September 23, 2021

carlospizzarestaurant

Foodies welcome

Get homestyle cooking at Minneapolis’ new Soul to Soul Smokehouse and CHX restaurants

It’s 2, 3, 1 = home cooking. Two trios at new Minneapolis restaurants share one goal in bringing homestyle cooking to the city.

Both CHX in Uptown and Soul to Soul Smokehouse in Midtown are run by longtime friends who work together like brothers — and in one case, are related.

And both groups wanted to bring the recipes they were raised on — hand-dipped chicken tenders at CHX and smoked meats at Soul to Soul Smokehouse — to locations they felt could use a family-like taste. The restaurateurs are also intent on being the faces of rebuilding and fostering community in their neighborhoods, which have seen their share of disruptions over the past year, from the killing of George Floyd to more recent crime waves.

Their restaurants are housed in two foodie staples: CHX in the original D’Amico & Sons space and Soul to Soul Smokehouse inside Midtown Global Market, but each offer their own takes on fast-casual dining with walk-up takeout and counter service.

But the similarities stop there and the trios’ ventures diverge — one approach involves longtime eatery workers from out of state with an extensive menu, the other involves Minnesota-raised restaurant newcomers who started out of a sports bar’s sliding window with one favorite recipe.

CHX

2210 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., chxmsp.com

Marques Johnson, Frederick Huballa and Shawn Edwards met playing high school sports while growing up in Minneapolis and St. Paul. In the following years, they worked in nightclubs, entertainment and consulting, getting together after hours to taste-test and market-research chicken tenders.

Soon, they found a winning recipe and last summer began selling it out of the sliding window at the Pourhouse in Uptown, quickly drawing crowds and developing a fan base.

Now, that same chicken tender is available at CHX (pronounced “chicks”) as takeout from their new storefront, shared with Pizza Shark, on Hennepin Avenue.

For the trio, the brick-and-mortar and full-staff upgrade feel like graduating from college.

“We were in a dorm, now we’re in a mansion,” Johnson said.

Walking up, customers are greeted by a mural from Minneapolis artist Shane Anderson and can order from a simple, straightforward menu offering chicken basket sizes with three, four or six tenders ($11 to $15). That includes everything quintessential about a chicken basket: tenders, fries, tangy dipping sauce, biscuits and coleslaw. The chicken, crinkle-cut fries, special sauce and coleslaw are CHX originals, while beverage add-ons, biscuits and the honey originate from the restaurant’s partnerships with Northern Soda, Penny’s Coffee and Skinny Jake’s.

CHX is open for takeout and delivery daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. — it recently expanded hours for the lunch crowd after opening last month with evening hours only.

“It’s exciting to see our own development, our own growth,” Huballa said. “To me, whenever I see something come from nothing and blossom into something, it makes me feel good. It makes me feel like I can do something. And I feel like other people have some of that same effect sometimes when they see things grow, when they see people win or do well or go on to bigger and better things from a previous situation.”

And bigger and better things for everyone is the goal.

Sensing a “good omen” from the D’Amico & Sons’ startup space, which closed in 2016 because the owners felt customers were shifting from dine-in to delivery, the CHX trio says their “premium fast-casual” has won the support of the neighborhood and they want to give back to it.

In July, they gave meals to Uptown cleanup and youth groups and plan to distribute 50 meals a week to athletic and after-school programs.

“I feel like because of who we are and what we represent as a company, about the community, quick service, giving back, we’ll build where we are,” Edwards said. “We still believe in Uptown. We still believe in Minneapolis. We still believe in St. Paul. We believe in the Twin Cities.”

Soul to Soul Smokehouse

920 E. Lake St., in Midtown Global Market, soulsmokehouse.com

Moving to the Twin Cities in the mid-1990s from Philadelphia and Chicago, Anthony Simmons and brothers Charles Robinson and Jewuan Marshall met through restaurant work and began cooking together each Tuesday just for fun.

After all, the three had all been preparing food since they were single-digits years old.

“I had to pull up a chair to cook my mom breakfast when I was 5 or 6,” Marshall said. “I was cooking eggs before I even liked eggs.”

For years, the trio’s friends and families encouraged them to open a place to eat together. Robinson and Simmons had a combined 60 years of experience in restaurants; Marshall had been a cabinet maker for two decades. If they were to open their own place, they were determined to make a menu where every item, from the entrees to the extras to the desserts, tastes like the home-cooked meals they’ve been eating — and preparing — for years.

So, behind a new light-up counter in Midtown Global Market, they did exactly that — taking a culmination of recipes from their childhoods.

For lunch and dinner Wednesday through Sunday, an $18 combo of two meats and two sides can come with a mix of sauce-it-yourself beef ribs, brisket, smoked pork and chicken and delicate collard greens, mac and cheese, black-eyed peas, beans, coleslaw and fries. For dessert, bourbon butter cake, banana pudding and ice cream.

Since opening in May, Simmons, Robinson and Marshall say they’ve had crowds and catering requests every week from marketgoers who are hooked on their soul food. (A man interrupted an interview to let the owners know his son enjoyed the mac and cheese and ribs so much that he refuses to eat it anywhere else.)

They also said they think the market’s customer and business environment is a supportive launching point for their dreams of franchising Soul to Soul into full-service dining and becoming a must-have in the Twin Cities.

“It’s like a little community,” Robinson said. “Everybody looks out for each other. Everybody shops with each other.”

Beyond their motto of “feed the soul,” building community is important to the founders. Watching Minneapolis restaurants like Muddy Waters and Chino Latino close, and the aftermath of the George Floyd protests in the area, Simmons sees food as a way to unite people.

“Food brings every culture together, and if you have a good collard green, why not bring it and rebuild this community?” he said.

“It’s got to start somewhere,” Simmons added. “It’s got to start with someone, and why not with us?”