J&K Heritage Museum Cafe Serves Up Satisfying Soul Food on the Southside

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Chicken and waffles done right at J&K Heritage Museum Cafe. - HEATHER HOCH
  • Heather Hoch
  • Chicken and waffles done right at J&K Heritage Museum Cafe.

Once you've had soul food, and I mean really good soul food, it always sits in the back of your mind. You think about creamy grits and crispy fried chicken. You try to go to places that offer up Southern specialties, occasionally met with high-priced items that are, well, less than soulful.

If you're looking for your fix here in Tucson, never fear. The new restaurant attached to the Afro-American Heritage Museum on Park Avenue is happy to oblige. Owner James Williams, who was the brains behind Jack's Original BBQ's most recent iteration, chats up tables between orders, making sure customers are happy.

With large, fluffy and lightly sweet waffles for $3.50; your choice of chicken thighs, breasts, wings or drumsticks ($1.75 - $3.50); and any combination of those things thereof, customers do seem to be pleased with the price for quality at J&K Heritage Museum Cafe.

I'm a thigh girl, personally, which, along with a waffle, can and should be slathered in both hot sauce and syrup. The fried chicken itself has a perfectly crispy, crunchy coating that's salty and has been kicked up with a heavy dose of what tastes like Old Bay. Inside, the meat is moist, falling off the bone in the best way. 

The creamy grits hit the spot. - HEATHER HOCH
  • Heather Hoch
  • The creamy grits hit the spot.
Then, there are the grits ($2.50). Williams explains, beaming with pride, that his grits are cooked down for so long and with so much butter that they're as creamy as they should be. Eggs and fruit can also be served on the side. However, I will admit I was pretty disappointed to see that J&K doesn't serve my favorite soul side: mac and cheese. I've been searching for a mac that's cheesier than it is creamy, while still being smooth and comforting, and it's hard to find it anywhere that isn't gussied up. I was hoping it would be at the endearingly modest southside restaurant.

Luckily, Williams assured that he makes both an amazing mac and cheese and that he plans to start serving it (among other dishes) as a special as early as Monday. When you look at the menu, you can see that all Williams had planned for J&K didn't necessarily pan out. The two-page menu is filled with beef brisket, pork ribs, hot links, cole slaw, collard greens, corn bread and more. William explains that a dispute in the family of the space's owner, who was also the proprietor of the now-defunct Mr. K's, made the space legally a BBQ-free zone until August 2016.

Still, Williams is grateful for Charles Kendrick offering the space up to him. Until Williams can start showing off his pitmaster skills next year, he says he seeks to draw Tucsonans in with his delicious chicken and waffles, which he serves up Tuesday through Saturday from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. at the restaurant, located at 1830 S. Park Ave.

"I'm not trying to compete with May's or even Lolo's," Williams says. "I'm just trying to bring good food to Tucson."

And it is good.

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