The Tenderloin is a sketchy neighborhood in downtown San Francisco. That's not a knock, it just is what it is, and anyone who has lived here a long time will tell you the same. It's one of the last 'hoods to experience the makeover process that is going around in the rest of the city. Make no mistake, it is currently happening, it is just taking a little longer. Eventually it will become a little less interesting than it's current state. Till then, if you want to enjoy some of it's "charms" best to hit it up now before all is gone. Some of the interesting things found there are of the food variety--and you can definitely come across all flavors. Most are unique hole in the wall places serving up decent, not too pricey fare for the lunch goers who work near City Hall and Civic Center area. One such place I stumbled across one day while looking for Saigon Sandwich was Soul Groove. A small spot that's gotten a rep for serving up chicken and waffle sandwiches. Of course, they had me at waffle, and I finally had a week day off to get back there and give them a try.
The front is pretty nondescript and if you are not careful you could walk right by it. Inside is a small space with some scattered tables to eat at. Kind of like a greasy spoon you'd see on the side of the road in the South, and the kind of place I'd stop and eat at.
I perused the menu above the counter a bit and decided I would go with stuff they are known for and a few sides. After placing my order I grabbed a seat and awaited the treats.
First up was Chicken Fried Soul--a bacon-wrapped and buttermilk battered chicken breast served between maple waffles with jalapeño cole slaw and maple barbecue sauce for $8. The description alone was enough to tempt me on this, however, if there was bacon on this, it must have been crumbled really tiny into the batter cause it definitely won't wrapped in it and I definitely couldn't taste any either. As for the chicken it was hot, crispy, juicy and tender--nicely done. I liked the crunch of the slaw with the pepper kick and the waffles were soft and gave a nice sweetness contrast to the slaw. The sauce was just a small smear across the bottom waffle and I couldn't really taste it either. For me, this needed either more sauce or even better yet, a little butter in addition to more sauce. There were some good individual pieces here that I enjoyed, but as a whole, I think if there had been bacon and more sauce, I would give this a complete thumbs up to try. As is, it's okay, plus, if there had been bacon I could justify the price a little more.
Pulled pork sandwich--served between two cornbread waffles with jalapeño slaw and that maple barbecue sauce again for $9. I really was excited by the idea of cornbread waffles and these were good, though again, for me, could have been better with some butter. The pulled pork was tender and juicy and I liked it with the slaw. The sauce again was a bit of a let down. Wasn't much on here and I must, was not the biggest fan of the maple flavor. Still, I did enjoy this sandwich more so than the chicken one. The flavors of cornbread, pork and slaw work well together. I'd say forgo the sauce if they could and ask for a side of butter. The price is right on the edge for me, but there are many components to this and you do get a hefty portion so I'm letting that slide.
Since the place is working that Southern vibe I tried the small servings of mac & cheese ($3.50) and collard greens ($3). The mac was warm, cheesy, creamy and quite tasty. You get a big serving and the cheese is crisp under the broiler on top. I kept thinking I even tasted a hint of either pimento cheese or maybe some tiny red pepper mixed into the cheese. Very yummy and comforting. The collards I'll give props for being made with bacon (they also offer up a vegan version) but these were some of the bitterest greens I've ever had. So bitter, they were a taste turn-off and I couldn't finish them. Maybe some white or apple cider vinegar could have saved them but I was so put off by them I didn't even bother to ask. So mac & cheese a big yes, collard greens a big no.
Soul Groove has some good Southern food things going on. Like any place, dishes can be hit or miss depending on your personal tastes. I would give the place a shot again to have the pork and maybe try some of their other Southern side dishes. I might even change my mind about about the chicken waffle sandwich if I was sure I'd GET THE BACON! And for a casual fast lunch in downtown San Francisco, it's mostly a deal. If you aren't in the mood for a banh mi--it's worth a shot.