In Galveston people come and go, restaurants come and go, and just about everything comes and goes. It is no secret that Galveston is known for its many fine dining facilities and a very wide variety of food offerings. With seafood and steaks, Cajun, Italian, Mexican, Thai, Chinese, and a huge mix of everything else, the island has it all. Some localities in Texas joke about having a church on every corner, but in Galveston, residents like to think there is a restaurant on every corner.
For many years there was Simp’s, a fantastic soul food joint located just behind City Hall. Simp’s was staffed by a handful of sweet little ladies that made sure your plate was full and that you left satisfied. Greens, ham hocks, cabbage, macaroni, and cheese, smothered chops, cornbread, peach cobbler, and even chitterlings (chitlin’s), to name a few items, made the menu. After many years behind the hall, Simps moved over to the old Dairy Queen building on Broadway. Business was good but not like it was at the original location. Being family-owned and operated, it was a difficult decision to close the Galveston eatery and open in LaMarque, across the causeway. Today, Simps is located on Highway 3 and remains packed every day
So what about Galveston and soul food? Known as the birthplace of Juneteenth and with such a rich heritage of African American influence, one would think there would be several venues offering soul food. Over the years, a few places came and went however none had the tenacity or following that Simp’s enjoyed.
Welcome 2022 and enter one dynamic little lady with a smile that can light up a room, not to mention her superb culinary skills. Quida Cook (pronounced “Weeda”) is not just a smile and a “room-lighter-upper,” but the very embodiment of soul food, itself.
“Soul food you ask? It’s a lotta love, baby,” Cook says. “That’s the way I cook it.”
Born into a very large family in St. Louis (she has had 14 older brothers before another girl came along, Cook spent her summers in Mississippi with her grandmother. It was there she watched and learned the soulful art of cooking. Her grandmother collected recipes and after personalizing them, shared them with young Cook.
“She taught me to cook with a special ingredient, love,” Cook says.
Arriving in Galveston in 2006, Cook worked for the City and did some cooking on the side. In 2011 she began to get serious about her cooking and sharing it with others. Finding a small location at 3104 Market, they opened Soul to Soul, a restaurant that soon became a hit. Locals and folks waiting on cruise ships flocked to her little business. Sometimes they would line up in hoping to get in and sample real soul food. Ham hocks, oxtail soup, greens, and smothered pork chops were menu stars, and Cook found great joy in watching folks eat what she had prepared.
“It gave me a great feeling of happiness to watch them eat what I cooked. I feel like it is an intimacy of sorts,” she says. “I prepare it, they eat it and love it. We connect over food!”
When the dreaded Covid hit, restaurants and gathering places on the Island came to a crashing halt. Cook, like all others, suffered greatly. Sadly she had to close her successful eatery that had provided way more than just-food. The little restaurant provided community, something Cook feels very strongly about.
“Come in, eat, sit with other people, and bond over a good meal,” she says.
As Covid restrictions lessened, two individuals that had enjoyed Cook’s great cooking approached her with an idea. Todd McKinzie and Tommy Fiero, owners of 23rd Street Station Piano Bar, Lucky Lounge, and Downtown Pack and Ship, presented an offer to Cook.
“I just went to her and asked if she would come to cook at 23rd on Sunday afternoons,” Fiero says. “I told her it would be hers and she could prepare what she liked and offer to bar patrons (so she could make) some profit.”
Steak night became huge, with choice steak, prepared to order with all the sides and dessert. Soul to Soul Sundays became a success, always filling the bar and patio with folks often waiting in line to order.
Along the way, hoping to share more than just steaks, Cook would alternate the menu with meatloaf or fried catfish.
“I didn’t even like catfish and then I ate some that Quida cooked,” Jim Greaser, manager of 23rd, says. “Oh my God, it was great!”
Greaser is not alone. Her southern fried catfish became a hit.
When visiting back home and experimenting with her father, the pair created what would become her favorite dish and that of all who ate it. With some tweaking and trial and error, Cook and her father developed a perfect recipe for fried Baby Back Ribs.
“Me and Daddy just kept playing with it until we got it just right,” Cook says. “He loved cooking and was happy to help in the creation of the ribs.”
Someone once asked Quida if she could cook a meal for Barack Obama, what would it be?
“Oh, Jesus. I’d feed him my “go-to” meal — fried catfish, macaroni and cheese, and collard greens,” Cook says. “That would put a smile on his face, and mine, too!”
Cook has been blessed and she feels it. In an effort to continue sharing her gift, she is opening a new restaurant, hopefully in March. Soul to Soul Restaurant and Bar will be located at 5316 Broadway in Galveston. For weeks, Cook and her crew have been transforming the large, vacant building into her dream restaurant and bar. There will be live music, great food and, of course, lots of drinks to wash it all down.
If her previous success on Market Street and at 23rd Street Piano Bar is any indication of the future, hang onto your hats and get in line for some great soul food. The new restaurant will offer many of the successful dishes she offered in the past, as well as a few new things she is “Cook”ing up. Cook will also continue to offer private catering.
To all our readers, near and far, I say one word: Yum!
For more information, call 409-539-4351.