Let’s just start from the beginning with my Facebook post:
Don't hate...it's my job...Two hour tasting at @MothersNOLA: red beans n sausage, crawfish etoufeé, gumbo, shrimp creole, 3 kinds of ham, fried catfish, Debris, fried oysters, grilled shrimp and calamari, potato salad, turnip greens, bread pudding and sweet potato pie. It was totally worth every pound and my face breaking out!
I can’t think of a better way to start off this feature by going right for your gastronomic jugular! This is only the beginning of the fantastic dining experience you will have at Mother’s Restaurant.
Palate, Prepare Thyself
Located at 401 Poydras at Tchoupitoulas in New Orleans’ Central Business District (CBD), Mother’s was originally a Greek diner with a very loyal following of primarily blue-collar workers striving hard through to make their way very tough economic times in the early 1930s in order to feed their families.
Often, some of the regulars couldn’t get there for a meal before the restaurant closed. But the proprietors, who knew and valued the importance of providing good, hearty meals for people, even if they couldn’t afford it, always went out of their way to have a plate set aside for them. When they did arrive for their food they would say, “Thank you Mother!”
In 1938 the restaurant was purchased by Simon and Mary Landry, the couple opting to keep the name in appreciation of how the original patrons were treated. What followed next can only be called the stuff of culinary legend.
The Landry’s had a very large family with seven children, five of them joining the Marine Corps during World War II. This included one of their two daughters, Francis Landry, who at that time became the first woman in Louisiana to be accepted into the Corps.
This may be one of the reasons that Mother’s became a local hangout for members of the U.S. Marine Corps during that time, and in the late 1960s this proud organization bestowed the restaurant the moniker “TUN.” TUN—Tavern New Orleans—represented a distinctive, secondary high honor based on the original TUN tavern which, during the Revolutionary War, was the official birthplace of the Marines.
By this time Mother’s Restaurant had a huge following, and was one of the most popular restaurants in the city, as well as the state. In the late 1980s, one of the Landry’s sons sold the restaurant to brothers Jerry and John Amato.
Together they took the already winning menu formula of the restaurant, nearly doubled it, and added a bevy of iconic, New Orleans dishes, which increased Mother’s popularity immensely. Not only was the restaurant popular with its original working-class citizens, but it gained a broader, cross-cultural appeal among people from white color businessmen to politicians, celebrities, food writers, world leaders, and everyone in between.
Excellent Comfort Food for Everyone
I always say that the mark of a great restaurant is when there is a line out the door and curling around the corner. But don’t let this deter you, because Mother’s is totally worth it! (Want insiders tip? If you come other than at lunchtime, you can walk right in).
Open seven days a week from 7am to 10pm, the food is served cafeteria-style. But unlike the cafeterias of our childhood, or even today’s cafeteria-style restaurants, all of the food is made in small batches to keep it fresh. There is no lying under a warmer for hours and hours here until all of the flavor is gone. What you get is a hot, freshly prepared meal seasoned with love.
Breakfast items, which are served all day, encompass a bevy of omelets –crawfish etoufeé, shrimp creole, red bean, Mae’s with black ham, green onions and mushrooms, and Jerry’s with egg whites, bell pepper, red onion, mushrooms and turkey; egg, meat and combo po’boys; egg, meat and combo biscuits, and grits with meat (good Lord!)
The menu also encompasses pancakes and waffles with options for homemade blueberry or peach toppings, oatmeal, cereal, fresh fruit and muffins. The early bird special, served from 7-9am Monday through Friday includes scrambled eggs, smoked sausage, grits, a biscuit, and coffee or a small orange juice, all for only $6.50!
Eat ‘til Your Heart’s Content
One of Mother’s signature items is their ham, served baked (sliced), black (crust) or fried (thick). I’ll confess that I’m not a meat eater and definitely not ham, but each of these were delicious and I can’t believe how distinctive and amazing they tasted! This may have something to do with the fact that they have a full-time butcher staff upstairs that slices their meats all day long, so customers are getting it direct from “cut-to-table.”
And then there is the Debris! You may have had it at other restaurants, but Mother’s is the best!
Debris are the ends of a roast beef that fall in the pan into the juices during cooking. Mother’s starts theirs with a brown broth, the next day transforming it into a stock sans flour. They then cook the roast inside of a brown, no printing on it paper bag, add the broth, and simmer it overnight until fork tender. On the third day the roast is removed from the bag and served on French bread. Oh—My—God is it tender and juicy! Again, even non-meat eaters should at least try some.
There are so many great options to eat here, it might take you awhile to make a decision. There are 9 different varieties of po’boys; several fried or grilled sandwiches including Gulf shrimp, oyster and soft shell crab dressed with shredded cabbage, sliced pickles, mayo, and Creole and yellow mustards; seafood and filé gumbos; jambalaya; turtle and white bean soups; baked spaghetti pie; catfish, calamari, and soft shell crab plates; corned beef and cabbage; and fried chicken with dirty rice, just to name a few.
Mother’s seafood sampler comes with fried catfish and fried oysters (both only lightly breaded to bring out their natural flavors) grilled calamari, and grilled shrimp.
For those of you trying to eat a little more on the healthy side, their green beans are vegetarian and gluten-free, and currently the only meatless side option. However, there are a wealth of vegetarian and gluten-free options all across the board.
For side dishes, the red beans and rice rest in a very thick, aromatic and flavorful sauce (I wanted to bathe in it, it was that good!) and I was moaning all over the turnip greens, cabbage, potato salad (made in-house, unlike a lot of restaurants) and grits.
And don’t forget the condiments! Those are made in-house too – the tartar and cocktail sauces flavored with a little bit of cayenne pepper, the hot pepper sauce created with habanero peppers, jalapeno, garlic, black peppercorns, and other herbs.
And if that isn’t enough, we need to talk about dessert! Mother’s creates outstanding pecan and sweet potato pies (firm, not too sweet, and with a delicious homemade crust), brownies, assorted cookies, and the best damn bread pudding you’ve ever had in your life, a not too thick or voluminous portion swimming in a brandy (not the customary Bourbon) sauce.
Here, the butter is cooked until it separates from the brandy, sugar is added, and they use the leftover bread from the sandwiches. I can’t tell you the secret ingredient, in part because you would never believe me, but let’s just say the bread pudding and sauce were so good, that we ordered an additional bowl of sauce only to eat with a spoon! Like I said before, it was totally worth every pound and my face breaking out!
Sit and Eat a Spell
While the main dining room of the restaurant has the look and feel of a classic cafeteria, once you cross the threshold into “Mother's Next Door” you’re instantly immersed in a throwback to the area’s old warehouse days with original exposed brick, gold plaster trim, a mahogany bar, and room for between 125 and 200 patrons. For special gatherings and events, they also have a separate banquet room which accommodates up to 90 people.
On a “slow day” Mother’s serves approximately 800 people; on a “busy day” it rises into the thousands. And it’s not just the customers that have been coming here for a long time. Many of the staff members—husbands and wives, mothers and sons, cousins, nieces and nephews, and the like—have been here for decades, and consider themselves to be one big family.
People might ask, “Who’s your daddy?” But I say the real question is, “Do you know about Mother’s!