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Dining Out: Soul signals arrival of an interesting new chef in Annapolis

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Dining Out: Soul signals arrival of an interesting new chef in Annapolis

Soul is its name and it occupies a modest storefront in a small shopping complex off Forest Drive. It seats just 50 people. The decor is simple, modern and airy.

Soul, dubbed a "modern eatery" with a "Southern-inspired menu," rolls out ribs, fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, red beans and rice, shrimp and grits and other familiar dishes but with chef-owner David Pow's very distinct touch.

The place is still settling in, catching customer feedback on its "small plate" offerings and fine-tuning food and service. But Pow's cooking reminds me of good jazz music — variations on a familiar theme that make you appreciate it even more. It's not yet perfect, but Soul signals the arrival of one of the most interesting chefs to set up shop in Annapolis in a long time.

I'm a fan of the "small plates" concept. It allows diners to try so many more dishes than a traditional menu. You not only are encouraged to share, you happily do so to prevent what I call "menu regret." That's when your meal arrives just as a plate of something alluring is served at a nearby table and you murmur, "Gee, I wish I'd ordered that too." And one more advantage: you're not likely to have any leftover dinner to take home with the temptation to snack on later.

Soul's menu is divided into "Lil' Bits," best thought of as appetizers; Mostly Veg'; Barn; Sea; and Stone Pies. Our party of four shared eight small plates, plus a couple of desserts. It was exactly the right amount of food. And gluten-free and vegetarian diners will find the welcome mat out and the cooks ready to accommodate you.

We launched the meal with deviled eggs ($7), fried pickles ($5), a bowl of roasted green tomato soup ($8) and a small skillet of homemade cornbread ($4) from the "Lil' Bits."

The four deviled eggs arrived on a bed of greens with a delicate balsamic dressing. The eggs looked like every other version you've seen … until you tasted the smooth, almost whipped center filling with a surprisingly tangy kick and lots of flavor. Ditto the top quality pickles (and olives) nicely battered and flash fried.

I expected a roasted green tomato soup would be, well, green. But roasting, heavily caramelizing the fruit, pureeing and assertive seasoning produced a deep red color and plenty of heat. Looking for something tamer? A sweet potato soup with maple creme fraiche and espresso is also available.

And why is cornbread often so sweet it's more like a breakfast pastry than the real thing? Pow avoids that trap with a moist, only faintly sweet, version with sweet pepper jam on the side. The little round loaf was just enough to brighten the meal and too little to tempt you to stuff yourself with it.

Our group opted for chicken, oysters, jambalaya pasta, and Memphis ribs and a grilled pear and brie "stone pie" for the next round.

If you're eating "Southern-inspired" food, the fried chicken ($12) better be fried right and Soul's kitchen delivers a crisp, moist, golden brown hunk of bird that would have given my grandmother's a run for its money if that crunchy coating had a little more salt and pepper in it. Likewise the "sweet and sticky" Memphis ribs ($12) were tender and sauced with a balsamic glaze that added a new dimension to an old standby.

I wish the roasted oysters ($13) had roasted just a bit longer. The bivalves were beauties and the butter, scallions, Cajun spices and Parmigiano-Reggiano made an inspired topping. A little more oven time would have kicked it all up a notch.

The jambalaya pasta ($13) featured big pappardelle noodles in a thick sauce spiked with salmon, shrimp, andouille sausage, tomatoes and peppers. It all came together nicely, but the shrimp and salmon had lost the moistness that would have made the bowl better than good.

Pow bakes a quintet of "Stone Pies" that other eateries call flatbread pizzas and his different description is well deserved. We shared one with grilled pears, sweet onion, brie and other cheeses dotted with candied ginger ($9). His other versions feature ham, wild mushrooms, pimento cheese and pulled chicken. The "country ham" stone pie ($10) spreads real country ham and shreds of collard greens on a bed ricotta cheese. Excellent.

There are a couple of noteworthy house made desserts at Soul. Both the bread pudding and the apple crisp ($7) come to the table in those little skillets perfect for sharing and whether you want to share them or not, every spoon at the table will help out.

The beverage menu at Soul is as well thought out as the menu. The wine list features 13 choices by the glass ($6-9) and 20 by the bottle, mostly from smaller, quality wineries. Beers are selected from microbreweries ($7) with some standard brands on hand as well.

Soul takes its commitment to flair to its bar offerings. Signature drinks ($10) carry monikers such as Soul Manhattan, Southern Belle, Honeydripper and Highway 61.

Service at Soul is Southern too … calm, easy and polite. Nicole, our waitress returned to the table in a beautifully timed way and her knowledge of the menu made her a great guide for first-timers.

When you go to Soul, take your time and explore Pow's menu. It will be fascinating to see what he adds seasonally and how this new kid on the block matures under the aegis of a clearly talented chef.

Welcome Soul.

WHEN YOU GO:

WHAT: Soul, A Modern Eatery.

WHERE: 509 S. Cherry Grove Ave., Annapolis.

PHONE: 410-267-6191.

WEBSITE: www.soulannapolis.com

HOURS: Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

SMALL PLATES: $4-$14.

RESERVATIONS: Accepted.

CREDIT CARDS: All major cards.

ACCESSIBILITY: Yes.

CHEF/OWNER:David Pow.

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