2933 Commerce St.
Dude Factor: 8, or "Cold Souls" on a scale of 1, ("Soul Man" or "Heart and Souls") to 10, ("Soul Plane")
Deep Ellum may have more dude-worthy food choices than anywhere else in town, but most favor the downtown end of the neighborhood, right along that Angry-Dog-Adair's-Twisted-Root corridor. On the far side of Deep Ellum, Po-Bill's Cafe -- and its kitchen stuffed with fried chicken, meat loaf and smothered pork chops -- does pretty well tipping the Dude Food scales back toward the Double Wide.
It's a family-run place, friendly right down to the two kids on the porch shouting "hello" at us the whole time we crossed the street to the front door. Most inviting, though, was the big "Chicken and Waffles" banner flying outside -- probably enough to lure us down a dark alley in Detroit. In here, though, the only thing to watch out for was the cardboard cutout of Po-Bill himself -- co-owner, and an old player for the Harlem Magicians show basketball team -- which we nearly wandered into as we turned a corner. It was a big cutout.
There's no mistaking the Southern smells of the soul food kitchen in back, but inside the place hadn't aged a day since it opened last summer. No beat-up swinging screen door, no ancient cheese crusted on the tables -- the Mavericks-blue-and-green paint job looked brand new and the place was bright and quiet, walls covered in basketball memorabilia. At 1:30 on a weekday afternoon we had the place to ourselves, and three women to take care of us behind the counter.
It's cafeteria-style ordering at Po-Bill's, with the meat loaf and a few main dishes under a glass case next to sides like mac-and-cheese, mashed potatoes and greens. Chicken and waffles, they said, would take a few extra minutes, which was fine by us. As a rule, you don't sit down for a mainline of chicken grease and syrup when you're in a hurry.
A side of candied yams made the waiting time fly by -- we were lucky enough to catch a fresh batch out of the kitchen -- and the tender, sugary tater chunks were our favorite of Po-Bill's modified vegetables. Next to those, the bowl of greens on the other guy's tray looked pretty uninspired after their time sitting out, and a little too much like salad anyway.
The mac-and-cheese was bright orange, covered in cheese globs that looked like they'd aged out in the cafeteria case a while themselves -- but my lunch-hour wingman was enthusiastic about it. "Better than I could ever made at home," was what he said, which is about all you can ask of homestyle cooking.
Backup syrup for your waffles, once the hot syrup pitcher runs out.
My order came out of the kitchen on two trays: a good-sized waffle with two syrup packets on one tray, and three fried chicken wings on another. It's the little things that you remember later, and on the way back from lunch, all I could think about was the warm pitcher of extra syrup they brought out for us -- that made all the difference.
If I've got some spare time and a really serious chicken-and-waffle urge, I'm still driving out to Big Mama's in Garland, but I'll keep coming back to Po-Bill's at least until I've tried each of the neckbones, hamhock, oxtails and chitterlings. Up next, though, has got to be the meat loaf
, and a couple sides of yams.