3613 Ocean Ranch Boulevard, Oceanside
Tuesday, 8 p.m. What’s this buzz outside Felix’s? People, mostly African-American, are milling around the entrance, some dressed to the nines. Inside you can hear music and see what looks like a party going on.
I’m here hoping to satisfy my Southern-food craving. Ribs, maybe, catfish, probably.
This is in Market Creek Plaza, by the Euclid trolley stop and bus park. I’d always thought Felix’s BBQ with Soul looked too expensive for my wallet. But especially tonight, with all these Beautiful People. For starters, the place has a waiting area with drapes and settees that looks like it’s Marie-Antoinette’s lounge.
Whatever. I wait in line. Place is packed. Who’d know this is Tuesday night? I see a long eats counter in front, a long drinks bar in back, a live band playing, plus a singer to the side. This is more like a nightclub.
“Is this a private party?” I ask the gal, Jaleah, at the welcome counter.
“No,” she says. “This is just open-mic night. It’s always like this.”
I end up sitting at the counter next to Jazz Holiday, songwriter — says he’s sold songs — potential novelist, and all-around good guy who’s booked to sing one of his compositions tonight.
“It’s called ‘A Loss for Words,’” he says. “‘I wake to the sunlight on her skin/And I’m at a loss for words…’”
Meantime, I never did get to examine a menu. Luckily, Jazz and the server gal here, Tyler, help me out. “I know we’re about barbecue,” Tyler says, “but more people ask for the catfish than anything else.”
“I had it last week,” says Jazz. “It was great.”
We’re shouting this all. A woman on the mic is really belting out a song. She’s good, too. Best of all, people, other customers, are encouraging her, making her feel good.
I do a quick check of this huge menu. Cup of gumbo (with chicken, sausage, seafood, and okra in a dark roux over rice) costs $7. The bowl size goes for $11. Guy next to me on the other side takes delivery of a House Salad, with walnuts, gorgonzola cheese, and dried cranberries. I see it goes for $8. (But add $2.50 if you want chicken.)
Meats from “the pit” cost a lot more. Half a rack of barbecued baby-back ribs are $19, whole rack’s $26. Rib tips are cheapest at $13 (or $17 for the large). Rib-eye steak’s $20, chitlins (small intestines of a pig) go for $17. But if you want to spend less (and I do), the po-boy sandwiches like the Andouille sausage or the catfish are mostly $10. They have chicken and waffles for $10.50, and a “meal on a roll” like the pulled pork, also $10.
But now Tyler and Jazz have raised the catfish issue. Guess I’m going to try it. Costs $12 for a single farm-raised crumbed fillet plus two sides. For double fillet, it’s $17. If you want ’em wild, go for the Delta catfish, but you’ll pay $4 more for the single and $5 extra for the double.
“So, what sides?” says Tyler. She’s taking the order down.
Oh, man. Quite a Southern choice. Includes red beans with rice, black-eyed peas, mac and cheese, sweet-potato fries, collard greens, braised cabbage, candied yam and — what’s this? —“Hoppin’ John?”
“It’s black-eyed peas on rice,” Tyler says.
But why “Hoppin’ John?” Seems the name came from the Haitian Creoles’ French-based name for black-eyed peas, pois pigeons. Say it fast and you get to “Hoppin’ John.”
It’s more than peas and rice, of course. Includes chopped onion and bits of bacon and spices. And when it comes, it is a tasty mess of brown with black “eyes” showing through.
The crumbed catfish is super light and tasty, but it’s the collard greens (my other side) which stick out. They’re rich, vinegary, but not sharp. Tyler says they have crushed red peppers, jalapeño, and vinegar, plus maybe some turkey stock. It transforms this veggie into the star of the plate. Tartar sauce, slice of lemon, and a piece of cornbread help, too.
“When I was a boy on the farm in Alabama,” says this gent, “we weren’t carnivores. We ate a lot of vegetables because meat was very expensive. We were more agrarian. We had field peas and butter beans and snap peas and grains.”
Turns out this is Felix Berry, the owner. So, I have to ask: is there anything distinctly Alabaman on the menu? “Well, our Alabaman fried chicken [$11], is primarily identified by its being marinated in buttermilk.”
So what’s the idea behind turning this eatery into a kind of nightery? “In Alabama, being social was a regular thing,” says Felix, “People would come home from work, shower, then go out…to places like this. Here people only seem to go out on the weekends. We’re trying to teach the Alabaman way.”
By now, even Felix is getting drowned out by the music. A little woman with a way-big voice has got everyone mesmerized. They’re urging her to greater heights. When she finishes, the whole place breaks out into cheers. Charlene Burks. Admirers pass her round from handshaker to hugger.
“See? That’s what I’m saying,” says Felix. “It’s intimate enough, and everybody gets out of themselves a bit. Tonight, she’s a rock star. How bad can that be? Plus, she was good. Really good.”
Including a $2.25 coffee (in a glass cup, stylish like everything else), I’m out $15.39. I pass on a peach cobbler ($5) that looks totally wicked. But next time, it’s gonna be with Carla. For starters she’s got a voice. And she’s not afraid to use it.
The Place: Felix BBQ with Soul, in Market Creek Plaza, 342 Euclid Avenue, Lincoln Park, 619-546-9120 (also at 3613 Ocean Ranch Boulevard, Oceanside, 760-439-7072)
Prices: Cup of gumbo, $7; bowl, $11; house salad, $8 (with chicken, add $2.50); half rack BBQ baby-back ribs, $19; whole rack, $26; rib tips, $13 ($17 for large portion; chitlins, $17; po-boy Andouille sausage sandwiches, $10; catfish sandwich, $10; chicken and waffles, $10.50; pulled pork on a roll, $10; catfish fillet, $12 (single), $17 (double); peach cobbler, $5
Hours: 8:00 a.m.–11:00 p.m. (Tuesday); till 9:00 p.m. (Wednesday, Thursday); 10:00 p.m. (Friday, Saturday); 8:00 p.m. (Sunday)
Buses: 3, 4, 5, 13, 60, 916, 917, 955
Nearest bus stop: Market and Imperial, at Euclid
Trolley: Orange Line
Nearest trolley stop: Euclid Avenue