The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

EC Eats: C&T’s Soul Food

Bringing Chicago soul food to the Eau Claire area
Photo by Russell Teske

When one thinks of the former Shopko Plaza, the old Shopko that used to be there alongside the connecting strip mall might come to mind. But as time passes, so does business, with it now being nearly five years since all of the Shopko’s closed.

Though the area, particularly the Shopko, brings back childhood memories of when I visited Eau Claire, I never got the chance to visit the strip mall properly.

That would change this past Wednesday evening.  

With Clairemont Avenue under construction, I was forced to take a different route to the plaza through MacArthur Avenue, passing by numerous apartments both old and under construction.

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I then arrived at a small parking lot through an alternate entrance with apartment construction happening all around.  

“Brand new apartments,” I thought to myself.  “All at a price I really can’t afford.”

Upon entering the strip mall I would walk down the hallway, passing an empty Radio Shack with the sign still out and what used to be a Subway. It was more than just Shopko that was affected by these closures. 

At the very end of the hallway after passing an empty Shopko Optical, I finally reached my destination: C&T’s Soul Food, home to Chicago-style soul food cooking.  

Currently, it appears to be a secluded spot from an exterior perspective thanks to the construction, but it won’t be that way a few months from now.

What used to be the China Buffet, upon entering the building one can still see pictures of Chinese buildings throughout the restaurant, which was one of the first things that stood out to me.

After some blasts from the past, I was immediately greeted by Antoine Hill, co-owner of C&T’s Soul Food. The other co-owner, Chekell, was not present at the time.

Beginning in 2019, the Hills would start serving up soul food from their home and would later move on up, working out of the kitchen of The Nucleus on Water Street.  

Eventually, they would move into the Southside Soul space on Mall Drive by 2021, which was known as Chekell’s SoulFood Palace.  

This would change once more in 2022 when they would open their current location at 963 West Clairemont Ave. 

I found a good spot to sit, of which there were plenty of options. I continued to look around to see what the place had to offer.  

Another thing that stood out to me was an area of the restaurant that was still under construction. Antoine said to me that it would be a bar space upon completion. 

Complete with pinball and arcade machines, of which I played a round with the former, the place also included claw and slot machines.

The place has two TVs, one of which was playing an NBA playoff game, the other playing an origin movie to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise.  

I absolutely loved it, dinner and a movie.  

There were only four to five people in the restaurant when I arrived in the early evening hours, but they would be leaving or picking up their takeout within a couple of minutes of my arrival, where I would effectively have the place to myself as a customer. 

This gave me ample opportunities to have an insightful conversation with Antoine about the restaurant, and why Eau Claire was a great opportunity to start a soul food restaurant.

“The one thing that wasn’t here that we have in Chicago is a couple of soul food restaurants,” Hill said. “We definitely missed a little bit of the southern taste, like hushpuppies and fried catfish.”

As I finally got around to looking at the menu, I was salivating over the numerous soul food options available. Catfish filets, chicken wings, Italian beef, Chicago-style hot dogs, macaroni and cheese and fried okra were among the many available options.

One of the most popular menu options is the catfish filet with three chicken wings, which is what I ended up ordering, with a side of macaroni and cheese, and 7-Up. I would conclude my order with sides of buttermilk ranch and sweet chili sauce.

All of the menu items are made in-house from scratch every day. The filet and chicken wings are breaded in cornbread with a lemon pepper spice finish.

Both have the right amount of crispness, with the filet having little flakiness, and the chicken having just the right amount of tenderness. 

While there are many iterations of macaroni and cheese, such as creamy and non-creamy, this iteration is not creamy but cheesy, with the sharp cheddar cheese being melted and mixed in.  

The sauces were also great, with the ranch being extremely rich and creamy in buttermilk and the sweet chili sauce had just the right amount of sweetness followed by a slow buildup of spice. 

As Antoine and I continued our conversation, he offered a sample of his in-house sweet tea, which takes a day to prepare. It was a recipe he received from a southern barbeque host during his time at Rust College, an HBCU in Holly Springs, Mississippi.  

I’ve never had an interest in tea in general, but I was willing to give it a chance. As I drank it, I could taste the tea, but I was absolutely overwhelmed by its sweet, sugary flavor. 

After finishing my meal, I would go to pay my tab, which would be a little over $25. Thankfully, it would be this way thanks to a 10% discount offered to all UW-Eau Claire students with a valid student ID.  

I would give both the catfish filet and chicken wings a 9/10, with them being among the best fish and chicken I have ever eaten. I would give the macaroni and cheese a 9/10 with it also being among the best mac and cheese dishes I have eaten restaurant-wise.  

For the sauces, I would give the ranch an 8/10 with it being very rich in buttermilk, and the sweet chili sauce a 9/10 for the sweet and then hot taste it gives off.

Lastly for the in-house sweet tea, despite my previous reservations, I would give it a perfect 10 out of 10 both for its sweet taste and southern authenticity. 

Overall, I would give C&T’s Soul Food a 4.5/5 star rating, making it in my opinion, one of Eau Claire’s best eateries to give a visit if you enjoy in-house, made-from-scratch cooking. 

Teske can be reached at [email protected].

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