During the heyday of the Baby Boomers, visiting a cafeteria-style restaurant was commonplace, especially if it was on a Sunday. They were popular destinations for the after-church crowd, a sort of see-and-be-seen showcase of big hats and Sunday-best dress before there was social media, Instagram, or heck, even computers for that matter!
As fast casual and meal delivery services take over the landscape, millennials may not get the chance to experience this type of dining outside of offerings on campus, as the popularity of these restaurants has decreased dramatically. Still, there are a few left, and K&K Soul Food is one that has stood the test of time.
Located in the interior of Atlanta, K&K Soul Food is on Donald Lee Hollowell Pkwy (locals know &remember it as Bankhead Hwy/Avenue) and not particularly close to any highways, which would be at least 2-3 miles in any direction. Still, it is a popular local spot that was even featured in the movie The Hate U Give.
The space is ever-so-slightly upscale; something that resembles the final product of a renovation done on a Piccadilly Cafeteria if it were circa 1990, though not as large. Depending on the time of day that you visit, the line could be at the entrance as soon as you walk in, or you could be one of the lucky ones that can walk straight to the beginning of the serving line. The line is on the slow side, however, so you definitely have time for entire conversations or internet research while you wait your turn to place an order.
Parking for the restaurant is convenient, as there is a large lot directly in front of the store with space for 40-50 cars. But get there early, as these spaces fill up fast, and you’ll be playing the waiting game hoping you can get the space of someone who’s leaving if you aren’t lucky.
There is a bathroom here, although at first glance I did not see it, as it blended in with the mural that was on the wall. Kudos to the artist for making it a seamless part of the scenery! However, most likely due to the “characters” that roam about the neighborhood on Donald Lee Hollowell, you must be buzzed in to the restroom, like in some Starbucks locations, so plan your “trips” accordingly.
There’s one TV on in the dining area, but with the big windows in the restaurant and the mix of “seasoned” patrons that fill the space both inside the restaurant and in the immediately vicinity outside, there will always be some sort of entertainment for people watchers. These types of establishments were social media before the term was coined, and for good reason: stories are shared freely and you are often in earshot of one no matter where you may be sitting or standing.
It also reminds you of a less formal fellowship hall after church; maybe because most of the patrons look like they just came from one. There’s a very homely and welcoming feel that you just know is going to be missed in the not-so-distant future, as one generation gives way to the next. If you’d like to get even a brief sense of what life was like for our elders, this is a great place to recapture some of those memories.
The staff are very nice and proactively help and respond to customers. One staff member placed the wrong item in a customer’s to-go container but was pleasant in recognizing their mistake and correcting it. The cashier recognized (without my intervention) that my lemonade cup felt weak, and changed it to a different one to prevent any accidents. This is the type of service that keeps people coming back week after week, and was very reassuring to see in action.
The food at K&K looks SO good when you see it behind the counter. If there was a such thing as “showroom quality” for cafeteria-style food, this would be it. Just about everything you see beckons to be placed on your plate, and even if you enter with an idea of what you want, you might change your mind as you go through the line.
The taste of the food, however, leaves much, much to be desired. I purchased a wing dinner which came with two sides: I selected cabbage and macaroni & cheese. You can also select either cornbread or a roll, so I chose to make it truly “soulful” and got the cornbread. Good thing, because both it and the cabbage were the stars of the show… especially if the show were say, Sharknado or Soul Plane. The chicken’s appearance was basic, which also matched the taste. The mac & cheese tasted as though it came from a 1st year student at a culinary school (or someone trying to make it from a recipe they remembered from childhood): it had the look and texture of homemade mac, but the flavor was definitely left behind in the 1900’s.
Portion sizes are decent for the price, but again, you may not care since your tongue doesn’t get to enjoy much reward for assisting in the digestion of it.
Surprisingly (or unsurprisingly), K&K does have Wi-Fi! It also sports electronic menus, although the implementation is not conducive to practical usage. There are two LCD/LED screens, one which displays breakfast offerings and one that shows lunch selections. However, these displays rotate between pricing for the items and the items included on the daily specials, so it can be confusing to make your choice, especially if you get there at a time when the line is short. If they wish to employ these methods of presenting information, one screen should show pricing for breakfast at all times while the other does the same for the lunch menu. Maybe a third screen could be deployed that rotates between (actual) pictures of the food and the various specials they offer. Just a thought.
Cash and credit cards are accepted, although with a minimum of $4.00 if you prefer to swipe. The website is more than decent, and tells a great story of how the restaurant came to be over the years. My only gripes: “employement” is misspelled in a couple of different places, and the looping video on the home page is too short and too dim to really see what they have to offer. Even though websites are often an afterthought for establishments like these, it’d only take a few minutes to correct some of these oversights.
K&K Soul Food won’t make you cheat on your New Year’s Resolutions. Although it has all of the appearances of a quality soul food cafeteria, we mainly eat this type of food for the taste and indulgence, not only the sustenance, and dining here feels more like going through the motions than anything else.