Like going to the laundromat on a Sunday night or the mall right before Christmas, visiting R. House during the lunch rush can be stressful. After a turf war for a parking spot, there’s the inevitable fight to grab a decent table.
But one of R. House’s newest stalls, Creole Soul, gives Baltimoreans some great reasons to brave the crowds. Owners Shunquita “Chef Que” Neal and husband Dedric Richardson offer up some of the best shrimp and grits you can find in Baltimore and po’ boys that quench (or possibly re-ignite) New Orleans nostalgia. And, with photos of family members overlooking the cashier, their new stall brings a warmth and personality that goes above and beyond its square footage.
Richardson was born in Baltimore, while Neal was born and raised in Atlanta. That’s where the couple met, while both were serving in the U.S. Navy. Their more than 40 years of combined military experience has helped prepare them for the restaurant industry, Richardson said, teaching skills like crisis control, customer service and patience.
But how to make great Southern and New Orleans style dishes? Neal learned that from her family, and dishes like “Mamie’s shrimp and grits” pay tribute to those who taught her to cook.
First impressions: The line to order was long enough during a recent visit that I feared owners might run out of food before I got lunch. Word seems to have gotten out about the stand, which had its grand opening in December after a few appearances at the food hall’s pop up space. When our turn came up, Richardson himself patiently took our order with a smile. If he was frazzled by the lunch rush, he didn’t show it.
Must tries: Shrimp and grits has become almost a cliche entree in recent years, popping up on the menus of five-star restaurants and holes in the wall alike. This version ($18) stands above the rest. A huge bowl of perfectly cooked grits gets topped with an addictive, spicy cream sauce, shrimp and pan-seared Andouille sausage. Made according to a family recipe that goes back generations, the dish got the seal of approval from my dining companion, a longtime New Orleanian — as did the powdered sugar dusted beignets ($7 per order), which we dunked in a sweet berry sauce.
During a separate visit I ordered the $17 shrimp po’ boy, which heaps fried shrimp and pickles on a substantial white roll, and comes doused in sauce and herbs. Biting in, I was transported to New Orleans’ Domilise’s, where I ate the last truly great po’ boy I can remember. That was about 10 years ago; I’m convinced this one is better.
Pro tip: Not every must-try item is a kill-your-diet indulgence. The cold-busting sweet potato and kale soup ($8 for a large bowl) is so rich and flavorful that diners often assume it’s made with chicken stock. But really, says Richardson, it’s just the wonderful mixtures of kale and heavy amounts of garlic, and of sweet potato and turmeric, a combination he calls “almost euphoric." After finishing my first bowl I wanted to order extra and stockpile it in my fridge.
There were a few misses. Our $22 seafood gumbo seemed to be a crab claw and a bay leaf short of perfection, and looked more like a simple broth than the seafood bonanza pictured on the menu. Sides of Southern mixed greens ($8) and northern beans and rice ($10) both were slightly watery and in need of more seasoning. The red velvet cornbread ($5) was a clever concept but disappointed in execution, with a gummy texture that stuck to fingers.
But the standout dishes made up for the weaker ones.
Special touches: Photos of Neal’s and Richardson’s mothers, both now deceased, sit on a shelf near the cash register, a warm tribute to the families that inspired their work. “We don’t want to ever forget the reason why we do what we do,” Richardson said.
Bottom line: No, they haven’t magically fixed the parking situation at R. House. But for a spicy shrimp po’ boy and sweet potato kale soup this good, I’d be willing to walk.
IF YOU GO:
301 W. 29th St., Remington. 410-864-9839. creolesoulrestaurant.com