Mama J's Kitchen, a small, family-run restaurant in Jackson Ward has been on that list for a long time.
If the name didn't give it away, Mama J's serves up true Southern comfort food in a friendly style that makes you feel right at home. The interior is rather small, with about a dozen or so tables and a few seats at the bar, but the food is definitely worth the wait. Patience is not an issue, but a virtue, when I'm waiting on a meal I know I'll love. To avoid crowds, arrive early.
The atmosphere is as if you're eating at your family's dinner table. We were seated at the bar and the bartender said she could tell we were first-timers at the restaurant, but that didn't stop her from offering suggestions, describing certain entrees, and checking in on us.
The food coming out of the kitchen might as well be what your own Mama makes, if you have one that can cook like J does.
We were both in the mood for fried chicken; Brian got white meat and I got dark. We started with Catfish Nuggets, which are essentially the restaurant's highly-recommended catfish entree divided up into smaller pieces; so we were getting the best of both worlds. The hot, cornmeal-coated catfish melting in our mouths was cooled off a degree or two when dipped in the creamy homemade tartar sauce. The fried chicken was juicy but crispy - as it should be. The sweet candied yams could be a dessert on their own and the mac & cheese was cheesy enough to put me in a coma-like state. In case that isn't enough, each entree comes with a homemade corn muffin.
I'll be back to try the crab cakes, baked chicken, seafood salad (below), a face-sized slice of chocolate cake...I pretty much won't be happy until I've had everything on the menu.
I left the restaurant in a serious food coma - but it was perhaps one of the best I've ever experienced. And as we've heard...mama said there'll be days like this.
415 N. First St.
Tuesday-Friday - 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.
Saturday - 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Sunday - Noon-7 p.m.