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Black-owned restaurants bring big flavors and culinary diversity to our area – Press of Atlantic City

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Black History Month serves as a wonderful reminder of all of the many contributions that have been made in this country by people of color. On a local level, the fruits of black culture that are present in so many towns and cities in South Jersey stand as one of the great points of pride for our entire region.
And when it comes to the restaurant scene, black owners and chefs have been pumping out some of the tastiest dishes around for as long as anyone can remember. Everything from classic soul food to BBQ, to ethnic cuisines have made their mark here, and in honor of Black History Month, we have put together a group of some of our favorite black-owned dining locales, while also shining a spotlight on the people who make those establishments so outstanding.
Black Owned Businesses Kelsey Jackson and wife Kim Jackson owners of Kelsey’s dining establishments in Atlantic City Friday Feb 18, 2022. Edward Lea Staff Photographer / Press of Atlantic City
Kelsey Jackson has been cooking in the kitchen since he was a boy. Traveling up through the ranks in the casinos, he began as a dishwasher and eventually worked his way into becoming a chef, later fine tuning his abilities in the culinary program at Atlantic Cape Community College. He and his wife Kim went on to open what is easily the flagship soul food restaurant in Atlantic City — Kelsey’s.
Kelsey’s offers a menu full of much-loved, Southern-style comfort food with a full bar presented in an upscale environment. Live music is featured Fridays through Sundays each week, and the lineup of jazz artists is second to none.
“I think we fill a niche that’s not offered much in the city. You have a lot of other styles of restaurants, but when it comes to soul food and Southern-style cooking, it’s limited in Atlantic City. I think the fact that we offer a quality product and feature the type of Club Harlem-style of entertainment that Atlantic City was once known for is really attractive to people,” Kim Jackson says.
If you are looking to drool while you read this, some of the highlights of the menu at Kelsey’s include shrimp etouffee, chicken gumbo, cornbread and, of course, their famous Southern fried chicken.
“We were voted Best Fried Chicken in the state of New Jersey by Southern Living magazine,” Kelsey Jackson says. “But you can’t go wrong with anything on our menu. There is something for everyone. It all just depends on what you are in the mood for,”
You might think a married couple running a restaurant together would be a recipe for divorce, but the Jacksons seem to have it all figured out.
“Early on it was difficult, but we have been doing it together for so long now that I can’t see us doing it any other way. We are getting ready to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary in June, and it’s definitely become easier over the years,” Kim says.
Kelsey’s recently announced they will move across the street into a new, $8 million construction project that will raise the bar once again. The project is expected to begin soon.
Kelsey’s is located at 1545 Pacific Ave. in Atlantic City. Go to KelseysAC.com.
The Jacksons’ other more casual restaurant is Kelsey & Kim’s Southern Café, which sits on Melrose Avenue near Gardner’s Basin in Atlantic City and serves breakfast lunch and dinner. Kelsey and Kim’s offers up a variety of tasty, stick-to-your-ribs classics such as pork chops, fried catfish and BBQ ribs flanked by a long list of mouthwatering sides like macaroni and cheese, candied yams and collard greens, among others. It may not be designed for those watching their waistline, but it sure is good.
Kelsey & Kim’s Southern Cafe is located at 201 Melrose Ave in Atlantic City. Go to KelseyAndKims.com
Joseph Osias brings the exotic flavors of his native country, Haiti, to Pleasantville at Prestige Restaurant.
If you never tried Haitian food, you are really missing out. Bursting with flavor, this heavily-seasoned island cuisine provides the perfect opportunity for anyone looking to take a journey outside their culinary comfort zone, and one of the best local spots for it is Prestige Restaurant in Pleasantville. Owned and operated by Joseph Osias – who also owns Classic Barber Shop right around the corner – Prestige opened its doors in 2015, and the spot has become a staple of the community since then, building its reputation for serving delicious and authentic Haitian food.
Osias is a native of Haiti, and though he has lived in the U.S. for more than a quarter century, his pride in his homeland comes through in his cooking.
The menu is an interesting combination of the familiar and the exotic. Dishes such as fried goat and oxtail will tempt those with a daring palate, while more common items like the red snapper or fried chicken – which is served with a traditional, tomato-based sauce with onions, peppers and Haitian spices – will work well as entry points for those unfamiliar with this style of cooking.
Prestige is a small space, with only five tables inside, but according to Osias, the popularity of their takeout business might just be what has kept them here through the pandemic.
“When COVID came, I had to shut down my barber shop, but the restaurant was still open for takeout only. That made it so we could still pay the bills. And we are still here today, and the community loves us and we love them back,” Osias says.
Prestige Restaurant is located at 4 W. Pleasant Ave. Pleasantville. For more info, call 609-407-1766.
Chef Craig Johnson of Leavander’s 22 takes inspiration for his Southern cooking from his Grandma Ida, whose recipes and influence can be found all over the menu.
Leavander’s 22 Southern CuisineWith all of the flashy glitz of the surrounding casinos, the Claridge Hotel sometimes flies under the radar, but it offers some fantastic options when it comes to dining. Case in point – Leavander’s 22. This Southern-style restaurant is named for Leavander Johnson, a former lightweight champion boxer from Atlantic City who tragically died in 2005 following injuries sustained in the ring.
His brother Craig Johnson is the chef at Leavander’s and has put together an incredible menu of classic Southern comfort food that is out of this world. Johnson has been working as a chef for more than three decades, and his culinary skills are obvious in every dish he creates.
The inspiration for Johnson’s recipes at Leavander’s 22 come from his late Grandma Ida, who he spent much time with in the kitchen as a boy, helping her craft some of her best dishes, such as fried chicken, mac and cheese and collard greens.
Dinner at Leavander’s is always enjoyable, with standouts like fried green tomatoes, seafood pot pie and a killer shrimp po boy dotting the menu, but our favorite time to dine here is during their brunch, which is served from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays and is simply outstanding.
A scrumptious journey through all areas of Southern cuisine from low country to Cajun and Creole, Leavander’s brunch offers such cravable dishes as hand-breaded Carolina catfish, Cajun shrimp and grits, chicken & waffles, Creole dirty rice and Grandma Ida’s chicken. And save room for dessert, as a classic bread pudding with raisins and a vanilla sauce awaits.
Leavander’s 22 Southern Cuisine is located at The Claridge Hotel at 123 S. Indiana Ave in Atlantic City. Go to Leavanders22.com.
Lenox Café has been an Atlantic City staple since opening its doors in 1929. But when Daniel Caldwell took over, he breathed new life into this breakfast and lunch spot. Caldwell grew up in Mays Landing, and unlike a lot of folks on this list, his background before purchasing Lenox Café was not as a chef.
“I was a regional director for Rent-A-Center for 15 years,” Caldwell says. “Every time I came to Atlantic City I used to eat at Lenox Café, and I really liked it. So one day my lawyer told me the Café was for sale. I bought it, and I’ve been here for 20 years.”
You don’t stay in business for 20 years without some fabulous items on the menu, and Lenox Café has that covered with hearty breakfast dishes like their stuffed crepes, corn beef hash or the Mexican omelet — made with ham, hot peppers, tomatoes, green peppers, onions, and picante sauce.
But by far the most popular breakfast item is the mangu – a Dominican specialty that has become the signature dish at Lenox.
“My wife is from the Dominican Republic, and mangu is really popular there. It’s mashed plantains with salami, fried cheese, sautéed onions and eggs. People come from all over the place just for our mangu,” Caldwell says.
Lenox Café is located at 2730 Atlantic Ave, Atlantic City. Go to LenoxCafe.com.
New Jersey may not be the first place you think of when you talk about great BBQ destinations, but one spot that has consistently put out a fantastic product that can stand up to anything coming out of Kansas City or the Carolinas is Henri’s Hotts Barbecue in Folsom.
What began as a simple food truck in 2006 eventually blossomed into a full-scale, brick-and-mortar restaurant, serving a lineup of BBQ all-stars like pulled pork, beef brisket, slow-smoked chicken and St. Louis-style ribs with all of the classic sides, as well as a superb Southern fried chicken and a full lineup of burgers and sandwiches. Whatever you do, don’t skip the incredible brisket cheesesteak – a heavenly combo of burnt ends, sautéed onions and American cheese, all served on a brioche roll.
Sadly, Doug Henri -the main man behind this family run business – passed away in December 2021. But Doug’s wife Ruthie has vowed to continue the culinary traditions of Henri’s Hotts, putting out some of the most amazing BBQ in our area. And when you consider the fact that she has quietly been running things in the kitchen for the last several years, we have no reason to doubt her.
“The food that you are going to be ordering and eating is going to be the same quality, if not better,” Ruthie Henri reassured customers in a recent Facebook video.
Henri’s Hotts just reopened in mid-February after taking a much-deserved winter break. And though the absence of Doug Henri will surely be felt, his legacy will live on through each plate of food that is served to the legions of hungry customers lining up each day.
Henri’s Hotts Barbecue is located at 1003 Black Horse Pike in Folsom. Go to BestBBQSJ.com.
If you have stopped in at the Hamilton Mall within the last year or so you may have noticed a new tenant: Freedom Fries. This starchy space is the brainchild of Dallas Engram, a Pleasantville native with a love for spuds.
Since opening, Engram’s idea has launched quite a buzz from locals who can’t seem to stop raving about his creations … or even some of their own, as Freedom Fries offers guests the chance to fully customize their fries by choosing from a list of options that include six different styles of french fry, along with a variety of proteins, veggies, seasonings, cheeses and sauces.
What goes in your grand masterpiece is up to you, but for those who can’t be bothered, they also offer some pre-tested combos that are guaranteed home runs, such as the Cheeseburger — a mix of ground beef, onions, diced tomatoes, ketchup, mayo and cheddar cheese fondue; or The Reva — which is their top seller and was named after Engram’s late mother. It features shrimp, crab, Old Bay seasoning and either cocktail or alfredo sauce.
And in case you thought french fries could only be a savory dish, Engram puts that limitation to rest with several sweet options, including boardwalk funnel cake fries which come topped with either apple or cherry pie filling; and the utterly marvelous Mt. Sugar Rushmore, which starts with a pile of sweet potato fries adds bacon and brown sugar before showering the whole thing in a glorious drizzle of maple syrup.
Freedom Fries is located at the Hamilton Mall, 4403 E. Black Horse Pike Mays Landing
Associate Editor, At The Shore/ACWeekly
Freelance reporter for At The Shore/Atlantic City Insiders from 2011-2015; Editor in Chief, MainStreetMarlboro.com,2014-2015; Writer for Zagat, 2013
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Read through the obituaries published today in Press of Atlantic City.
Read through the obituaries published today in Press of Atlantic City.
Read through the obituaries published today in Press of Atlantic City.
Read through the obituaries published today in Press of Atlantic City.
Read through the obituaries published today in Press of Atlantic City.
Read through the obituaries published today in Press of Atlantic City.
The $2.7 billion Renaissance at Bader Field, built by DEEM Enterprises, would include hundreds of condominiums, a high-rise hotel/event space,…
The $2.7 billion Renaissance at Bader Field, built by DEEM Enterprises, would include hundreds of condominiums, a high-rise hotel/event space,…
Read through the obituaries published today in Press of Atlantic City.
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