Atlanta’s Unique EatsOct 01, 2021 06:00AM ● By Amanda Plumb
Soul Vegetarian II (Photo: Adrienne Bruce)
Excerpted from Unique Eats and Eateries of Atlanta by Amanda Plumb. Reprinted with permission.
Pioneering the Black Vegan Movement
Fried chicken, mac ’n’ cheese, collards stewed in with a ham hock— soul food takes many forms, but you have to look far and wide to find vegan versions. Fortunately for Atlanta’s vegans, there’s Soul Veg. Soul Vegetarian, opened in 1979 by the Hebrew Israelite Community of Jerusalem, offers a wide array of vegan comfort food and fresh juices. Also known by such names as the Black Hebrew Israelites, the Black Hebrews, or Black Israelites, members believe that the key to healthy living can be found in Scripture:
“And God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the Earth and every tree in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed. To you it shall be for food.’” — Genesis 1:29
The Black Hebrews interpret this verse to mean that a healthy diet includes only foods with seeds, leading them to follow a vegan diet.
At the height of the movement, there were more than 25,000 Hebrew Israelites in the US. They operated their own restaurants in Chicago, Tallahassee, Cleveland, St. Louis, Atlanta, and Washington, DC. Over the years, many have closed, but both Atlanta locations, with their unique reinterpretation of Southern soul food, remain.
Sides (mac ’n’ cheese, collard greens, corn on the cob, baked potato, sweet potatoes, potato salad, broccoli, brown rice with gravy, and cornbread) are soul food staples, but the entrees (Cauliflower, Tofu, and Kalebone Twists) are uniquely Soul Veg.
You won’t find Impossible Burgers or other mass-produced meat alternatives here. Everything is made in-house, from the Garvey Burger (named for the Black-nationalist leader, Marcus Garvey) to the Kalebone (a homemade meat alternative made from the gluten in wheat flour). Each day, they offer a half-dozen or more fresh salads, including the Eggless Salad and the inexplicably addictive Carrot Salad.
For a tangy, refreshing drink, order the Royal Ginger Root, made with pineapple juice, fresh ginger, lemon juice, honey, and water.
For dessert, vegans and nonvegans alike can’t resist a scoop of Soul Veg’s coconut- and soy-based “Ice Kream.” Pints are available to take home.
Today, there are approximately 5,000 Hebrew Israelites around the world. Most live in Israel, but the 75 who call Atlanta home continue to provide homemade vegan soul food at locations in the West End and Poncey Highlands.
Soul Vegetarian is located in Poncey-Highland and the West End of Atlanta. More info at soulvegsouth.net.
R. THOMAS DELUXE GRILL
The Quirkiest Spot in Buckhead
R. Thomas’s pink-and-green-striped, tent-lined walls and its colorful folk art seem out of place among the cookie-cutter strip malls along Peachtree. But that’s just the first impression—it gets weirder. Before they reach the door, guests are greeted by cockatoos Peaches and Cream and their feathered friends.
In the 1970s, Richard Bruce Thomas (aka “R. Thomas”) was the number-two guy at KFC, second only to the Colonel himself. In 1979, he left to cofound Bojangles, another giant in the fast-food universe. When he sold the business in 1984, he wasn’t quite sure what to do with himself, so he traveled the US.
In San Francisco, he stumbled upon Hamburger Mary’s, a funky, flamboyant burger joint, which inspired him to create his own quirky burger place in Greenville, South Carolina. This first iteration of R. Thomas didn’t survive, and a year later Thomas moved to Atlanta and opened the existing restaurant.
The original menu was handwritten and featured illustrations of every dish. Some menu items (pineapple and vanilla ice cream, served in a cantaloupe, for example) have been retired, while new additions (such as Creole Shrimp Bowl and Mediterranean Bowl) are constantly being added.
In the 1990s, R. had a wake-up call when his new friend healthy- lifestyle evangelist, Donna Gates told him, “You know, you’ve poisoned more people in America than drugs have.” R. changed his diet and added vegan and raw dishes to the menu.
One night in the late ’80s, R. lost the keys to the restaurant. Rather than call a locksmith, he persuaded some staff members to stay the night with him. That evening he discovered that there were people out at all hours looking for someplace to eat. R. Thomas has been open 24 hours a day ever since, creating a popular late-night hangout and attracting all sorts, including a psychic who set up shop at a corner table and told fortunes into the wee hours.
R. received his first parrot, Sparkles, as an egg when he was a lad. Although Sparkles retired to his daughter’s house after R. passed in 2017, a menagerie of birds continues to welcome guests. Keep an eye out for Tommy, found in an abandoned building slated for demolition; he has a thing for blondes. And Charlie, the Amazon parrot with a “fowl” mouth, isn’t afraid to show off his French before the Sunday morning church crowd. ❧
R. Thomas Deluxe Grill is located at 1812 Peachtree St. NW, Atlanta. More info at rthomasdeluxegrill.net.
Author Amanda Plumb is the co-founder of Chow Club Atlanta, a monthly underground restaurant showcasing the talents of local home cooks with international roots. Unique Eats and Eateries of Atlanta can be purchased at UniqueEatsATL.com.