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Restaurant Review: Chef-owner David Pow Makes Statement at Soul

Jun 24, 2016 02:19PM ● By Cate Reynolds

Soul: A Modern Eatery

509 S. Cherry Grove Ave., Annapolis
410-267-6191 |
Mon.–Sat. 11 a.m.–9 p.m.; Sun. 9 a.m.–9 p.m.
  • Full liquor license Southern style small plates
  • Reservations suggested
  • major credit cards accepted
  • wheelchair accessible
  • $$

David Pow had a successful career in the corporate world, but it did not satisfy his soul. Following his passion for food and his intuitive talent for cooking, he made a bold move in a new direction: he applied to and was accepted by the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York.

“They assured me there were others like me—coming late in the game,” he said in a recent phone interview. “But when I got there, I was one of just five older students and the rest were about half my age.” But Pow persisted, and after graduation worked in several D.C. restaurants before settling in for a few years as the chef at Blue Rooster in Cape St. Claire, a cozy place serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner with a loyal following.

Restless once again, he took another giant step and opened Soul, a promising new restaurant in a small shopping center off Forest Drive. Small plates set the tone here—with portions large enough to share, they’re divided into categories called “Lil’ Bits, Mostly Veg’, Barn, Sea, and Stone Pies (further explanation follows). The flip side of the menu features creative cocktails, micro beers, and a well-chosen selection of wines by the glass ($6–9) or bottles (most under $30).

Soul is the kind of place where sipping wine is part of the pleasure–the price is right, the pours are generous, and the glasses gorgeous. Divided into two categories (“White, Yellow & Pink” and “Ruby, Red & Purple”) the list features evocative descriptions of 21 choices from boutique vineyards in France, South Africa, New Zealand, Argentina, Italy, Spain, Australia, and California. Soul’s sommelier shares his savvy with the restaurant’s customers—and we were happy with a La Closerie de Lys Pinot Noir from Languedoc, France so versatile it complemented most of the foods we sampled.

Soul is like that—a place of surprises that begin with the open kitchen behind the bar, where patrons have an open window into the action and happy hour prices prevail until 7 p.m. Around the corner, the main dining room is glass-enclosed on three sides with a bricked outdoor terrace in seasonal use. Stark or sophisticated could describe Soul’s décor, which features white walls and framed photographs (including a South Cherry Grove street sign) by local artists.
Waiters dressed in black move swiftly around the room, ferrying small plates to the tables as they come out of the kitchen. Southern-inspired comfort foods are the leading attractions here. Soups we found during our visit included a roasted green tomato soup and a sweet potato soup flavored with maple syrup, crème fraiche, and espresso. A small skillet of cornbread accompanied by a side serving of the kitchen’s own red pepper relish was a delicious distraction as was our next course of roasted acorn squash overflowing with brown rice, whole cherries, toasted pecans, and pistachio slivers served on a plate traced with cherry molasses.

In the course of two visits, we found reason to rave about a deceptively simple dish of house-made mushroom-filled ravioli swimming in butter and crowned with three varieties of mushrooms (oyster, shitake, and cremini); a soul-satisfying mac and cheese starring spirals of pasta awash in fontina, ricotta, and smoked cheddar cheese with flecks of country ham in the mix; and bistro steak (at $14 the most expensive item on the menu) described by our waiter as slices of filet mignon cooked rare as ordered and tender enough to qualify for this designation.

Pow’s version of shrimp and grits had us wishing for more, despite the generous serving of shellfish shrouded in creamy grits in a buttery cheese sauce studded with pieces of the andouille sausage he makes himself. And Soul’s fried chicken—a drumstick and thigh coated with crumbs—was dressed in sweetly satisfying honey-bourbon drizzle.

The aforementioned “stone pies” refer to artisan pizzas, individually shaped dough as a base for toppings that include grilled pear slices jazzed up with brie, fontina, and mozzarella cheeses and a jolt of candied ginger; several varieties of wild mushrooms paired with ricotta; olive, green onions, and pimento cheese; and pulled chicken and fontina cheese enlivened with the aforementioned sweet pepper jam. Pow plays with a symphony of different flavors here and hits some high notes in the sweet, salty, sour, bitter range—always looking for that sweet spot that the Japanese refer to as umami.

His homey dessert of an apple cobbler cooked and served in a small cast iron skillet hit my companion’s sweet spot on target, while I (daughter of a New Orleans gal) tried the kitchen’s beignets. Dusted with powdered sugar, they were light and airy, with a hollow center that would be the perfect place for a dollop of homemade jam when Maryland strawberries arrive.

It is Pow’s unique ability to make old standards new again that will draw patrons to his appealing little oasis in a part of Annapolis where dining options are sparse. He is a strong advocate for using local products and changes his menu with the seasons. With warmer weather now upon us, we hope to try Soul's inviting outdoor terrace on our next visit.

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Mary Lou Baker is a frequent contributor to What’s Up? Media publications and self-professed gourmand. She has authored numerous culinary articles and recently penned the book Seafood Lover’s Chesapeake Bay: Restaurants, Markets, Recipes & Traditions.