FROM THESE ROOTS

Corinne’s Place is serving authentic
soul food in the city of Camden while
reaching and inspiring local youth

PHOTOGRAPHS BY REBECCA MCALPIN

 fromRoots

“The menu really hasn’t changed.
Our customers are spoiled. If you
see our plates, you know why. I’m all
about sticking to tradition, and even
though it’s easier to get canned yams
and canned vegetables, I wouldn’t
do that to my people. They’re used
to fresh food, so I’m going to keep
doing what I’ve been doing.”

Anyone who’s eaten great soul food knows that it’s more than fried chicken and stewed greens. It’s a culinary tradition built over years of shared meals and memories. In Camden, that tradition comes from the dining room of Corinne’s Place, an almost-30-year-old soul-food kitchen created from scratch by Camden’s own Corinne Bradley-Powers.

Born and raised in the city, Powers got her start right at home, using her Rutgers University degree in sociology at the Camden County Hall of Justice. She worked with juveniles and troubled youth in probation services. But when the day ended, Powers would go home to feed her passion for food.

The original Corinne’s Place didn’t come from a dream of opening a restaurant, but rather of using that hobby to build her future. Powers bought a home and decided to open up the downstairs area to the public as a place she could sell food to pay for the space. She used the soul-food recipes she was taught by her mother, Fanny, to draw a crowd, and her experience working with children to build the space from the ground up—quite literally.

“I bought the property in ’87,” she says. “It was city property, and there was nothing in it at all. No water, no electric, no gas, nothing. As time went on, the kids I was working with at the Hall of Justice would help me. Maybe they’d bring cinder blocks in or help me install the toilet.”

The first building came together, and eventually Powers—with the help of her husband, a contractor—expanded into a second building, then a third, allowing her to open up a larger kitchen and launch a full-time catering service alongside the restaurant. Even after 27 years, things have not slowed down for Powers. As the restaurant’s catering services become more and more popular thanks to social media, Powers’s respect for tradition has never wavered.

“The menu really hasn’t changed. Our customers are spoiled. If you see our plates, you know why. I’m all about sticking to tradition, and even though it’s easier to get canned yams and canned vegetables, I wouldn’t do that to my people. They’re used to fresh food, so I’m going to keep doing what I’ve been doing.”

That includes the clear crowd favorite, Corinne’s fried chicken. It has drawn attention from far and wide, including Philadelphia Eagles football players and actors like Reginald Ballard and Danny Glover. Glover has been to the restaurant three times, according to the proud Powers. And her recipe has never changed.

“People ask us all the time: ‘What do you do with your chicken?’ We don’t do all that dipping. All you do is add seasoning salt, black pepper and flour. That’s it. And we fry it. You don’t have to do all that dipping and all that for people to love the chicken.”

The fried chicken draws crowds from Atlantic City, Delaware, Philadelphia and more, but locals always keep coming back. “Honestly, it’s tough to pick a favorite dish because I love it all,” says Camden mayor Dana Redd. “Corinne’s Place has some of the best fried chicken you will find anywhere, not to mention delicious smothered pork chops and great sides like her baked mac and cheese. It’s just a perfect combination of seasoning, fresh ingredients and a lot of soul.”

fromRoots2
Corrine Bradley-Powers

“Her food helps those families who
don’t know how to feed their kids.
A lot of the staples of traditional Sunday
soul food use fresh, healthy ingredients
like greens and chicken. It’s not
processed, canned, frozen food.”

The smothered pork chops—served in a brown gravy with your choice of sides—are another favorite, featuring two massive pork chops cooked until they’re falling off the bone and perfectly tender.

“I was always a fan of her smothered pork chops, which is something I make now as well,” says chef Aaron McCargo Jr., another Camden native who cut his teeth in the city and now can be seen on the Food Network and elsewhere on TV. “I’m also a traditional rice and gravy guy, and I like the fresh collard greens and cabbage she makes.”

More than food, Corinne’s Place has become an institution because of Powers’s relationship with the city and its youth.

“My passion is food, but also children,” she says. “A lot of the kids I hire are dysfunctional, and I also hire kids that are functional so that when other kids come in and see them working they can learn. A lot of—in fact, most of—the kids that started working here at 14 years old have finished high school. A lot of them have gone to college. I have some doctors, lawyers, teachers, social workers. There’s a lot of things that we do other than teach them to cook.”

“A job is valuable and such a positive opportunity for the youth of the city,” says Mayor Redd. “For over 22 years Corinne Powers has mentored young people and helped prepare them for future employment, teach them what it takes to run a business and even develop leadership skills.”

“Sometimes I’ll see a kid going back and forth in the street and I’ll take him off the street and bring him in here,” says Powers. “This is the first time kids will have money of their own, and they learn how to dress, how to work with people. It’s not just a job, it’s a lesson in things they need to know that their parents might not be telling them.”

Those lessons extend well beyond the kitchen. “I’d like to thank Corinne: She’s not just a staple in the community,” says McCargo. “Her food helps those families who don’t know how to feed their kids. A lot of the staples of traditional Sunday soul food use fresh, healthy ingredients like greens and chicken. It’s not processed, canned, frozen food. So kids get a taste of tradition, and in the process they learn how to eat healthier. We don’t emphasize enough how this restaurant being in Camden helps the families and the tradition of soul food.”

Powers says that “proud” doesn’t describe how it feels to watch her kids leave the kitchen and move onto careers, families and brighter futures. She also hopes to launch Cooking with Corinne classes eventually, to teach other families how to serve soul food in their kitchens.

“I originally wanted to open a school up in Camden called From These Roots,” says Powers. “A lot of people are educated—doctors, lawyers, they started somewhere, meaning they start from these roots. Everyone starts from these roots. Now I’m doing that from here, I’m doing that every day. It’s a different kind of classroom.”

So what would the queen of Camden soul food consider soul?

“It’s just good food. It’s comfort food. In here, you sit, you eat, you share. If not, you lose the family and the closeness. And family is all. That’s all. People leave like that, so it’s important to embrace these moments. And what better way to do that than with a meal?”

Corinne’s Place
1254 Haddon Ave., Camden
856.541.4894

fromRoots3
left to right: Kiandre Davis, Jackie Bradley holding her son Jamar Bradley,
Dana Bradley, Laniyah Lawrence, Corrine Bradley-Powers, Jasmine Bradley,
Monica Davis, Jaylen Leftwich, Karon Davis and Kelvin Davis

Comments are closed.

Facebook

Twitter