Mama’s American Table (Closed)

Date
16 Sep 2012
Cuisine
American
Cost
Average Cost ($8-$14)
Location
Downtown Huntsville
Rating
2 out of 5

Mama's American Table

Melanie’s Take

Before Blue Plate Cafe recently extended its hours to include dinner, I had been hoping that someone would open a local joint in central Huntsville that served good Southern fare. When I saw a place on the corner of University and the Parkway called “Mama’s,” I was pretty excited. I could just envision the slow-cooked veggies and scratch-made desserts.  Although I soon found out that Mama’s menu was far more eclectic than Southern, I was ready to give it a try, looking forward to food worthy of a name like “Mama’s.”Meat and Three

When Shane and I arrived at 6pm on a Saturday night to an all but empty parking lot, we admitted that all signs pointed to this place not being good, but we forged ahead. (We make great sacrifices for you, reader.) Upon recommendation from the waitress, I ordered chicken fried steak and chose sweet potato casserole and black-eyed peas as my sides. It also came with a piece of cornbread. The chicken-fried steak was solid, but it didn’t approach the tastiness of Chili’s identical dish. Although the black-eyed peas were good, they lacked the down-home flavor that I love in peas that are cooked with pork. The real disappointment on my plate turned out to be the sweet potatoes and cornbread. When I first tried the sweet potatoes, I realized that they had the same sort of flavor that instant mashed potatoes from a cafeteria have. They didn’t have a distinct sweetness and lacked enough cinnamon or marshmallow accompaniment to cover up the stale flavor. The cornbread was dry enough that it turned to powder in my mouth. It was surely prepared days before I ate it.

Bread Pudding

For dessert, we tried the bread pudding. (Let’s face it; if a place serves bread pudding, we are obviously going to try it.) The portion was huge, and it was served alongside whipped cream. It was dense and heavily rum flavored, but it seemed to lack the extras like raisins, nuts, or creamy sauce, that make bread pudding extra tasty. All in all, our meal might’ve packed us with calories, but it left us wanting much more. I would love to see a restaurant thrive here, and I’ve heard great things about the restaurant’s namesake, so I hope there will be positive changes soon. In the meantime, I can’t see myself returning to Mama’s.

Shane’s Take

Early this year, Mama’s American Table opened in the spot on University that in the last five years has housed three restaurants. If you ask me, it was a brave move as that spot is one closed restaurant short of being a place where restaurants go to die. Based on our experience at Mama’s, I can’t imagine it being long before that happens.

Inside Mama's American Table

Housed in an old Bennigan’s, Mama’s looks like an old Bennigan’s with its green couch-like booths, wealth of wood, large bar, and westernized Irish pub look. As you would expect from a chain, Bennigan’s is styled and polished and tweaked to efficiently deliver the Bennigan’s experience. The end result may be predictable or lacking on character, but it’s at least pleasant. Mama’s took the Bennigan’s look and made a few changes, presumably to cover up the old look while keeping the nice appearance. To my eye, the resulting atmosphere is confusing. The worst offender is a masculine semicircular booth (something Bears Superfans would sit in) surrounded in rich oak that is oddly adorned with miniature Christmas lights and Dr. Seuss book covers. That certainly adds a unique touch, but it doesn’t look good. Worse than the confused atmosphere was the despair on the employees’ faces and the foreboding cloud of we’re-not-gonna-make-it that hung in the air. I can’t remember eating in a place for whom closure felt so near.

Burger

Adding to the confusion and the dreary atmosphere is a confused menu that offer a bigger variety of food than a Greek superdiner. Few restaurants can offer a variety of great food. Making good burgers and fries? Doable. Making good burgers, enchiladas, pizza, and chicken fried steak? Possible but unlikely. We couldn’t sample Mama’s entire variety in one eating, but what we had wasn’t spectacular. I chose an Angus bacon burger with a side of mac-and-cheese. The burger was about average good; the bun was standard, the quality meat was tasty but overcooked and unexceptional, and the bacon was thicker than average but otherwise standard. The macaroni and cheese, consisting of soggy pasta sitting in a too garlicky cheese sauce and topped with slightly melted shredded cheese, was no good and almost angered Melanie, who is an avid mac-and-cheese eater.

Although the food and atmosphere weren’t good, our service was good. Our waitress was friendly and didn’t hesitate to bring us refills or to offer suggestions when we asked. Like her colleagues, she seemed to be a team player, doing what she could for a dying store.

Unless the food improves and the atmosphere gets some much-needed tweaks, Mama’s won’t make it. I won’t rule out me being too picky or critical, but the empty Saturday night dining makes me think I’m not alone in being unimpressed. Perhaps they can make some changes and turn things around. Until they do, I don’t plan to revisit.

Closing thoughts:

  • Of course, we couldn’t turn down the bread pudding. It was bread and pretty good (probably the best thing we had), but the excessive topping of Hershey’s syrup and whipped cream cheapened it.
  • The prices at Mama’s are just about right. Now, if only the food were tasty…
  • How can Mama’s make it? Here’s what I’d do:
    • Pick a cuisine, perfect it, and stick with it.
    • Hire a professional interior designer who could show me how to exploit the old Bennigan’s decor without looking like an old Bennigan’s.
    • Tell my waiters to stop standing around and chatting in front of customers, and tell my managers to stop drinking on the job. (This is not a joke: I saw a guy carrying a beer around the store and thought he was a customer who’d drank too much and was looking to harass the management or something. Turns out he was a manager of some sort. Eek.)
Mama's American Table on Urbanspoon

2 Responses

  1. Paula

    Wow, I really hate to hear this. We haven’t been there in months, but in the beginning, it showed such promise. We went there for dinner several different times, and had wonderful food, and the place was packed. I wonder what happened? Thanks for the info.

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