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Meet Deborah Dickerson, the Soul Food Festival’s 2022 Soul Food Pioneer

Correction: This article has been updated to fix a typo in Henry Turner Jr.’s name.

She won them over with her chitterlings.

Last year, Deborah Dickerson, a Plaquemine soul food restaurant owner and music lover, reached out to Baton Rouge Soul Food Festival founder bluesman Henry Turner Jr. to learn more about his efforts to preserve soul food culture. The two got to talking, and before Thomas knew it, Dickerson had offered to bring 150 pounds of chitterlings to the festival’s pre-party.

“She overwhelmed with us with her abilities,” Turner says in this month’s issue of 225. “Her food is off the chain.”

The 2022 festival takes place this weekend, May 14 and 15, during which Dickerson will be named this year’s Soul Food Pioneer for her contributions to regional soul food preservation. Dickerson is the owner and founder of D’s Southern Soul Café in historic downtown Plaquemine, a friendly, inviting spot on Railroad Avenue where the weekly menu meanders through a hit parade of belly-warming soul food classics.

D’s Soul Food Cafe’s Tuesday liver and onions with mashed potatoes and green beans.

Regular customers are fully versed in the line-up. Mondays are known for red beans and fried pork chops. Tuesdays spotlight hamburger steak and liver and onions. Wednesdays feature shrimp and okra, white beans and smothered pork chops. Thursdays will make you earn your soul food stripes with chitterlings—braised and seasoned pig intestines, and tripe, the sinewy lining of the stomach. (If offal’s not your jam, ribs and turkey wings are also on the menu.) Fridays are all about fried fish and shrimp stew.

Homemade hamburgers, footlong dogs, other entrees and side dishes are also available, along with occasional peach cobbler. The restaurant is also open for lunch on Saturdays and Sundays.

“If I don’t have it,” says Dickerson of her daily specials, “I hear about it from my customers.”

The eatery is bright and cheery, with counter service ordering and a mixture of comfy booths and tables. Dickerson’s love for music shines through the decor, with memorabilia, an antique piano and a vintage turntable scattered throughout the space. The front picture window looks out onto the quiet downtown and the railroad tracks that give the street its name.

D’s Soul Food Cafe is in historic downtown Plaquemine.

It’s the second location for the restaurant. The first was nearby on Main Street. Dickerson’s original intention was to start an after school program she named the Gumbo Youth Project, and to support it, she wanted to sell food. But it required securing proper permitting, she says. Once that was in place, she figured why not open a café, especially when community members kept encouraging her to cook.

“What you see on the menu, that’s what they told me they wanted,” Dickerson says.

A native of Iberville Parish, Dickerson moved to New Orleans at age 10 after her mother remarried, and says her cuisine blends the culinary traditions of her rural roots with the Creole foodways of the Crescent City. After high school, she entered the U.S. Army and spent the next couple decades serving on bases in Egypt, Israel, across Europe and in the United States. Now back home, she says preparing soul food is helping her overcome the PTSD she experienced from active duty, and is easing her transition to civilian life.

At its core, soul food is about thrift, stemming from the manner by which enslaved people and their descendants cooked with discarded or inexpensive ingredients. Coaxing rich flavor from cast-off cuts is soul food’s signature, demonstrated in the style’s long, slow braises and rich gravies.

D’s Soul Food Cafe employee Carrie Jefferson cooks at lunchtime on a Tuesday.

That heritage is on full display in a dish like chitterlings. Dickerson says she starts preparing the dish by painstakingly cleaning pig intestines, then braising them for about eight hours, adding aromatic vegetables and her own spice blend toward the end of the cooking process. The whole affair can take up to two days, she says. All that labor has made this lowly dish the most expensive item on the menu at $15 a plate. Dickerson calls it “Iberville Gold.”

In the fall and winter, she also serves peppergrass, a wild green she says grows in sugar cane fields after the harvest. Dickerson says she was raised to spot it and bring it home to her mom, who would simmer it low and slow. Its flavor and texture is somewhere between kale and mustard greens, Dickerson says.

Music memorabilia are part of the soul food eatery’s decor.

“We grew up on it,” she says. “We ate off the land.”

Dickerson’s chitterlings will be available tonight only at the pre-party for the 2022 Soul Food Festival. For ticket information, visit the Soul Food festival’s website. Keep up with D’s Southern Soul Cafe’s daily specials by visiting the restaurant’s Facebook page.

 

 


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