"That sauce bit you in the end, right?" the owner of Papa's Fish & Soul Food in Anaheim cracked from across the dining room, and I had to nod yes. "I could hear you from across the room!"
It was near midday, and I had just eaten his breakfast soulrito, a brick of multiculti beauty. The flour tortilla was cooked to that golden median at which it's pliable with just a bit of crunch; inside was crisped chunks of potato, hot links with the snap of perfectly fried chorizo and silken eggs. But what tied everything together was the Soul Sauce, an in-house condiment the cooks put on only certain dishes. Thick as a 'cue sauce but spicy as a Mexican mami's salsa, the stuff seeps into every corner of the soulrito, enticing you with its sweetness, making you think you need to drown the beast in Red Rooster sauce to get some spiciness . . . and then it smacks you hard—makes you cough, even. Cough! I don't even cough after my third round of habanero salsa.
"I got the idea for my breakfast soulrito after eating a breakfast burrito in Irvine," Papa told my pal and I after my wimpy coughs stopped. "It was terrible! I figured I could do something better." And he does! Papa's Fish & Soul Food has only operated a couple of months from its Anaheim digs, but it's already becoming a mainstay among the city's growing African-American community, attracting blacks, Mexicans and Latinos alike and hosting comedy nights (G-rated, folks) on Thursdays to promote a family atmosphere. The large grill just outside, as foreboding as an oil drum, shows its seriousness at the task of teaching OC what good barbecue is, and the ribs are a Delta dream. Weekends bring gumbo and jambalaya until they're gone; sweet potato pie and sweet tea are made fresh—and finished almost as soon as they're prepared.
Golden hush puppies, massive po' boys, fluffy cornbread, slabs of fried catfish: Papa's is an eater's dream. But what's best about Papa's is its fusion food. The breakfast soulrito is delicious; its regular soulrito, featuring collard greens and pork along with peppery dirty rice and red beans, is the greatest unison of black and brown since the stands at a Lakers game. It also contains the Soul Sauce, along with the Soul Rice, which is essentially an African-American take on a Mos II bowl—the best union of African-American and Asian traditions since The Boondocks.