Twisted Soul, the Decatur restaurant from chef/owner Deborah VanTrece that closed in December 2015, reopened in a new location with a new name in December 2016.
Now called Twisted Soul Cookhouse & Pours, the latest incarnation is at Atlanta’s Apex West Midtown apartment and retail building on Huff Road, in a renovated storefront space once occupied by Bone Lick BBQ.
VanTrece is a longtime Atlanta caterer and former owner of Edible Art Cafe in East Atlanta, who’s appeared on NBC’s “Food Fighters.” But during a conversation at Twisted Soul last week, she noted that she first decided to go to culinary school “as a career safety net.”
“I always loved to cook, and it was a great hobby,” VanTrece said. “But I was a flight attendant, and we went on strike, and I started feeling real vulnerable about somebody else being in control of my livelihood.”
Though VanTrece’s family is from Kansas City, she credits a lifetime of travel with giving her Southern soul food some modern interpretations and global influences.
“The first restaurant was Edible Art, and I think that kind of came about because I thought the food was art in itself, in the preparation and the flavor,” VanTrece said. “But I wanted to focus on traditional soul food and making it look artistic. And that still is the driving force.
“We’re taking some of these basic things and taking them up a notch. I think soul food has a certain connotation, when the only thing you think of is a hole in the wall place or a cafeteria line. That doesn’t necessarily reflect the flavor or the quality of the food. Our little motto is good simple food. And that’s all I want to do.”
After Twisted Soul’s yearlong hiatus, VanTrece made a few tweaks to the menu, including a new take on fried chicken that’s marinated then cooked in cast-iron skillets.
“I wanted to pay homage to old Southern cooks, like the mamas and grandmamas,” she said. “That’s where the cast-iron skillet in the new logo comes in. We got a whole bunch of cast iron to pan-fry the chicken.”
Along those lines, sticky, sweet tea-marinated ribs go directly back to VanTrece’s roots.
“That takes me back home to Kansas City,” VanTrece said. “We’re big on a sweet-spicy sauce. More important for me is smelling it.”
Other dishes that may be more surprising include duck and dumplings, with duck confit and sweet potato dumplings that resemble gnocchi, or coconut chicken wings served over jasmine rice.
“I came up with that a few months ago,” VanTrece said. “The duck is traditional French, but we have the sweet potato and some greens to bring that Southern influence back into it.
“The coconut chicken wings come from a young lady I used to work with who is Filipino. But almost every dish has a story.”
That story also extends to the beverage menu, which features local craft beer, signature cocktails, and an emphasis on moonshine.
“I think of myself as a small guy, and I love small guys, and I’m a big beer drinker, so the craft beers and local breweries were important to me,” VanTrece said. “I want them to get exposure here.
“As far as the moonshine, I wanted craft cocktails that reflected country living and Southern ingredients, wherever possible, and that was it. It’s funny, though. Some people come in and don’t realize that the moonshine we have is legal. So that’s a good story and a good topic of conversation.”
1133 Huff Road, Atlanta. 404-350-5500.
More images from a First Look at Twisted Soul.