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A full plate

Lisa Olivia Fitch | 8/22/2012, 5 p.m.

"A single bracelet does not jingle"--proverb, Congo

Yams, rice, corn, black-eyed peas, peanuts, okra, melon and other crops came to America hundreds of years ago, because slave traders shipped their human cargo complete with their native cuisine, in order to keep them alive.

Later, on plantations where the master ate the bacon, ham and sausage from "high on the hog," slaves were given the fattier parts of the pig. And while the folks in the big house ate turnips, the slaves got the tougher greens.

But something special happens when you slowly simmer ham hock leftovers with turnip greens. Now, that's some tasty soul food, what we've come to know as a labor of love from grandma's kitchen.

To supplant a day in the kitchen duplicating grandma's recipes, particularly as the summer heat rises in the kitchen at home, a number of soul food restaurants offer diners these special, one-of-a-kind of tastes. And although the restaurant business can be an entrepreneurial nightmare, it seems Los Angeles has one of the fastest growing restaurant communities in the country.
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"It is a very tough business," Post & Beam owner Brad Johnson said. "You have to deal with all the issues that face so many small businesses--recruiting, turnover, management, a thin profit margin, expensive real estate. They all add challenges, and L.A. is a highly desirable market."

Johnson is a friend of Ken Lombard, a partner and chief information officer at Capri Capital Partners, which recently refurbished the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza.

"We had formerly done business together, and he approached me with the idea three years ago," Johnson said. "He gave me a tour and told me what the plans were for the future of the mall.

"It didn't take a lot of research to realize that there is a fantastic community surrounding the mall with the choices for sit-down dining few and far between."

Post & Beam actually integrates the look of the post and beam style architecture of the nearby homes in Baldwin Hills, plus it gives visitors a little taste of mom's home kitchen. Chef Govind Armstrong is a native of Inglewood, but was raised in Costa Rica. Owner Johnson is a product of Harlem and Manhattan. Together they have designed a unique menu and restaurant.

There are some southern touches--short ribs, collard greens and ham, black eyed peas--but the cuisine is classified as "California farm-fresh seasonal," and Armstrong sources a lot of ingredients from the garden and Saturday shopping at the Crenshaw Farmers Market.

"It's not a typical setup," Johnson said. "We have an exposed kitchen and a wood burning oven. It's really a food experience."

Johnson explained that Chef Armstrong's California fresh approach brings in the whole idea of farm-to-table. Vegetables, herbs and fruit are grown on the property.

"It's familiar food, but also upscale," Johnson said. "With a little bit healthier approach."
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Verona Burks has been working seven years at Dulan's Soul Food Kitchen and attributes the success of the business to the founder, Adolf Dulan.