Nothing is better than being able leave the city without leaving your neighborhood.
Columbus’s flavor palate is beginning to broaden beyond the myriad of chain restaurants that once dominated the city sidewalks. And if you grew up here, you know what I’m talking about (shoutout to TGI Fridays). Even with the general expansion, places to get a taste of that southern kitchen savor haven’t really grown.
Sure, there’s Double Comfort or even the ever-popular Hot Chicken Takeover to get your fried chicken fix, but those thoroughly populated locales don’t offer the exact quaintness crucial to providing the full whiff of southern hospitality.
Which is why I love Madison Soul Food Kitchen. Located just east of downtown, this spot is so hidden, most of the Near East Side doesn’t even know about it. The adventurous Yelper in me found it online during my quest to dine at every spot in the neighborhood I call home. Nestled just a few blocks west of Nelson Road (the cutoff point between Olde Towne East and Bexley) Madison is simply marked by a small white sign mounted on the southern face of United House of Prayer—soul food served out of a church is about as intriguing as a review gets. It’s also stationed in the ambitious Eastgate section of the NES, which feels more like a small town Ohio neighborhood than it does a place just steps away from Columbus’s largest east/west thoroughfare. An adjacent laundromat being the only other business located within the small vicinity.
Although it’s the cafeteria of a church, Madison is open to the public from 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. every weekday. Upon entry, neon-colored poster-boards paint its front window. Signs like “No shirt or shoes, no service” and “Please! No credit cards” relay just how simple it is. When you do enter just hit the back of the line, which will eventually lead you to the Madison family who runs the small-scale operation. You can also get a peek of the actual kitchen, where you’ll find older women preparing the food who’re sweeter than the homemade tea and lemonade you have the option of enjoying once you order.
In true cafeteria form, different main courses are often served on different days. Although upon request or a short wait, you’ll be able to procure regular favorites like pork chops or roast beef. When choosing the latter for the first time, I found it odd that they didn’t provide me with a knife. I soon understood why—it’s completely unnecessary. The fall-apart nature of their roast beef, which looks like it was prepared with the tender lovingness of a five-year-old crafting a teddy bear at Build-A-Bear, only falls short in aesthetic to its taste. The rich flavor, mixed with Madison’s homemade gravy makes any diet worth breaking for the day.
Fried chicken is always available and always worth the trip. It’s golden brown, crispy, and ready to receive an ample dose of hot sauce. The aforementioned pork chops are also something to try. They’re fried up—nice and crisp, too—and they give you a lot, so come hungry.
I know what you’re wondering: what about the sides? Everyone knows that any great soul food spot is pillared by what accompanies the main course. If you can, go for the mashed potatoes. Any excuse to drench something with that gravy is a good one. Their corn and green beans aren’t anything out of the ordinary, but tasty nonetheless. Sometimes (but not always) they’ll have collard greens available. While I enjoy the soft texture of them, they’re a little more earthy than what I’m used to. All meals are served in a styrofoam box with plastic silverware. They also come with some sort of bread, of course. Cornbread is the easy go-to here—it’s the moistest in town.
Madison Soul Food Kitchen may never be Columbus’s trendy restaurant of the month; newly renovated interiors and flashy menus (or any menu for that matter) are nonexistent. But if you’re looking to get lost in small town Ohio without leaving the confines of the inner city, this is the spot for you. For $8 you can get your fill of that ol’ time home cooking Columbus scarcely supplies. It’s truly a gem. •
Madison Soul Food Kitchen is located at 1731 Greenway Ave.