Mama Mary’s Soul Food, New Haven, CT

I don’t know what you’re doing to celebrate the return of Our Lord Jesus Christ in his much-hyped 2011 Rapture tour, but Swagger and I went into New Haven to toast one of our last three meals on earth with some soul food at Mama Mary’s.
Mama Mary’s Soul Food, predecesed by Sandra’s, is a surprisingly upscale establishment on Whalley Avenue, a restaurant in muted earth tones and metals with quirky, blasphemous touches one notices mid-bite. Some are funky, like sitting in refurbished pews and taking menus out of the hymn book racks, and some a little strange, like the haphazard mismatched living room set tables to the right, where plush armchairs crowd each other around small bar tables, flanked by booth seats three feet away from the tables they are supposed to occupy. Michael Jackson, gospel, and soft R&B plays softly above as the fans whir and a steady stream of people filter in and out.

The service, though painstakingly slow, is worth the shift from a hectic schedule to soul food time. Upon ordering, we were promptly served our respective drinks, a delicious homemade sweet tea and lemonade, and two thick slices of the most tender, fresh cornbread I have ever been privy to consume, the top half inch of it soaked in butter. When the Rapture comes, it would do you wise to wander around Mama Mary’s. Remember, when the looting begins, the cornbread can be yours. This is a side dish that I would gladly come back for. Not only is it free, but it is laced with just a slight sweetness and a soft, moist crumble that falls apart at the slightest fork prod.With this as a small tease in mind, I expected nothing short of mind-blowing entrees and sides. We took a sweeping approach to their menu, taking advantage of the easily customizable dishes to order the maximum number of different items we could possibly sample. Swagger dove right into the scarier parts, ordering chitterlings with collard greens and candied yams and I opted for a more prosaic, yet blatantly Southern dish, fried catfish with macaroni and cheese and fried okra.The small plate, roughly the size of a small watermelon, was heaped with orbs of fried okra and a large pile of pasta. The star of the plate, the catfish, occupied a scant quarter of the plate, but was piled high. After sampling pieces of each dish, it was apparent that this was a restaurant where one would go for the chicken (or fish) but stay for the sides. The catfish wasn’t particularly outstanding on its own, but with a few squirts of the well-loved Kurtz hot sauce, present at all tables, it was transformed into a vinegar-heavy, spicy fish with a delicate crunch and buttery, flaky texture.

Both sets of sides were even more sumptuous, the fried okra my new alternative for popcorn chicken. That was a flavorful snack, with a light batter that belied its weighty center, with a slight heat and a heavy crunch. This was the first time I’d ever eaten okra, and it was an absolutely perfect example. The vegetable inside was firm and fresh and needed no seasoning to eat, simply providing an earthy, salty flavor on its own. It stayed crispy for a few hours and made an excellent afternoon snack. The macaroni and cheese was regrettably unimpressive, with a cheese-heavy yet flavorless texture and a presence that seemed only to serve the purpose of filling rather than sating the palate. Wholly ignored by all.Swagger says, “I, on the other hand decided to go for a more exotic and possibly more authentic dish at Mama Mary’s. From the moment when I was essentially challenged by the menu by it saying “for a true Southerner”, I felt that it was my duty as a former Southerner to get the chitterlings or as I was taught to pronounce “chit’lins”. For the people who don’t know, chit’lins are pig intestine. The chit’lins at Mama Mary’s was absolutely delicious. They had the smarmy distinctive stink of what a good chit’lin should have. (Note from Foodette: They carry the pungent odor of boiled human skin.) It had a soft melt in your mouth texture with a little bit of chewiness. They were cooked in a spicy sauce with just the right amount of heat and flavor as to not overtake the natural taste of the chit’lins.

The sides I opted to get were the candied yams and collard greens. The collard greens were nothing too special but the candied yams were a whole different story. When biting into a piece of heaven that was the candied yam, I may have literally saw Jesus’s eyes. This type of sensation has only happened on one other occasion. The yams were cooked to a soft melt in your mouth softness in light cinnamon flavored syrup. I could probably eat these yams all day and every day. Candied is an understatement here. These were more like dessert yams, with a caramelized sauce and a fork-tender yield. They brought the ignoble tater to a beautiful place, where the starches were melted down to a pudding-like consistency, married to the very sugar molecules themselves. Just for the candied yams I would go back again. The candied yams and cornbread at Mama Mary’s are possibly the best things ever. (Note from Foodette: Swagger let me eat his last yam and now I must name my first born after him.)

If the world ends, we’ll probably be around until October 21st. After all, this blog is a sure sign of hell on earth and none of us are going up with Jesus, unless it’s to slip him some whipped cream vodka for whatever heaven-tastic party he’s planning up there. See you on the other side of the Rapture, folks. It’s been a good run.

Special Happy Lucky Bonus Mi Tierra Salsa Verde Master Race Gloat

This post is mainly for the three people I’ve told on multiple occasions while driving past Mi Tierra on Route 9, “Someday I’m going to go in there with a squeeze bottle and ask them to put their salsa verde in it.” And I haven’t, and it’s 100% because I was embarrassed to do it while in the company of someone who respected me, or at one point, respected me prior to reading this tell-all article.
AND NOW I HAVE.

Hell yes. Opportunity struck and I was left with a car and a chunk of free time between Amherst and Northampton. I originally just planned to stop at the Walmarts and get a new brand of poop-inspired frosting, but then, brilliance struck and I took the plunge.

They were confused but amused by my gringa request and filled my bottle for a mere $2. I tipped 150% because I WAS SO FUCKING EXCITED. It was better than peeing on their carpet.
I’ve waxed upon this before, but I swear upon Hilary Swank’s muscular, tanned body in Million Dollar Baby that this is the best salsa I have ever consumed. If you know of a better one, don’t tell me because I honestly don’t give a fuck. This is the best salsa. My next step is the recipe. I have no idea what’s in it because if I give an inkling of thought to the notion of a recipe, I will spend upwards of $100 and useless kitchen supplies attempting to and failing to recreate it.

It’s the best.
I ate it for dinner tonight with homemade tortilla chips and it recreated the joy filled, orgasmic experience of eating at Mi Tierra coupled with the eventual downfall and sadness of realizing I was eating the chips for dinner and was not going to enjoy a hot entree within the next ten minutes. So then I squirted more salsa into my mouth and I was happy.
The eventual left side upwards trend of salsa is from my fingers. When I finish this bottle, I will be back for more. That shot glass wasn’t just for show. I downed that sucker when I ran out of chips. Yes, I signed away my dignity and clean shirts a long time ago. Feels so fucking good.

IHOP At Home Strawberry and Cream Cheese French Toast Stuffed Pastries, Griddle ‘n’ Sausage Wraps, and Sausage and Cheese Omelet Crisper

I can’t say that IHOP and I are very well acquainted. It might be because all the IHOP locations near me are in crappy areas of town, or out of state, or shadowed by better restaurants. The only one within a 20 mile radius of me is next to Connecticut’s first and only Sonic, and when push comes to shove, I’m happier eating burgers in my car than I am eating pancakes next to high school stoners. Oh wait, the stoners flock to Denny’s. Disregard that.
Because of my IHOP jeunesse, I look at my experience with the new IHOP At Home line as an anthropological study, as I have never viewed the majestic Cinn-A-Stick Pancakes in their natural, greasy habitat, nor had I watched the brilliant mating rituals of the compote and whipped topping upon a pancake horizon to create the Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘n’ Fruity. But I knew what to look for. One winter, long ago, Dillinger and I journeyed to an IHOP and feasted upon its bounties.
Needless to say, if eating at IHOP can be considered a journey into Bruce Chatwin-esque territories, eating IHOP At Home is like going to a pet store and playing with abandoned, slightly defective puppy mill dogs. The IHOP At Home line, which I’ll abbreviate as IHOPAH, consists of three varieties of frozen breakfast-inspired items, all of them coated or fried before cooking. I took a little trip to my local Walmart Supercenter and checked them out. All of the products were cooked in what seemed like the hellfires of New Jerse- er, hell itself, in a 450 degree oven. Before cooking, they resembled edible, bulbous building blocks.
Starting with the Strawberry Cream Cheese French Toast Stuffed Pastries. The SCCFTSP look pretty when you open the package and when they’re cooking, are fragrant, like fresh beignets. They consist of a slightly sweet, crispy dough that, when bitten into, yields a sauce that looks like the end result of a Strawberry Shortcake gang-related stab wound.
The sauce, which appears to be the bulk of the pastry in the photo, only occupies a scant third of the midsection. It congeals after cooling and has a mild, sweet taste when isolated from the pastry- very creamy and fruity, but when eaten together, is really buried in the fried dough flavors.The next generation in the noble line of the IHOPAH dynasty is the Griddle ‘n’ Sausage, the McGriddle-inspired maple, sausage, and pancake combination in yet another form thrown together in more ways than Taco Bell products. Well, don’t get your hopes up, breakfast-craving late-night McDonald’s goers. It’s just another classic textbook example of “frequently imitated, never duplicated.” The Griddle ‘n’ Sausage smelled like syrup when I opened the package, smelled like syrup when it was cooking, smelled like syrup when I lifted it to my mouth to take a bite, and tasted like grease and meat. What gives? I felt as though this phallic phinger phood was trying to woo me by wearing syrup-scented perfume, much as I tried to woo Keepitcoming by dousing myself in a caustic dose of BK Flame, both equaling in massive failure. Though these were juicy and salty, they gave me a headache and just tasted like fried sausages rather than pancake-wrapped ones.The last of this divine trio was the one I was most curious to try, the Sausage and Cheese Omelet Crisper. Billed as the love child between a McDonald’s hash brown and a microwaved omelet, it actually tasted pretty close to its roots. The result is a somewhat bloated rectangle of egg and potato, which took the longest to cook with twenty minutes in the oven, and smelled burnt and greasy when it came out. After letting it sit for a few minutes, I found that it had crisped up and yielded a fluffy, soft interior. Okay, it was more like mushy. The exterior was the crispiest and least greasy of all three, probably because it was the only one that lacked a dough or batter around it.
With the Omelet Crisper, the crust comes from a potato-based coating which crisps up like the outside of a hash brown in the oven. The mouthfeel wasn’t quite exactly like a hash brown. It was definitely more dense and floury. It’s essentially a giant stuffed tater tot, which makes it delicious. Though I think that the flavor could use more sausage chunks and spices, the overall texture and sensation was definitely that of a crispy omelet. The cheese was gooey and creamy inside and the eggs were more like McDonald’s egg squares, but two out of three ain’t bad. This was the best of all three, which is like saying that Big Bird was the least gay of all the Sesame Street characters. Nobody wins.
That being said, none of these made me feel very good. I forgot the third and last reason for why I don’t go to IHOP very often- it makes me feel bloated and gives me a headache. I have a free monthly biological reaction for those symptoms that I don’t need a $10 frozen breakfast gamut of products for. I threw the bulk of these away and went for a walk. If you’re not a giant lardass, they’re not for you.

Edy’s Slow Churned Rich and Creamy Shakes Cookies ‘n’ Cream

This was a flavor I had tasted before.

This was a taste I knew very well.
The unmistakable smack of disappointment across my lips! The Edy’s Slow Churned Shake not only provided a barely passing bastardization of its iconic idol, its instructions for preparation violeted the fundamental core of maintenance this very beverage is based upon. Edy’s. It’s called a milkshake. Not a milkweaklystirandgiveup. I ate it with my breakfast of minute champions. A small shake and small sliders.
The Edy’s line of shakes and smoothies is certainly easier than digging around in the blender, mixing a quantity of shake no human should consume, drinking said quantity, and vomiting later, but it’s also very easy for me to plop a scoop of ice cream in a glass along with some milk and halfheartedly mix it. Or melt ice cream and attempt to slurp that out of the glass. Easy. Not satisfying. Edy’s attempts to equate the two, resulting in a rather sad beverage.I chose the Cookies ‘n’ Cream flavor as an impulse buy along with my weekly stash of sliders, curious as to how it translated into a shake and entranced by the minimal packaging- a feature that would later prove to be not ingenious, but simply lazy. The ice cream alone looked like it could be easily repackaged with a packet of instant fudge in a pinch and labeled as a sundae on the go. The preparation called for a third of a cup of milk, the entirety of which slopped and poured over the edges. This amount was also the bare minimum I got away with using without having to dirty another glass. I was determined to see how far I could get on the flimsy receptacle alone. As it turned out, not far at all.
The end result was like trying to drink soft serve. Thick, slow, and bland. The cookie pieces dissolved to nothing and the flavor was cold and flat. The resulting FDA-approved edible Dirty Sanchez moustache I received was the most indignity I’ve suffered on behalf of a product, and this is coming from the writer who has willingly eaten buffalo chicken salad. I rest my case with this photographic evidence- this is not a product for consumption, much less child consumptions.Also, no less than thirty mommy blogs are seething in rage at my audacity and hatred of the Beloved Mother Grocery Product. Bless Her Eternal Cold Reign! Spoiler alert: They reduce the average milkshake-capable human being into an adult-sized toddler incapable of operating a button-based electronic. SARRRRRY.

California Pizza Kitchen Pizza and Appetizer: Sicilian Pizza and Flatbread with Spinach Artichoke Dip

Keepitcoming is sick, and while purchasing her industrial sized bottles of Aspirin and Vitamin Water at the grocery store, I spied this frozen delight and figured I’d take her on a date just as average as the one I took her on last week when we went to see Water for Elephants and I burnt her house down, neither one worse than the other.

California Pizza Kitchen is quickly turning into the Cheesecake Factory of pizza-based restaurants, if that makes little to no sense at all. Whatever. It made more sense than the entirety of Infinite Jest, which says a lot. With a menu of over 100 items, including appetizers and small bites, the difference between which I cannot determine, and a gazillion pizzas, the total number of which amounts to more teeth than in Robert Pattinson’s mouth, you’d think they’d step out of the box for their frozen counterpart, the perpetual ugly stepsister to the restaurant glory, and create a new, different package deal, perhaps avocado club egg rolls with dipping sauce accompanied by a roasted artichoke and spinach pizza, or sesame ginger chicken dumplings with a four seasons pizza, but no, they chose Sicilian pizza and spinach and artichoke dip with flatbread. Yawn. Wake me up when the guy who makes this at home to save time getting laid instead of taking his date out asks her to go halfsies on the cost from the grocery store.
Anyway, at least the food looked decent, looked being the operative term here. Despite my initial disappointment with the selection- CPK’s guacamole is one of the best I’ve ever had, I persevered and started cooking. The cooking process was more complicated than a LEGO instruction book, forcing me to keep the box out and take up half of my cooking space. While cooking this, I noticed that almost everything required either lifting or tearing molten hot foodstuffs with the aid of my bare hands, a fate I neither requested nor deserved.
From a menu-based point of view, the pairings here are kind of strange. For starters, the spinach and artichoke with flatbread combo isn’t actually on the menu- the flatbread comes with hummus dip and the artichoke dip comes with chips, but frozen chips would have been pretty gross. Point justified. And the Sicilian pizza doesn’t seem to exist, its closest relative on the food chain in the form of the Meat Craver’s, the former being a pared down version with less meat. The flatbread was popped in the oven along with the pizza and came out cooked to perfection. The pizza looked really good, littered with spices and herbs and powders and sprinkled with a pretty decent meat topping with visible bacon chunks, large slices of salami, and sausage.
And yet, it had no flavor. The pizza, which was lukewarm by the time it and the accoutrements were whisked to the table, was thick and bland, not unlike a pompous ex of mine. The only indication of meat on the pizza was a slight anise flavor from the sausage, and when the sausage had to share space with the weaksauce-inspired ham and salami, there was little room for it to shine. Neither of us felt inclined to eat more than a slice, and even then, it was like pulling teeth. Robert Pattinson’s unicorn teeth. I zoned my sorrows into the flatbread, which was oddly enough, more soft and toothsome than the pizza crust. There was a lot of spinach artichoke dip, and although it was somewhat pureed together into a kid-friendly or Midwesterner-friendly sauce, it was tasty and garlicky and allowed me to occupy my mouth outside of criticizing the pizza.
If going to CPK and taking your date to dinner gets you laid at the end of the night, this boxed set is like falling asleep in front of your computer with your dick in your hand and waking up to photos of your semi-hot second cousin’s pool party on Facebook. Come on, man, she’s 13. I’d have been happier if this came with a few double vodka Caribbean Sunset Sangria so I could drink and forget about this depressing pizza. Alcoholism has surprisingly practical benefits, kids!

Avocado Week Teaser…

Yeah, son, it’s Avocado Week from the 22nd to the 28th, sponsored by the California Avocado Commission, who graciously sent us 24 avocados to mash, puree, slice, squeeze, and macerate WITH OUR BARE HANDS AND TEETH.

Next week, we will dissect a six course meal featuring the noble Persea americana, starting with a bonus breakfast power-up and ending with dessert. Make one, make all.
Six courses. Drink. Appetizer. Salad. Entree. Apertif. Dessert. And breakfast, ’cause she’s gonna wanna stay all night if you’re cooking like this.

Let us commence.

The People’s Pint, Greenfield, MA

A couple of days ago, before the 2011 Blogger Blowout Maintenance, a day that lies in infamy for plenty of bewildered readers, I was blissfully unaware and enjoying a pint and wings at The People’s Pint in Greenfield, with Sugar B and a gorgeous chocolate lab.

I’d never been to The Pint. You’ll notice I’m consciously eliminating the “People’s” so as to not slip up and misplace the possessive. Peoples is peoples. Goddammit. But as soon as I saw the menu, containing an overload of smoked wings, bacon chocolate chip cookies, green curry, and massive burgers, I was hooked and off we went.
I wanted dessert for dinner so I got an oatmeal stout. Tasted chocolatey and rich without being too hoppy or starchy. Random meaningless beer terms I am throwing around. Hoppy. Um. It was a good flavor. Like cookies that had been hanging out for a while. In a tasty way.
Whole chicken wings are not to be trifled with. Combine the low Neolithic lighting with the gnarled wood tables and I might have been so inclined to rip apart a whole bird seasoned this way. Mmmm. Our appetizer came with four wings that may have been sourced from a free-range, Longmeadow Farms pterodactyl. My fav, you know. While the texture was a bit inconsistent from bite to bite, some somewhat dry and others falling off the bone in mid-air, the flavor was phenomenal and the skin was nice and crispy. Don’t trust wing-makers who are shy about charring their birds- these are certainly burnt to a crisp in the most savory, delicious fashion. The sauce took a backseat to the char, but was juicy and pungent with a slight heat. I imagine these would make killer buffalo wings or mustard wings. Any sauce on these. After all, I encourage experimentation.
For an entree, I ordered the embarrassingly named Squealer, a burger clearly not designed for a date in both content and moniker. But I go all way, and with roughly a third of a pound of Shelburne beef and bacon ground together in harmony with cheddar and chipotle mayonnaise, I was definitely okay with eschewing dignity, street cred, and cholesterol for burger-bacon bliss.
The burger was delicious and tender, but somehow lacked the bacon punch I’d expected. We’ve all seen Serious Eats pull off a 100% bacon burger with gross results, but for some reason, this burger seemed to have less bacon flavor than a burger with bacon on top. A little anticlimatic and kind of strange. The main indication of bacon content in this burger was how soft and juicy it was. It seemed to have a really fine consistency and a fat content that made it almost delicate. The bun must have soaked up the juices pretty well, because this wasn’t drippy at all. Chipotle mayo was lubricatious, but could have been a little spicier. An interesting concept, but one that needed some TLC. This was served with a side of rosemary potatoes. Soft and pickupable. Nature’s edible toddler.
Sugar had a trout quesadilla that might as well have been wriggling and gasping for air on his plate. Motherfucking oncorhynus mykiss is fucking cuh-razy. The quesadilla was garnished with carrot strips and oozing with cheese but was soft and fishy and delicious dipped in horseradish sauce. The trout was cooked perfectly, soft and flaky. Mmm. Saucy.
And that was dinner! We opted to check out Herrell’s for some ice cream. Can’t beat old favorites. This was definitely a place I’d check out again.

Domino’s Pizza voted “Pizza Chain of the Year” by Pizza Today Magazine

Pizza Today Magazine has given them this award three times, and to celebrate, I’m giving away two (2) Domino’s Pizza gift cards, courtesy of Domino’s!
Each card is worth $10 and can get you two carryout lunches, a pasta, a sandwich, a small pizza…anything! You could even try their new boneless or bone-in chicken wings that we recently reviewed. Just let me know what your favorite thing to order at Domino’s is and leave your email address! I’ll pick the winners sometime this week.
Foodette

Anniversary Asparagus, Brioche Burgers, and Cupcake ‘Cream!

Today was our one year anniversary. For the first of our two celebrations, I decided to make brioche buns for bacon cheeseburgers to serve with our 2000 R. Lopez di Heredia Viña Tondonia Rioja.

The burgers were absurd- like eating a bacon cheeseburger on a croissant. Originally, I considered making fries to serve alongside, but the combination might have killed us.

Dad picked us up some anniversary asparagus.
The dinner was relatively easy to prepare as the brioche dough was made three days in advance and left to chill. We baked a test batch that went over quite well with our two testers, and then made the buns.
The burgers, made from grass fed beef, were topped with seasoned bacon, homemade jalapeno aioli mixed with Sir Kensington’s, and Beecher’s Flagship Reserve Cheddar. We ate them with crisp asparagus and drank our Rioja. The perfect anniversary dinner!

Next time, we’d eliminate the brioche and save it for breakfast, but the burgers themselves were absolutely perfect! The ultimate start to a new year and an awesome summer.

Sublime, fruity wine to cut the richness of the meal.
Of course, we couldn’t end the evening without a trip to Herrell’s! Hostess chocolate cupcake for me, mint chip for Keepitcoming.
Thanks for a fantastic year, guys!
Foodette and Keepitcoming Love