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Mom and Pop’s Soul Food Square, Fifth and Market

Honkies in hoakydom

Mom from Mom and Pop's Soul Food Square: “You’re welcome sugar, come back again.” - Image by Brandon Wander
Mom from Mom and Pop's Soul Food Square: “You’re welcome sugar, come back again.”

March 1, 1973

Downtown, way down town, near the corner of Fifth and Market is this little pink kitchen called “Mom and Pop’s Soul Food Square.” It used to be just another Al’s cafe catering to poor city dwellers, hustlers from the oodles of card rooms in the area, and a few lonely black sailors far away from their Southern homes. Today it's Mom and Pop’s, suburban tract pink on the inside, a counter with eight unmatched stools, and a clientele that is, well, the same clientele as before. Mom cooks all the food and runs the joint while Pa, a slim, wiry, short-curled fifty-year-old, tries to assist. Mom, a chubby bouncy, compact black woman with a rainbow smile, is the best witness for her food. It’s great and it’s filling. Chitlins, cornbread, greens, ham hocks, smothered chicken, and today’s delicacy, ox tails.

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Now. way back in my heritage is a German strain which carried through to my mother in the form of her ability to cook oxtails, usually in a stew. But my mom’s got nothing on this blue-waitress-dressed Ma. And this black Mom's a lot quicker. Five minutes is maximum till you've got a plate full of beans, rice, collards and meaty oxtails that are lively, spicy, and whose full flavor reflects a day of careful simmering. Plus you get a side dish of sweet, buttered cornbread pancakes. Outside of Mr. A’s it’s the best, most exciting meal my girlfriend and I've had in a long time. And Mr. A’s cost us over $30. Mom’s and Pop’s cost $2.80.

We ate there a Saturday afternoon, and one might’ve thought we were a couple of white honkies gone weekend slumming. Well, we were. But no one minded. In fact, Mom was super nice and downright hospitable. The overall impression was that this sweet Southern country black had invited us to come eat in her home kitchen. It was neat and orderly, but no electric can openers or plates and walls in matching decorator colors.

It’s Mom’s kitchen, and Pop knows it. He looks on unconcerned while she cooks away, taking care to stay clear of her nimble footwork. With Pop tall and sharp-boned. Mom quite short and plump-checked, they hang together in an odd but effective working relationship, American Gothic, rural black style.

Mom and Pop’s is pragmatic. You come to eat and that’s what you get. And you can listen to great music while you're gobbling at the counter. There's a juke box stacked with the real soul 45s. James Brown, Al Green. The Impressions, Luther Ingram. We put on Al Green and a couple of slow, whispering Spinners tunes. There was this trio of black Marines when we came in, jumping and dipping around the room to the tinny funky stereo, propped high in the pink corners. All were in uniform but after a short while it became clear they weren't no lackhuster, jive-less Marine grunts. Just had to watch ’em move, slither and bop in the same side-to-side motion. The thin, short black, with lively snappin' fingers was the cafe’s Smokey Robinson, singing falsetto smooth right in there with Luther. Where can one get such a floor show these days, and at these prices?

If you can’t get into the scene, enjoy what it has to offer and relish its genuine hokiness. I mean, where do you find a restaurant with paper towels instead of napkins, every coffee and water cup different and probably rescued from the Volunteers of America Thrift Store down the street? Only at Mom and Pop's with their toy cash register that they use as a real cash register, placed prominently under the Andy’s Cafe calendar. There's no now generation Pepsi, or hip Uncola to drink, but honest Frosti Root Beer and creme and strawberry soda. And outside of Mexico, this is the only place I've seen toothpicks stored in empty hot sauce bottles. The only menu, and the only one you need, is of ordinary notebook paper with names and prices handwritten and taped above the window that looks straight into the kitchen.

One plump, black 40-year-old, sitting next to the kitchen window, gets up and hands Pop a lone dollar, less than the price of the meal. Pop calls back into the kitchen, ’’Hey Mom, you know ‘bout this?" Mom's mouth puckers. She swings her head from side to side and drawls a bemused “Sure do.” She motions goodbye with her big wood spoon, the plump black laughs and hops out the door. And when the other blacks pay they leave without the usual quarter-under-the-plate-slip-out-the-door move. Instead they pat their tummies. compliment the cooking and give a warm. "Thanks, Mom." In kind, with one hand on hip, the other filled with dishes. Mom smiles and says, “You’re welcome sugar, come back again.”

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Mom from Mom and Pop's Soul Food Square: “You’re welcome sugar, come back again.” - Image by Brandon Wander
Mom from Mom and Pop's Soul Food Square: “You’re welcome sugar, come back again.”

March 1, 1973

Downtown, way down town, near the corner of Fifth and Market is this little pink kitchen called “Mom and Pop’s Soul Food Square.” It used to be just another Al’s cafe catering to poor city dwellers, hustlers from the oodles of card rooms in the area, and a few lonely black sailors far away from their Southern homes. Today it's Mom and Pop’s, suburban tract pink on the inside, a counter with eight unmatched stools, and a clientele that is, well, the same clientele as before. Mom cooks all the food and runs the joint while Pa, a slim, wiry, short-curled fifty-year-old, tries to assist. Mom, a chubby bouncy, compact black woman with a rainbow smile, is the best witness for her food. It’s great and it’s filling. Chitlins, cornbread, greens, ham hocks, smothered chicken, and today’s delicacy, ox tails.

Sponsored
Sponsored

Now. way back in my heritage is a German strain which carried through to my mother in the form of her ability to cook oxtails, usually in a stew. But my mom’s got nothing on this blue-waitress-dressed Ma. And this black Mom's a lot quicker. Five minutes is maximum till you've got a plate full of beans, rice, collards and meaty oxtails that are lively, spicy, and whose full flavor reflects a day of careful simmering. Plus you get a side dish of sweet, buttered cornbread pancakes. Outside of Mr. A’s it’s the best, most exciting meal my girlfriend and I've had in a long time. And Mr. A’s cost us over $30. Mom’s and Pop’s cost $2.80.

We ate there a Saturday afternoon, and one might’ve thought we were a couple of white honkies gone weekend slumming. Well, we were. But no one minded. In fact, Mom was super nice and downright hospitable. The overall impression was that this sweet Southern country black had invited us to come eat in her home kitchen. It was neat and orderly, but no electric can openers or plates and walls in matching decorator colors.

It’s Mom’s kitchen, and Pop knows it. He looks on unconcerned while she cooks away, taking care to stay clear of her nimble footwork. With Pop tall and sharp-boned. Mom quite short and plump-checked, they hang together in an odd but effective working relationship, American Gothic, rural black style.

Mom and Pop’s is pragmatic. You come to eat and that’s what you get. And you can listen to great music while you're gobbling at the counter. There's a juke box stacked with the real soul 45s. James Brown, Al Green. The Impressions, Luther Ingram. We put on Al Green and a couple of slow, whispering Spinners tunes. There was this trio of black Marines when we came in, jumping and dipping around the room to the tinny funky stereo, propped high in the pink corners. All were in uniform but after a short while it became clear they weren't no lackhuster, jive-less Marine grunts. Just had to watch ’em move, slither and bop in the same side-to-side motion. The thin, short black, with lively snappin' fingers was the cafe’s Smokey Robinson, singing falsetto smooth right in there with Luther. Where can one get such a floor show these days, and at these prices?

If you can’t get into the scene, enjoy what it has to offer and relish its genuine hokiness. I mean, where do you find a restaurant with paper towels instead of napkins, every coffee and water cup different and probably rescued from the Volunteers of America Thrift Store down the street? Only at Mom and Pop's with their toy cash register that they use as a real cash register, placed prominently under the Andy’s Cafe calendar. There's no now generation Pepsi, or hip Uncola to drink, but honest Frosti Root Beer and creme and strawberry soda. And outside of Mexico, this is the only place I've seen toothpicks stored in empty hot sauce bottles. The only menu, and the only one you need, is of ordinary notebook paper with names and prices handwritten and taped above the window that looks straight into the kitchen.

One plump, black 40-year-old, sitting next to the kitchen window, gets up and hands Pop a lone dollar, less than the price of the meal. Pop calls back into the kitchen, ’’Hey Mom, you know ‘bout this?" Mom's mouth puckers. She swings her head from side to side and drawls a bemused “Sure do.” She motions goodbye with her big wood spoon, the plump black laughs and hops out the door. And when the other blacks pay they leave without the usual quarter-under-the-plate-slip-out-the-door move. Instead they pat their tummies. compliment the cooking and give a warm. "Thanks, Mom." In kind, with one hand on hip, the other filled with dishes. Mom smiles and says, “You’re welcome sugar, come back again.”

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