On Valentine's Day, we had a bottle of Barons de Rothschild Champagne in the refrigerator but nothing special for dinner. So I went to 6978 Soul Food -- right on the Oak Park border -- to pick up some southern cuisine. Fried chicken goes notoriously well with Champagne, and I was interested in trying this place, which we'd driven many times.
Groupon had a deal that cut prices in half: it was around $15 for two dinners or around $30 for four dinners; I wanted to try a lot of different things, so I got four dinners: two fried chicken, one jerk chicken and catfish.
On Valentine's evening, 6978 was packed; I had to wait only 10 minutes or so for my dinners to be wrapped up, but in that time, I saw a lot of people coming in and heard the server say it would be a 20-minute wait for a table. This is a popular place.
· The fried chicken was very good, with light breading, crunchy but not too hard. We also liked the jerk chicken, though neither had much spice, which is not a total shock: most soul food seems to get by on minimal seasoning (that's what hot sauce is for).
· The catfish was fine, not overdone, with granualar, probably corn-meal based, good flavor and for this particular subspecies, relatively firm texture.
· Black-eyed peas were fantastic: nicely seasoned with big chunks of flavorful pork throughout. This was probably the standout side. Some places just boil the beans and add butter or (ugh) margarine, but these seemed to be basically just the beans and pork. One could actually make an entrée out of this one side: it's that substantial and satisfying.
· Stuffing, made with bread crumbs rather than crotons, was kind of like a puree; tasting mostly of sage, which is not a bad flavor but pretty much the only flavor: one dimensional and not awesome.
· Cabbage was largely flavorful, and was not cooked to mush, which we appreciated. The leaves were firm; somebody was paying attention when they made this.
· Yams were extremely sweet, but that's not too surprising: a lot of southern food (sweet tea, chess pie, etc.) is too sweet for northern palates. These sweet potatoes (probably not, technically, yams, but let's not get picky) were also cooked just right – and this may seem like a small point, but a characteristic of southern vegetables is that many are boiled to an almost liquid state. At 6978, they're not.
· Muffin turned out to be pretty good, using corn meal and not at all greasy, which is a common problem with muffins.
· Mac n' cheese: I was ready not to like this, but it was a darn good version. It had been baked, which helps all the flavors come together, and it was crisp on top. Carolyn, who makes a wonderful mac n' cheese, said that although she preferred a tangier cheese, this was a very good version of the classic, mild cheese preparation.
· Banana pudding and peach cobbler: both credible renditions of soul food classics.
Overall, pretty damn good and a huge value.
6978 changes the menu slightly every day, switching the sides and even the entrées, which is probably a good idea: a constantly changing menu means people will be okay with going to the restaurant more than once a week, and I have a feeling 6978 has a lot of repeat customers.
Will I be one of those repeat customers? Maybe, but I have to say, soul food is not in my top 5 favorite world cuisines (those would be Mexican, French, Italian, Indian and Thai). I like simply prepared foods, but most soul food is heavy on the carbs (beans, yams, rice, bread), and tends to put me in a mild food coma. Still, it is undeniably comfort food, whichever side of the Mason-Dixon line you grew up on.
And how'd the Champagne go with it all? This was a very good bottle, but it didn't get along all that well with the food. It wasn't bad; it just didn't add much. I should have had a beer, but it was Valentine's Day.
6978 Soul Food
6978 W. North