Edward W Batchelder

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Mama’s Food Shop
200 East 3rd Street (between Ave A + B), New York City

photo of Mama's

Even more than homelessness, Lower Manhattan has a serious problem with momlessness. A significant portion of the population wanders about in deep need of the sort of good, solid, home-cooked food that their mothers used to make.
As if in direct response, Michael Rosenfeld (nicknamed “Mama” for his love of cooking) opened Mama’s Food Shop several years ago. Since then, he’s expanded it into a sit-down restaurant, and added Step-Mama across the street (which offers soups, sandwiches, and lighter fare) and Mama’s Milk next door (with espresso, juices, and milkshakes).

The atmosphere can only be described as homey bohemian—as if you mom were a cross between Martha Stewart and Martha Graham. The most striking feature is the honor role of maternal portraits that cover the walls: There are paintings of mothers, sketches of mothers, formal photographs of mothers and casual snapshots, too. There are dressy mothers in evening gowns and tawdry blond bombshell mothers in bustiers. There’s a seductive Mexican mother on velvet and quite a few 1950s mothers holding cigarettes and martinis. There’s even a cartoon S&M mother.

In all, there are over sixty maternal icons, which means that no matter how crowded it gets, there are always at least two mothers for each customer. This might be scary at home, but at Mama’s, somehow, it’s reassuring.

Nothing, however, could be more reassuring than the food itself. Mama’s offers what has to be the most reasonable prix-fixe menu in the city. For six dollars you get a hearty main course and an even-heartier helping of a side dish; for an extra dollar, they’ll ladle out a second side.

While Mama’s prides itself on its fried chicken—breaded, sprinkled with paprika, and without the slightest trace of greasiness, it is indeed great—I have to insist on a different favorite: Mama’s serves the best meatloaf this side of the Rockies. Long considered a mongrel dish, one in which everything you haven’t finished all week makes an uncanny second appearance, meatloaf in Mama’s hands becomes a delicacy.

Assembled from hamburger, egg, bread crumbs, and spices, then glazed with ketchup before baking, the meatloaf is extremely moist and flavorful, with a sweet and satisfying taste. The thick slice is at its best when served over a massive bed of mashed potatoes, piping hot and whippped to a fine buttery consistency.

For a second side dish, you might try either the green beans—lightly steamed and crispy, tossed with vegetable oil, roasted onion, and ground pepper—or the wonderful corn salad. This is a warm-weather treat: kernels hand cut from the cob are mixed in with small chunks of tomato and lots of cilantro.

Other side dishes include melt-in-your-mouth yams, tiny grilled and quartered Brussels sprouts, and the succulent steamed eggplant with tomato and mozzarella topping.

The artichoke was one of the few disappointments. It’s served with a dollop of mayonnaise, but because it’s cut in half, it’s difficult to figure out how to enjoy eating it.

Dessert, however, will not disappoint. The trademark chocolate-banana bread pudding is every child’s dream. It’s chewy, very bready, and rich, offering the strongest chocolate and the strongest banana taste you’ve ever encountered simultaneously. The apple cobbler features crunchy crumbs sprinkled over tender apples, cooked down to almost a paste that perfectly sets off the texture of the crumb topping.

In short, Mama’s is the place for a generous helping of home, whether as take-out, free local delivery, or a comforting bite before venturing out to, say, La Mama’s on East Fourth Street for a challenging bit of experimental theater.

I might almost say it’s the perfect place to take your mother on Mother’s Day, but then, maybe you’d better not. She might get jealous.

© Edward W Batchelder
(from The Resident)

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