Cheese Whiz

Craving comfort cuisine? Gotta have Soul in the Hole.

Or we can bite into hot links, presented as two enormous, plump franks in a thin chile sauce. These sausages shoot flames, made even hotter when paired with a side of greens studded with infernal red pepper flakes and pulled pork. Only several mouthfuls of mac 'n' cheese or buttery corn bread bring calm, and what are those tears in my eyes? From pleasure or pain, I don't really know.

The potato salad, chunked from white potato with egg and a hint of mayo and vinegar, is peaceful. The coleslaw, just barely sweet and crispy-fresh, is refreshing. And fried okra, fashioned into orbs the size of malted milk balls, is at once juicy and crunchy, dipped in fluffy batter and greaseless. I eat them like popcorn, thinking I've found a perfect, offbeat movie snack for the next time Mom and I celebrate a Sunday. Or maybe I'll bring a cozy dish called "walking tacos," tossing Frito chips with jalapeños, ground beef, diced tomatoes, Cheddar and onion.

Lopez is proud of her catfish. Rightly so; it's served in four generous fillets cloaked in cornmeal, presented moist, mild, beautiful and baked. Tangy tarter sauce is homemade (of course), and I like pairing fresh corn on the cob with my fish, so the butter seeps into the crisp breading. Another side adds kick: kidney beans in a soupy chile broth with hot red pepper, ground beef and onion.

Soul in the Hole owner Tonia Lopez (left) cooks with her mother, Frances Gilbert.
Erik Guzowski
Soul in the Hole owner Tonia Lopez (left) cooks with her mother, Frances Gilbert.

Details

Macaroni and cheese$1.50/$3
Sweet potato pie: $2
Dinners with two sides and corn bread:
Barbecued chicken: $7.50
Pork ribs: $9.50
Beef: $7.50
Hot links: $7.50
Catfish: $9.50

480-963-7787. Hours: Lunch and dinner, Tuesday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

601 North Arizona Avenue, Chandler

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Mom makes a luscious peach cobbler, and so does Lopez, but it sells out much too fast. Sometimes we have to fill in the gaps with other spectacular sweets (such suffering) such as nutmeg-infused sweet potato pie, rich pecan pie, fizzy 7-Up cake, funnel cake, brownies or cheesecake.

The buzz at Soul in the Hole is that of happy diners. The place is loose and warm, and we're not shy to remind Lopez she's forgotten our corn bread (again), neglected to bring the tartar sauce or run out of silverware. I don't mind when she says she misplaced the box of cutlery she just bought, bringing me a spindly plastic fork and a massive cleaver instead, taken straight from the chop line and so heavy it's an effort to lift above the Styrofoam plates.

"Have a blessed day," Lopez calls as I leave. I already have. And I've got another takeout tub of macaroni and cheese tucked under my arm. My night is only going to get better.

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