From hot links to velvet cake, expect red food on Juneteenth

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Assorted po’ boys are just some of the offerings from Angels and Saints PoBoys. Photo courtesy of Roneka Conley.

Food is at the heart of many celebrations -- and it’s central to the life of chef Roneka “Neek” Conley, who grew up in New Orleans and now runs Angels & Saints PoBoys, a pop-up restaurant that roves around Los Angeles neighborhoods. 

Growing up in the South, Conley says Juneteenth celebrations are about  feeding the soul and sharing space. 

She describes it as an act of affection, connection, and rallying around loved ones. “If we're celebrating and we were experiencing this freedom, and this ability to become greater than what we are, I think the cornerstone of that is fellowship,” she tells KCRW. “Sitting around the table, breaking bread and sharing those moments, and still getting that good nurturing and that feeding of the soul and the body is what Juneteenth is about.” 

Traditionally, red food is served on the holiday and holds historical importance. “Juneteenth is a celebration of the slaves from Africa that were brought over to America being told about their freedom. But those slaves have an origin with the Yoruba tribes and the Congo tribes. And in those tribes, red is a very powerful spiritual color.”

Some chefs, as Conley explains, say red represents the bloodshed of ancestors who died so their successors could be free. 

“Red just has a really, really, really powerful meaning within Juneteenth. And we just try to incorporate it any way we can. So whether it's a strawberry soda, or it's a red velvet cake, or hot links, or barbecue or anything that has that deep, rich redness in it, we try to bring that into the Juneteenth celebrations.”

The pop-up specializes in traditional, New Orleans-style po’ boys, and offers shrimp, catfish, roast beef, fried oyster, and hot sausage options. They also have chicken and seafood gumbo, shrimp etouffee, a bayou classic sandwich (which contains a patty made of jumbo lump crab, crawfish, and shrimp that’s sauteed in white wine), and even vegan options. 

“We just want to make sure that we tap into everyone because we want to feed and just nurture as many people in our community as possible, especially during a time for celebration such as Juneteenth.”