Historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) across America are known to serve some of the best meals on college campuses. From the campus dining room experience to black-owned restaurants, to pop-up tents with fish frys and crab boils, college students eat well on and off-campus.
Attending a historically black college and university is an exciting experience that one will hold near and dear to their heart. From nice quaint college towns to the big city life, attending an HBCU is a blessing.
Florida is no exception. They have their share of HBCUs. In fact, they have four HBCUs in Florida. I was able to catch up with a few alumni from Florida A&M University aka FAMU to hear about their experience.
Not only do they offer professional degrees, HBCUs help students become confident, well-rounded, give them the opportunity to meet people from around the world, establish great relationships, and excel in their chosen profession. HBCUs also ensure their students have the opportunity to experience a variety of local cuisine while at college.
Alumnae… Back Then…
I was able to track down a longtime friend who attended FAMU years preceding me. I met her around 1980 when she was finishing up, and I was just beginning my college journey.
Charlene Dewindt Barrington, of Hampton, VA, reminisces about her days at FAMU! She spoke of the partying and friends cooking. She was several years older than me, but we met and instantly became close friends. She was actually one of my sister’s best friends, but my sister was a homebody, and I was new to college and couldn’t wait to get a taste of college life. So, I started hanging out with her and her crew, and we often ended up partying and cooking at each other’s place.
“I attended FAMU from 1976 to 1980. I had a meal plan with Gourmet Services and they use to serve BBQ ribs, collard greens, and macaroni and cheese. That food was delicious! The football players use to come in there to eat, and I used to always sit with my homeboy, who was a football player, and the football team. The girls on campus didn’t like me because I knew all the football players,” says Barrington in a recent interview.
“As far as food is concerned, I was introduced to fried mullet fish while attending FAMU. We ate fish with mustard there. We used vinegar on fish at home. I had never heard of people putting mustard on fish until college. Also, I had never heard of anyone eating wet peanuts, or boiled peanuts until I came there. I remember crabs, too,” says Barrington. “Pam used to cook crabs. I loved to eat them, and she taught me how to clean crabs. She got tired of having to clean my crabs, and she taught me how to clean them. I didn’t know anything about cooking chitterlings. You taught me how to clean and cook chitterlings. You taught me how to add hog maws to stretch the chitterlings. I still cook them! I usually cook them for New Year’s Eve. I didn’t know how to cook. My mother was a stay-at-home mother, and she never let me cook, but I knew how to bake, but I could never cook.” says Barrington.
Her boyfriend, Mike, whom she later married, loved to cook, so he used to whip up meals for us on the weekend. It’s funny we cannot remember the meats he cooked. “Mike cooked fried corn and collard greens. He loved to cook brownies, and he use to love to fix Hunch punch. I can’t remember what went in the punch – rum, vodka, everything but the kitchen sink,” she says laughing.
Fast forward to my life on the highest of seven hills in Tallahassee, Florida, and one of the largest historically black universities in the United States. When I proudly attended Florida A&M University from 1980-1985 and graduate school from 1986-1988, we had a couple of black-owned restaurants that we frequented; the much-loved Shingles Chicken Shack and Ferrell’s Catering near Frenchtown. We also had crab boils, fish frys, and barbecues at my townhome, and some of the other student’s apartments on the weekends. Another tradition I remember was cooking fried fish and grits. Growing up, my mom and grandmother fried fish and cooked grits and hushpuppies every Friday and sometimes Saturday morning for breakfast, and I ended up continuing that tradition in college. My grandmother also taught me how to make Gumbo, so I made that also.
I also remember waking up early on Saturday mornings to go to the fish market to purchase a couple of dozen crabs to cook later that day after we recuperated from partying the night before. We would put our money together to get crabs almost every Saturday! Occasionally, I would even find time to go to my mom’s house and cook a big pot of Gumbo for my family and friends.
From time to time, the college would have BBQs on campus for the students. We always had a great time and good food and drinks on campus. The administration and various groups really took good care of the students.
While I was in college and graduate school at FAMU, some of the restaurants and clubs had great happy hours each week. They knew college students were financially challenged, so they offered a buffet with hors d’oeuvres to keep us coming back week-after-week. We got there early so we could catch the happy hour drink specials and free dinner (open buffet) for the evening. One of my professors from the Graphic Art department use to meet us there and buy us drinks… I can’t recall the name of the restaurant, but I remember it being behind the Tallahassee Mall.
Longtime Tallahassee iconic diner, Shingles Chicken Shack was a landmark and was located on the edge of FAMU’s campus. Henry Shingles, a World War II veteran, opened the little house-type restaurant in 1967, and it was uber-popular. It brought joy to many people and it became a popular hangout for people from all walks of life, from college students to blue-collar workers, to state legislators, to Florida Supreme Court Justices. This spot was popular for its fried chicken, pork chops, catfish, and southern sides. It was opened late and students and visitors flooded the small restaurant nestled in the woods. I recently found out that the restaurant closed in 2007 and was demolished in 2014.
Shingles was a place to reunite after football games, birthdays, partying, and I remember it just like it was yesterday. The fried chicken was good, but it always took a long time to receive your food, but it was well worth the wait. While we wiped away the sweat from the sweltering heat from the kitchen area, the jukebox would blast Bobby Womack’s, “If You Think You’re Lonely Now” and “That’s the Way I Feel About Cha'”. The music made us forget about the long wait and the heat. That little house used to get extremely hot in the summer months, but we never stopped going there.
When I was in high school, two of my brothers were in college at FAMU, and I remember my brothers talking about Shingles. “Shingles had the best-fried chicken in all of Tallahassee as far as I can remember,” says Dr. Harold E. Moore, Jr. He attended FAMU from 1972 – 1974 and then transferred to Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, GA.
Years after graduating and returning to homecoming or other football games, we would still go to Shingles, and we would always end up reuniting with old college buddies.
Another popular spot when I was in college was Ferrell’s Catering. It opened in 1980 and was popular for its soul food. It was further away from the campus, so I didn’t go there as much, but Ferrell’s had some great soul food, and they were known for their chitterlings (chitlins) and BBQ ribs.
Food Culture Now…
My niece, Iscella Moore, a first quarter freshmen student at FAMU, is slowly getting a taste of some traditions on the set (campus). “We have “Fried Chicken Wednesday’s” on campus. On the set on Fridays, we have crab boils. They set up tents and have a cookout on campus. I only went to one briefly because I had class during the time of the cookout. A lot of students eat on campus at the dining hall.
We have a Chik-fil-A, Wing Stop, Tropical Smoothie and Starbucks on campus that students frequent too,” says Moore.
The city has its share of Black-owned restaurants and food trucks.
Olean’s, a popular soul food restaurant, located directly across from FAMU’s campus seems to be very popular with the students. The restaurant earned the key to the city of Tallahassee and is a go-to breakfast and dinner spot for students, residents of the city, and FAMU legends.
Some other popular black-owned restaurants in the city that students frequent include HempLade Vegan Cafe, Earley’s Kitchen, Mo Better BBQ, Leola’s Crab Shack, Gurlies Lemonade & Sweets, 509 Caribbean Cuisine, JMO’s Sneauxball Catering Co., Island OMG Seafood, Ma’s Diner, CC’s Kitchen, and more.
Whether it’s the campus dining hall, cooking crabs or BBQ outdoors on the set, or local restaurants, students manage to enjoy and appreciate the local cuisine from their perspective HBCU.