Article by Ennis Davis, AICP

History of Soul Food

A Soul Food Bistro plate of oxtails, rice, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, cornbread and sweet tea.

The origins of soul food, including foods such as okra and rice, are common elements of Gullah Geechee cuisine. Historically associated with the coastal region stretching from Wilmington, North Carolina to St. Augustine, the Gullah Geechee are descendants of Central and West African ancestors who arrived in America through the transatlantic slave trade.

A Mandarin family preparing a one pot meal, a long running tradition of the region’s Gullah Geechee story. Courtesy of Florida Memory.

For centuries, the enslaved were given only the “leftover” and “undesirable” cuts of meat while plantation owners took the meatiest cuts of ham, roasts, etc. Making do with the food choices they had to work with, the enslaved combined these meats with vegetables grown from farming and fish and wild game caught from hunting. The result was a variety of southern dishes that were called “soul food” during the midst of the Black Power movement of the 1960s.

Today, Jacksonville is home to more Gullah Geechee descendants than any other place in the country. This means the city is home to some of the best authentic soul food restaurants in the country. With that in mind, here are eleven authentic, and locally operated soul food restaurants in town. If you see a soul food establishment you’d recommend that is not listed, let us know!

Annie Ru’s

3909 Hendricks Avenue - Miramar 2851 North Edgewood Avenue - Westside

Operating since 2013, Annie Ru’s is known for their downhome southern and gourmet cuisine. Established in 2013, the restaurant was opened in honor of the mother of owner Ruth Daniels, Annie Lee Hayward. Here one can eat treasured family recipes that have been passed down like Mommie’s Mac & Cheese.

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Blu Diner

5868 Norwood Avenue Northside

Blu Diner can be described as a jazzy soul food celebration: homemade cooking, unique recipes, and music all rolled up into a single experience. Located near the Gateway Town Center, Blu Diner is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m.. $6.99 lunch specials are served Tuesday through Saturday.

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Jazzy’s Restaurant and Lounge

901 King Street Riverside

Jazzy’s Restaurant and Lounge opened on Riverside’s King Street in early 2019. It is one of the few spots in town where you can find soul food being served with live jazz and blues music. Featuring live music on a regular basis, along with the Northside’s Celestia’s Coastal Cuisine, Jazzy’s was established by accomplished Chef Celestia Mobley. Popular dishes at Jazzy’s includes fried chicken, fried shrimp and low country boils.

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Miller’s Produce Soul Food Kitchen

7303 Pearl Street Northside

Located in a former Skinner milk house in Northshore, five dollar soul food meals are Miller’s claim to fame which they make good on. While there are covered tables and benches outside, there’s no inside ordering or seating. Nevertheless, the menu is expansive and it’s hard to pass up a five dollar soul food meal that’s hot, fresh, and tasty.

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Netta’s Food for the Soul

3125 North Pearl Street Brentwood

Netta’s is food for your soul. This hole-in-the-wall is a popular spot in the Brentwood area.

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