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New additions like red beans and rice offer Portland food truck's unique take on soul food with a healthy twist

JAIME VALDEZ/PMG - (From left): Maurice Fain; his son, Zaire,10; and Jermaine Atherton stand by their Portland food cart, Southern Kitchen PDX.When it came time to celebrate the one-year anniversary of their Portland food cart, Maurice Fain and Jermaine Atherton decided to bypass the cake and ice cream.

They chose instead to do what they do best. They created a new menu for Southern Kitchen PDX, with offerings that highlight the partners' commitment to providing Portlanders with a healthy take on soul food.

Since opening last year, Southern Kitchen PDX has earned a reputation as one of the premiere soul food carts in Portland and the only one on Mississippi Avenue that is that is Black-owned. The menu is based on recipes handed down to Fain from his great-grandmother, who taught him how to cook as he was growing up in Georgia.

"She was known for feeding people in the community," Fain said. "If anyone needed food, she would feed them."

While Fain wanted to pay tribute to his grandmother's legacy, he also wanted to reflect his full background. So he introduced his own twist to the recipes by adding seasonings and spices that reflect his Haitian heritage.

"I took some of my great-grandmother's recipes and expounded on them with my ideas, making them come alive," Fain said.

JAIME VALDEZ/PMG - Southern Kitchen PDX co-owner Maurice Fain watches his son Zaire,10, place a fillet of catfish into the fryer.

The new Southern Kitchen menu also has benefited from Atherton's background and experience.

He says he gained his initial appreciation for creating unique dishes by watching rather than doing. Growing up in South Carolina, he recalls his mother cooking big meals for her large family. Like Fain, Atherton also remembers watching women at the church he attended join together to create meals for the community.

"I didn't get to cook, but I got to sample a lot," he said, with a laugh.

He got his chance to finally do some cooking about 15 years ago, when he began working in a restaurant as part owner in that business. He's combined that experience with his pescatarian diet to contribute a healthy twist to Southern Kitchen's menu items through the addition of meatless options.

JAIME VALDEZ/PMG - Southern Kitchen PDX co-owner Jermaine Atherton seasons chicken before cooking it for an order.

A community mindset

Southern Kitchen's new menu items include red beans and rice, fried corn, fried chicken, and peach cobbler pound cake. Fain and Atherton also are offering specials that change each day, but fans of the food truck will still be able to find their regular favorites such as ribs and fried fish.

"We've got the best fish and the best ribs in town, I can promise you that," Fain said.

Also staying constant is the partners' commitment to using a portion of the food truck's proceeds, coupled with donations, to support their community. They mentor young people, teaching them both how to cook and how to be entrepreneurs, including lessons on what it takes to own a food-truck business. An event last year focused on taking a group of children and their families on a trip that included visits with a farmer to learn how to start a garden and a chance to go fishing.

"We do a lot of things anonymously," Atherton said. "We'll catch wind of a good-faith effort and go ahead and support it."

The community showed its appreciate for those efforts by supporting Southern Kitchen PDX when the pandemic hit and stay-at-home orders doomed many of the city's eateries. Already adept at take-out service, Fain and Atherton dove into delivery service, tapping GrubHub and UberEats to continue to serve customers.

JAIME VALDEZ/PMG - Southern Kitchen PDX owners Jermaine Atherton, left, and Maurice Fain show a couple dishes of comfort food they make such as fried catfish and chicken at their food cart along North Mississippi Avenue

With stay at home orders now lifted, the partners say they're more than ready to let people know they're still around. While they continue to offer delivery, they also now are provide catering, both drop off and full-service. There's also some seating available for folks who prefer to stop by the food truck to order their food.

Even as Fain and Atherton work on spreading the word about Southern Kitchen to attract new customers, they are dedicated to the fans who have been there since the beginning. The business partners took time at the end of August to show their appreciation by hosting a three-day anniversary celebration that featured free food, music ,and entertainment. The celebration, according to Fain, was about giving back to those who have given the partners the chance to make their food cart dreams come true.

"Without this community, without the support of the community and the neighborhood, we're nothing," he said.

Southern Kitchen PDX is located at 3505 N. Mississippi Avenue, at the corner of Mississippi and Fremont. Hours are noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, and noon to 7 p.m. Friday through Sunday. The food truck is closed Monday and Tuesday. In addition to walk-up service and delivery via GrubHub and UberEats, Southern Kitchen PDX offers drop-off and full service catering. For more information or to place an order check out their website www.southernkitchenpdx.com


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