Miss Mamie's Spoonbread Too

By Marisa Roberston-Textor

Outside Miss Mamie’s lies an unprepossessing stretch of Manhattan asphalt right at the juncture of Harlem and Morningside Heights—home of ever-expanding Columbia University—but inside, you’re firmly on the other side of the Mason-Dixon line. This is a Southern kitchen par excellence, from the lazy overhead fans that chase the summer heat to the old-fashioned wooden counter boasting a display of homemade cakes on down to the cheerful red-and-yellow checkered tile floors and jumble of antique spatulas, graters, and egg-beaters hanging from the wall. Black-and-white photographs of owner Norma Jean Darden’s parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, from whose rich store of recipes her menu is drawn, squeeze in where they can. And what recipes they are. The Southern fried chicken here, with collard greens and mac and cheese, is the gold standard for all other attempts at comfort food. Peach cobbler puts other desserts to shame. And Miss Mamie’s Sampler—a platter of deep-fried shrimp, tender beef short ribs, and fried chicken—is enough to make a grown man, even an ex-President, swear off junk food forever. At least that’s what we hope Bill Clinton did after polishing off this very dish on a visit to Miss Mamie’s.

sweet seats

Fittingly for such a down-home establishment, every cheerful, yellow formica–topped table at Miss Mamie’s offers plenty of elbow room—unless you turn up for Sunday brunch, when churchgoers in search of soul food ensure long lines and close quarters. But that, of course, is half the fun.

chew on this

Miss Mamie’s isn’t just a restaurant; it’s a catering empire beloved by the likes of Oprah, Bill Cosby, and Beyoncé, and an exercise in food ethnography that’s been documented by the Southern Foodways Alliance. To understand exactly what we’re talking about here, pick up a copy of the phenomenal Spoonbread & Strawberry Wine cookbook ($17.95), first published in 1978 by Norma Jean and her sister Carole, which offers century-old recipes for watermelon pickles and dandelion wine, along with an inspiring family history.

hours

Mon.–Thurs. 12 PM–10 PM; Fri.–Sat. 12 PM–11 PM;
Sun.11 AM–9:30 PM
brunch: Sun. 11 AM–3 PM

price range

$12.95 (chicken and waffles) to $17.95 (seafood sampler)
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