Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, we interrupt our dining review for this public-service announcement: Have you voted yet? Good! Wait, you over there! You haven’t voted? Please vote on Election Day, Nov. 3, or vote early in person at one of Louisville’s convenient early polls. But vote! Vote as if your life depends on it, because just possibly it does.
There! I’m glad to get that off my chest. We voted last week. It was easy. It really felt good. And best of all, it led us toward this week’s exceptionally tasty food report.
Here’s how it went down: We voted early at the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage and then decided to grab a delicious soul-food meal from a Black-owned West End restaurant.
It was a great idea. But where to go? There’s a ton of small eateries west of Ninth Street, but one spot stood out: Big Momma’s Soul Food Kitchen on West Broadway near Shawnee Park.
We got there at noon, opening time and found nine people already lined up in front of us, all masked and carefully keeping their 6-foot distance. Only five people are allowed inside at once during the pandemic, and there’s no dining in, so the line outside builds up fast.
We got in soon enough, though, and took our place, keeping our distance, as we examined the big wall menu and the day’s food specials safely behind glass. You step up and yell your order into the mic when your turn is called, then wait to be called up to the window to pay and grab your meal.
There’s a separate menu for each day Big Momma’s is open — noon to 7 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday — with choice of 10 or 11 dishes every day but Sunday, which boasts a celebratory 15. It’s a meat-and-two operation, offering your choice of one meat with any two sides. Prices aren’t shown, but most meat-and-two combinations are $10.
Many of the items are available every day. You can’t miss if you’re in the market for fried or baked chicken, meatloaf or the basic side dishes mac and cheese, green beans, mashed potatoes, beans and cabbage. They’re all available every day.
After that it gets a little more complicated. Want smothered pork chops? Come Wednesday, Thursday or Sunday. Croquettes? Show up Wednesday, Friday or Sunday. Fried catfish fillet? Come Friday or Sunday. Rib tips and sauerkraut? That’s a Wednesday-only treat. Okra and lima beans are your Thursday jam, and you can have fried potatoes and onions as long as you request them on a Friday. Sweet potatoes are a Friday or Sunday specialty, and barbecued ribs and greens are a Sunday delight.
You’ll have to trust this popular eatery’s reputation for quality, though. A red-on-white sign makes Big Momma’s policy perfectly clear: “We Do Not Give Out Free Samples.”
I fumbled through the menu, got mildly chided once for asking a question that was printed right in front of me, but got our order quickly and left with a couple of delicious $10 meat-and-two lunches.
Fried chicken may have scored as the best among a bunch of competitive dishes. We chose a breast-and-wing quarter and got an exceptionally large one. Its flour-based breading was sprinkled with cayenne that was somewhat irregularly applied: Enough to kick it up in some bites, only a hint in others, but all good. The coating adhered tightly to the meat, building an almost glassy shattering shield that remained crisp and crunchy even a half-hour ride home in a white, plastic foam food box. The meat was moist and luscious, well done but not the least bit dry or tasteless, so good you kept wanting to come back for more. Even the sizable chunk of wing meat was tender and juicy and crisply breaded.
A serving of meatloaf was huge, too, including two big, soft and rather sweet pieces of finely ground beef about an inch thick, with plenty of brownish-red juices running out. The top of the meatloaf had been coated with a vinegary tomato-based sauce reminiscent of barbecue sauce.
There wasn’t a losing entry among the sides, but the mashed potatoes and the green beans were best of all. The potatoes were deliciously creamy, topped with a sprinkle of paprika and run quickly under the broiler. They were silken smooth and pure essence of potato.
The green beans were simple but just right: flat roma beans, short bits long cooked with onion until they were meltingly soft with a wonderful green bean flavor.
The mac and cheese was extra creamy, too. A mild but tasty and just barely sweet yellow cheese sauce coated tender soft macaroni noodles.
Cabbage was rough-chopped into a mix of large and small pieces, long simmered with a few smoked pork shreds to impart a smoky flavor.
Squares of bright yellow cornbread came with each plate. Their soft but textured not-too-sweet flavor was a welcome addition.
Lunch for two and plenty of it, came to an even $20, plus five bucks for the tip jar.
Soul Food Kitchen
4532 W. Broadway