By Jeff Kronenfeld, August 2020 Issue.
Tempe’s newest hidden gem might be called Hint of Soul, but we found an abundance of both flavor and heart in every bite.
Tucked into an industrial park just south of Tempe Marketplace, Lynn Minor dishes out fresh takes on soul food classics like fried chicken, creamy pastas and, on Saturdays, seafood boils. Despite opening during a pandemic, Minor succeeds by consistently giving the people what they want: authentic comfort food at a reasonable price.
Hint of Soul opened for delivery and takeout on June 2, though Minor has run it as a side catering hustle since November of 2018. She started it originally to find a way to make some extra money while going through a divorce. Minor was a project manager in the healthcare industry and hadn’t gone to culinary school or worked in restaurants before. However, she did love to cook for friends, a feeling they reciprocated. These friends encouraged her to start selling the delectable products of her kitchen, and so she did.
Minor started small, cooking and selling plates on the weekends while still working at an office nine to five during the week. Over time, word of her greasy spoon spread, and she started doing a brisk business catering events. An old friend who happened to be a dancer for the Phoenix Mercury was always singing Minor’s praises on social media. This led Brittney Griner, the Mercury’s star forward, to reach out to Minor about catering the all-star’s anniversary. Minor then started doing personal chef work for Griner, who also connected the new chef with her teammates. Then, business really started picking up.
Eventually, the catering business grew so much that Minor had to decide about whether she should pursue her passion fulltime. A gig providing daily lunches for an office of 90 lucky workers presented itself. Minor was now almost doubling her day job’s salary and seemed to have a steady income streamlined up. She officially left corporate America on January 20.Everything was going according to plan until COVID-19 struck.
As the pandemic spread, gigs for Hint of Soul dried up. Now that it was Minor’s only income stream, she had to figure out a way to keep working. While scrolling through Instagram on her phone late one night, she saw an ad for a local shared cloud kitchen space. This newer business model offers a place for budding culinary entrepreneurs to cook and sell their food through delivery or take out without requiring as much start up capital as a brick and mortar or food truck. Minor sent in an application and by June 2 she was back in business.
That date happened to also be Blackout Tuesday, which saw people across the globe post blacked out images to social media in a show of solidarity with those calling for an end to structural racism and police brutality. A series of national protests precipitated by police killings of black people also led to a growing recognition of the need to support black-owned and other minority-owned businesses. As a black woman in a same-sex relationship, Minor felt the community’s love.
“I see people reaching to support this black-owned business that have never had my food, so I think that because of what is going on outside of us, things are happening in our community that are causing us to restructure our mindset,” Minor said. “What we can we do? We’re tired. We’re frustrated. Here’s the way. Let’s start impacting the dollars that are circulated through the community.”
I visited Hint of Soul twice, once on a weekday and once on a Saturday. I ordered online and received real time status updates through my phone. It was easy to find where to park by following the makeshift signs or the never-ending train of delivery drivers. I called to let them know I was there after parking before then entering the cloud kitchen’s front lobby. As I waited, a few other customers came in who had not got the memo about calling. They eventually got their food, but due to the facility’s layout it would be easy to get confused. However, I had no problem and got my neatly packaged food after barely waiting a minute.
The first day we ordered peach Hennessy wings, Southern fried chicken, the seven cheese baked mac and cheese and the Kickin Kajun Chicken Alfredo, plus an extra piece of the corn bread.
I started with the wings, drawn to the gleaming orange glaze and fruity aroma. They were large and heavily drenched in a sauce that was both sweet like a peach, yet with the right amount of tang to balance it out. The wings almost tasted a little like orange chicken from a Chinese restaurant. I liked them, but on our next visit I ordered the Chicago sweet heat wings, which were by far my favorite.
Minor is a Chicago native, but it was actually her daughter who created the recipe for the dry rub. The wings come coated in crystal armor of almost caramelized brown sugar, which adds a unique texture as you bite into the crispy skin. First, I was hit by the honey-like sweetness, next by the natural flavor of the meat itself, with the heat lingering even as I licked my lips in preparation for the next bite.
The fried chicken was cooked just right, crisp on the outside while the meat itself was tender and cooked enough, but not too much. It was savory, simple yet satisfying and not too greasy. They also offer this dish smothered in gravy, which sounds interesting but was more than I felt capable of gorging down in one gluttonous session. Still though, the Chicago sweet heat wings were far and away my favorite of the chicken styles offered at Hint of Soul.
My dining companion tried the Kickin Kajun Chicken Alfredo and was kind enough to share a few bites. It wasn’t as spicy as I was expecting from the name, which is alright since I’m a big wimp. It might not give a serious pepper-head the burn for which they yearn, but I found the lingering, complex heat played well with the creamy sauce. It had a soft, silky texture and richly coated the tubular noodles. The crispy chicken on top was perfectly cooked, rounding out the filling dish smartly.
We also liked the mac and cheese. You really could taste the different flavors and intestines of the many constituent cheeses. We made quick work of this, as well as the fluffy corn bread, which I recommend ordering extra of.
Come Saturday, I watched the clock crawl until at last it was time to order the crab lovers seafood boil. When we unpacked the oceanic feast at home, it did not disappoint. The meal comes with two large sets of crab legs, a smoky link of sausage, a quarter piece of corn on the cob, potatoes, and shrimp. All of this is bathed in a reddish soup of butter, garlic, and spices. The crab legs were massive, so big that if you saw the creature they were once attached to when it was alive, you would probably run in terror.
One note for those uninitiated into the crustacean mysteries, make sure you have the right tools for the job. These huge legs aren’t easy to break. I recommend a walnut cracker, though my metal lemon squeezer did the trick in a pinch. Even a rock of the right shape will work, but just make sure you’re prepared. If you are, what a treat awaits you.
The tender white meat inside was so soft it seemed to dissolve before I swallowed it. The subtle notes of the boiled spices infused every bite, complimenting well the crab’s unique almost sweet flavor. When dipped in the buttery sauce, it was almost hallucinogenic. The sausage was soft, smokey, and tasted a little like a fancy cured salami. The corn was succulent and so soft I practically drank it off the cobb.
After both these meals, it’s no surprise that Hint of Soul sells out almost everyday even while COVID-19 ravages the state. Still, Minor is touched by the level of community support she has received and hopes to keep serving her unique take on soul food classics as long as it is safe.