From most of the Valley, driving to Queen Creek feels like a long and arduous pilgrimage – minus the soul-enriching payoff. But the journey is entirely worthwhile if the pilgrims in question are rewarded with Rhema Soul Cuisine and its praise-worthy comfort grub.
The fried offal meats and hearty vegetable dishes of soul food trace their origins to Southern plantations – and before that, Africa itself – but Rhema, which keeps a low profile at the end of a strip mall, reflects the genre’s more modern, big-city legacy. It has a jazzy, sophisticated urban look and sound inside – a nod to proprietors Via and Ron Childs’ Gotham roots.
In Christian theology, “Rhema” refers to the spoken words of Christ, and Via tells guests that if she and Ron had conceived a fourth child, and if it had been a girl, they would have named her Rhema. Instead, the restaurant is their fourth child.
The fertile spirit of the place is reflected in the eats. Chicken and waffles are a soul food standard, but Rhema puts a colorful twist on the dish, with battered chicken thighs – chopped into boneless “fingers” – served over a red velvet waffle with a light frosting. Rhema’s fried fare also includes beer-battered pollock, a delightfully mild-flavored fish in a fryer-hot, napkin-staining batter. As fries are often the most yawn-inducing of side dishes, a word should also be said for the addictive garlic and parmesan-coated spuds that come alongside.
They’re only one of a tempting gallery of sides, ranging from delectably multi-textured seven-cheese baked macaroni to peppery Caribbean-style rice to a festive carrot and craisin salad, a sort of cranberry-carrot slaw. While I know I should like collard greens – presumably the healthiest selection on most soul food menus, pork fat and/or lard nothwithstanding – they aren’t a favorite of mine (too bitter). Rhema follows the tradition of mixing them with bits of meat or fowl (in this case, turkey), but it wasn’t enough to win me over.
Comfort-food classics like these coexist on Rhema’s menu with “Uncle Ron’s BBQ,” served daily from 2 p.m. until closing time or when the goodies run out. Mercilessly tasty pork, chicken, brisket and ribs are served with sweet or spicy sauce options. Devotees of unsweetened drinks, be advised: Rhema offers only Pepsi products, sweet tea and Kool-Aid. But the punishing sweetness of the beverages does make a nice counterpoint to the spicy, salty food.
Perhaps the best way to experience the full sweep of Rhema’s flavors on one plate is the “Symphony Fries,” a layering of pork, potato and sweet potato fries and a medley of shredded cheeses with barbecue sauce. I opted for a blend of the sweet and spicy sauces, a style called “magical” at Rhema, not unjustly. The flavors were still playing a symphony on my tongue as I started the long drive back from Queen Creek.
Rhema Soul Cuisine
Cousine: Barbecue/Soul Food
Contact: 21803 S. Ellsworth Rd., Queen Creek. 480-987-1460
Hours: Noon-7 p.m. W-Su
HIGHLIGHTS: Chicken and waffle ($9); beer-battered pollock ($7); chopped pork with seven-cheese baked macaroni and collard greens and smoked turkey ($13); brisket with MaMa’s Caribbean red rice and parmesan fries ($13); St. Louis-style ribs with carrot and craisin salad and potato salad ($13); Symphony Fries ($10)
Rhema Soul Cuisine: Don’t let the long trek out to Queen Creek discourage you from sampling twists on traditional soul food at this small but vibrant family eatery. Try the chicken thighs over a red velvet waffle, the mercilessly tasty barbecue or the aptly named Symphony Fries.
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