by Elissa Karg
Driving into the parking lot of Mamas Place, we noticed smoke rising from the oil-drum barbecue. "That bodes well," my co-diner commented.
Mamas Place is in a sunny yellow building in northwest Detroit, and features a garden of found objects in the front. Inside, the atmosphere is warm and welcoming. For ambience, theres a basketball game in one ear and jazz recordings in the other.
Food-wise, Mamas Place is equal to some of the metro areas upscale soul food eateries. The barbecue is delicious. For $10, you get a half slab of ribs. For $8.50, half a chicken. Both are cooked to tender and bathed in a rich and kicky sauce.
Every dinner comes with two sides from the 14 varieties offered. Among our dinners, we had nine of them: Candied yams (sweet and syrupy), black-eyed peas, pinto beans (both seasoned with fatback), green beans (cooked to well-done), French fries (hand cut!), potato salad, collard greens (sharply spiced), mashed potatoes (not instant) and macaroni and cheese. ("Isnt it lumpy?" my 12-year-old asked. She didnt realize that the smooth, soupy stuff from the box isnt the real thing.)
A corn muffin or a honey biscuit comes with dinner. The biscuits are light enough to float, and brushed with honey while hot. "Suitable for strawberry shortcake," my co-diner noted.
Also available chargrilled are Mamas Burger and Papas Burger. Mama makes hers with bell peppers and onions, Papas with a secret sauce. Neither was available the night we were there, nor was the soup of the day.
On our first visit, my co-diner ordered short ribs of beef. After the first bite, he said in amazement, "This is better than I make."
Mamas Place opened three years ago, taking over Mamas Country Kitchen, which had been in the spot for 25 years. Owners Lydell and Pat Ankton and their partner Ed Sasnett have been in the restaurant business since 1979. Pat Ankton is the chef and Sasnett is the manager.
I asked about the biscuits. Scratch or mix? "Oh, homemade," Sasnett assured me. "Miss Pat and Miss Cora, they make the biscuits." At my request, Sasnett made a quick trip to the kitchen and confirmed my suspicion: real buttermilk biscuits.
"Everything is made from scratch," Sasnett says. "We put the black-eyed peas up to soak. We cut up the yams, the greens. Everything."
That kind of attention to detail draws business. "On a Sunday," he warns, "you cant hardly get in here. Were going to boom." Indeed, on a recent Friday night, Sasnett was still fielding customers an hour after closing.
Mamas also serves breakfast. The complete menu is available as carryout, and we carried home barbecued ribs and chicken on a hot day. Sitting in our garden, we got to lick the wonderful sauce off our fingers. When it was gone, we agreed that we couldnt have done better ourselves. But Mama, you forgot to put in the biscuits!