Katie Robinson photo
think I might be in love — with a new restaurant. Mama J's is a romantic bistro in a historic neighborhood that's offering soul-satisfying comfort food at ridiculously low prices. On the checklist of my favorite restaurant attributes, Mama J's has many of them marked. Family-run business. Check. Plenty of ambiance (pressed-tin ceiling, crisp white linens and vibrant earth tones). Check. Friendly, personable staff. Check. And the food … well, delish and cheap!
On a recent visit, two girlfriends and I sampled a pair of entrées and several side dishes. Then we forced ourselves to split a dessert. The barbecued spare ribs were scrumptious, with a sticky-sweet sauce that we all enjoyed and managed to get everywhere. The tender, flavorful pork fell off the bone just like it's supposed to. Served with a choice of dinner roll or a cakelike corn muffin (these were so amazing, I ended up eating three!), it would have been ample food.
However, Southern favorites were beckoning, so we opted for some macaroni-and-cheese and a side of seasonal greens. The dense mac-and-cheese was served as a big, gooey scoop from a casserole dish. I appreciated that the kitchen was not trying to be funky or avant-garde, instead opting to cook a classic just like your grandma used to make. The collards were straightforward and delicious, albeit a little boring. A tad more ground pepper and perhaps some vinegar would have jazzed them up. The crab cakes, though huge, were simply OK. Too much filling and a disconcertingly large, flat shape made them a clear second to the ribs. They would have been more successful on a sandwich, with the distraction of lettuce and tartar sauce to liven the palate.
The double-chocolate cake (shown) was moist, tall enough for the three of us to share, and slathered in enough icing to make me feel slightly naughty. Mama J's quietly opened last fall in Jackson Ward. Though part of me wanted to keep this treasure all to myself, I'm just too excited!
415 First St., 225-7449
Prices: Appetizers $3 to $7. Sandwiches and entrées $5 to $9. Desserts $2 to $3.
Hours: Tuesday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.