floor. One is an incovenience, the other a health code violation that should get a restaurant fined, if not closed.

    2. Thanks Melanie, as I was sitting and waiting, your idea of calling in for "to-go" crossed my mind. I ordered the Ribs and hot links and thought they were pretty good at lunch, although the ribs were a little tough. My comment about being the only "Caucasians" was made out of frustration and disappointment, however after being ignored for over an hour that was the only plausible reason to say that. I also drove from Fairfield to Vallejo just to eat there, which made it even more frustrating.

      You’re right it was Gracie's BBQ and no, I didn’t see the babybacks on the menu, otherwise they would have been in my stomach.

      I do agree with lintygmom about the difference of waiting and dropping food on the floor. It will be a long time before I go back if ever.

      1 Reply
      1. re: phil57

        By not dwelling on dropping food on the floor, please don't think I'm excusing it. That is a health code violation for the authorities to deal with. Far better to report it to them where something meaningful can be done, me talking about it here doesn't correct the problem.

        My most recent visit (6 months ago after spending 4 days in Napa) was at lunch time, on the late side. I was a little worried that my food came out faster (by HoS standards), but as soon as the plate of fried catfish (friday and saturday special) was in front of me, I wasn't concerned. House of Soul uses fresh, not frozen catfish like too many other places do, and the fish is fried in "grease" and cooked on the bone. Something for the bone squeamish to avoid, however, this is the most delectable fried catfish I've had. My favorite greens are here, and for once, the custardy, soft mac and cheese wasn't sold-out or not ready yet.
        http://static.flickr.com/53/166999653...

        Thanks for the word on Gracie's. Only caught the babybacks once, but as you can tell by my continual asking about them, worth tracking down again.

      2. After several mistimed attempts to eat at House of Soul, fueled by CH recommendations, my brother and I managed to get there while they were open today. The Reader's Digest version is we were anything BUT disappointed. We'll definitely be back, probably often.

        Wonderful, flavorful, tender chicken smothered in gravy --oh, that gravy-- and perfectly fried snapper rewarded our patience. Snapper was fresh, moist and tender in an oil-free cornmeal coating. Do watch for bones though. Brother's chicken was, well, smothered chicken; beautifully prepared, deliciously seasoned, and richly flavorful. As good as any we've ever eaten, anywhere.

        The portions were generous, but the staff worried that they weren't generous enough. While we were chowing down our waitress came by with an additional chicken thigh, explaining that the chickens they'd received today were a bit smaller than usual.

        The cornbread is as described in other posts; Southern style and substantial rather than the fluffy, sweet Northern style. Collard greens were among the best I've ever eaten, not boiled to death but cooked until just tender, the flavor of the vegetable coming through without the usual bitterness; instead, a porky richness balanced by just the slightest splash of vinegary tartness. Mashed potatoes were...you know, I have no idea, they were covered in That Gravy. So was the rice, but I did manage to notice it was the minute-rice kind; not my favorite, but a perfectly reasonable choice for soul food.

        I ordered a Hot Link on the side, just to give it a try. I thought it was OK, but nothing special --a store-bought link in doctored-up bottled BBQ sauce. Brother found a slight bitterness in the taste and didn't care for it. So I'm inclined to agree, BBQ is not the right thing to order in this place.

        Brother declined dessert, saying he was too stuffed to eat it. Being the more sensible of the two, I ordered one to go anyway, and our patience was rewarded again. Our waitress told me she had a peach cobbler in the oven which would be out in a couple of minutes if we could wait. Now, I'm not the world's greatest fan of peach cobbler, there's usually too little peach and too much cobble. But on the advice of chowhounds, chiefly Melanie, I went for it. And I'm glad I did, this one is filled with plenty of (canned) peaches, redolent of cinnamon and nutmeg, with a flaky tender crust. Well worth a visit all on its own.

        One thing worth keeping in mind when you set out for the House of Soul: it's a cash-only business; no checks, no plastic.

        Service was very warm and friendly, we were treated like old friends. Contrary to other reports we had our food within 15 minutes of walking through the door. Of course, we were waiting at the door just as they opened, and had the place pretty much to ourselves, being two of three total customers at that time.

        Highly recommended. I'll definitely go back.