Mama's (East Village)
what happened to this place? I remember it used to serve an appealing fusion of East Village hippy food and uptown soul food. I went for a takeout bite, was referred across the street to their generic looking takeout annex, and had decent chicken/veg soup (not much personality) after perusing an incredibly boring and unappealing menu that seemed totally different from what Mama's was like years ago.
Is the original restaurant still as it was, or have both devolved?
I can't speak to history--I've lived in the hood only for about a year and a half. As to the present condition of Mama's and Stepmama's, the across-the-street annex: very different from each other in terms of function, neither astoundingly delicious, both very useful and very good at some things.
First of all, I live a couple of blocks away and always get take-out. I can't really imagine coming from elsewhere specifically to eat at these places (and the one time I ate in at Mama's I wasn't very comfortable), but I'm endlessly grateful that they're near home.
At Mama's I always get either fried chicken or meatloaf. Like you said, it's somewhere between hippie and soul food: I like to think of it as the food made by that imaginary college roommate who threw big, wonderful, messy dinner parties. The chicken is good not great (the appeal comes from spicing rather than anything more intrinsic); the meatloaf is very good not great (fabulous crunchy crust, perfect meat/starchy filler ratio). The sides always seem better than the mains. Mashed potatoes and mac 'n' cheese are always reliable (if never transcendant). There is usually at least one vegetable that stands out, and at least one that is tragically undercooked and underseasoned. I recenty had some awesome roasted--almost charred--brussel sprouts, and have had prior success with carrots and snow peas.
Stepmama's across the street is a sandwich place. Think of your local deli. Now imagine said deli is real, real good, without being fancied up. That's Stepmama's. The meatloaf from Mama's is even better as a sandwich, particulary with jalapeno mayo and roasted red peppers. The ham is real ham; the roast beef is real roast beef. The chicken salad, in my opinion, is best-of-type, unmatched anywhere. The fries are soggy but tasty. I've never had soup, never had a salad, never had dessert. It's a deli. Everybody should be so lucky to have a deli like this near them.
So...if you're driving in from somewhere else, you're probably gonna be disappointed. But if you get a meatloaf sandwich, then walk up to Joe's Bar on 5th St., order a Pilsner Urquell, play Lefty Frizzel on the jukebox, unwrap your sandwich and eat it at the bar, you will almost definitely be very, very happy.
re: Steven Stern
Mama's was never "astoundingly delicious". More "useful", as you said. And I suspect, from your message, that it's still pretty much the same. Thanks for clarifying.
I agree Stepmama's is a cut or two above, but I was hoping for Mama's hippy/soul food menu. So now the question is this: next time, can I get takeout at Mama's? Or do they shuttle all that across the street?
re: Jim Leff
I always get take-out from Mama's--not sure why they sent you across the street. Did you ask for soup? Maybe they only have that at Stepmama's. Aside from the meatloaf, I don't think there's any menu overlap between the two places: one's meat & sides, one's sandwiches. There briefly was a third place a couple of doors down that did coffee, but it disappeared before I had a chance to try it.
re: Jim Leff
In the coincidence dept., the friend I was out with last night wanted to make a Mama's pit stop for some macaroni and cheese to take to the bar. He didn't have any problem getting takeout, so I'm assuming that you should be able to the next time you go. The mac and cheese was great, and when my friend remarked that the fried chicken looked good, the counter fellow said, "It is!" and gave us two huge pieces on the house (it was). I hadn't been for a while, and this was a good reminder to stop in more often