Barbecue chicken, mac-and-cheese, collard greens and corn bread from Soul Food Paradise. Photo by Meredith Goad

Be sure you’re hungry when you order from Soul Food Paradise. The food this little one-man operation serves is filling and comes in generous portions.

Soul Food Paradise is a small take-out setup at Fork Food Lab, where Martin Beavers pours himself and his family’s pride into soul food classics such as oxtails, fried chicken and smothered pork chops served with sides like mac and cheese, collard greens and cornbread. The hardest thing about ordering is deciding what to try. That’s a good problem to have.

Beavers appears to have simplified his ordering system since I last bought a plate of food from him, which is a relief because the original system was hard to explain. Now you simply choose a meat, a side and a veggie for one price ($20-$25, depending on the meat), and if you want an extra side or veggie you pay an extra $5. Cornbread comes with every plate.

While we’re talking price, I have something to say about the catfish. I hesitate to bring up price at all because restaurants all over Portland will probably be raising their prices post-pandemic so they can pay for staff and survive, and we should be prepared to pay those prices if we want the privilege of dining out and eating great food. And I don’t know the supply chain factors at play that might be driving up the price, but $25 is more than I’m willing to pay for catfish, a cheaper protein considered “trash fish” – but delicious trash fish – in the South, where I’m from. That’s about what I would pay for Chaval’s splendid coq au vin on Portland’s West End. In Nashville, where catfish is so popular there are actual catfish restaurants, a plate of three catfish filets and two sides sells for about $13, which seems like a pretty big difference even though the cost of living is lower there. Again, I’m not saying all food should be cheap, so don’t @ me.

A customer waits for a take-out order at Soul Food Paradise, operating out of Fork Food Lab in Portland. Photo by Meredith Goad

That quibble is in no way a diss of Beavers’ talent in the kitchen. I thoroughly enjoyed my barbecue chicken with “chicken gravy infused barbecue sauce.” (I wish it had come with a little side of the sauce for dipping.) The collard greens, cooked with smoked turkey instead of ham hocks, were tender, flavorful, and a little spicy, a better version than the collards cooked by most Portland chefs working at higher-end restaurants. The mac and cheese was dense, rich and creamy. And the cornbread? My mother never added sugar to hers, but I tend to prefer a touch – just a touch – of sweetness, and that is what Soul Food Paradise delivered. The cornbread was moist and slightly sweet, but not too sweet, so it still tasted like cornbread.

Other sides on the menu include yellow rice, candied yams and potato salad. I hope that when Beavers settles in, he adds dessert – maybe some banana pudding or peach cobbler? Pretty please?

A note on the hours: Soul Food Paradise hours are really confusing. The website says the hours are 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. The online ordering system says noon to 7:30 p.m., with no days of operation listed. On Yelp, the hours are listed as 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, but I have tried ordering on Wednesday and the restaurant has been closed. I called the owner to clarify things, but he didn’t answer and his voice mailbox was full. (I hope that’s because he’s too busy cooking.) I suspect the answer is, if you order between noon and 7:30 between Thursday and Saturday, you’ll be fine.

Just order. Portland needs a soul food restaurant, and this is a good one.

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