Review Date: 07/12/15
Visit Date: 07/04/15
Across from the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk, Mamma's Boy Southern Table and Refuge is modern on the outside and carefully crafted to look like a country farmhouse inside.
From the website: "We believe in porch swings and sweet tea. Long conversations with old and new friends. Southern hospitality and charm with a little sass. Seersucker and aprons. Homemade, handmade and made with love. Cocktail hours and a good stiff punch. Anything smoked and pickled."
That's wonderful imagery, but how's the food?
Normally, I wait until after describing the three key components of the burger (bun, beef and toppings) before getting into the fries. At Mama's Boy, the fries screamed loudest from the plate before it was even set down: "Frozen! Frozen! Frozen!"
Maybe the fries weren't frozen, but they sure looked, felt and tasted it (they didn't taste like potatoes).
I've had better fries on an airplane. But the real crime here isn't the fries in and of themselves as much as that they shatter the country kitchen myth the restaurant tries so hard to promote.
The familiar brioche, light and flexible, toasted but not buttered. It gets the job done with little fanfare and no intrusiveness to the beef.
This appears to be a grilled burger based on the smooth and blackened crust. I ordered the burger medium rare and it came out closer to well done, with only the faintest of pink tint showing in the cross section. This, along with the early track record (pale and personality-challenged fries, underwhelming biscuits) submitted a two-pronged challenge to my confidence in this burger. But wait: upon hoisting, the juices began to flow quite steadily, like a hidden irrigation system. Then, the bite: some formidable toppings, but the beef held its own quite nicely, delivering a very pleasant, slightly gamey beef flavor from within and plenty of moisture after the initial eruption. Lack of seasoning didn't help, but a loose and gentle texture did. Very enjoyable.
Bacon caught my attention from the beginning with one of the strips sticking out to demonstrate the glistening porkfat. Texture was crisp and slightly chewy; flavor brought some sweetness in a strong cure. The pimento cheese was rich, bold and near liquid while still thick. Onion rings were thin, crisp and slightly sweet. Good contrast and good flavor from every component, and none upstaged the beef.
Pickles, served on the side, were fantastic. There appeared to be two different kinds, both sliced thin, one a bread & butter and the other half sour.
Actually, that two-pronged challenge was a three-pronged challenge. Beautiful prose about porch swings on the website and beautifully arranged cabinets of mason jars are nice and all, but they didn't save the biscuits from being both dry and rubbery. There's no excuse for a dry biscuit.
While I never had a better biscuit on an airplane, I've had better biscuits made from a Bisquick mix.
There are Southern restaurants that exist because the chef and owner have a real passion for Southern cooking, and there are Southern restaurants that exist because it's a lucrative concept. As for which one Mama's Boy is, I'm reserving my judgement for another day, but I have my hunches.
Back to the fries a sec: it's possible that the Fourth of July timing had something to do with their using frozen fries. The ones shown here look very different from photos of their fries I later found elsewhere online, so maybe it was a one-time thing. But still.
The Bottom Line
The burger was very beefy and even very juicy despite being overcooked, and the toppings and bun both excelled. Overall, an impressive burger.
Those who say never to order a steak at a pancake house probably would have steered me away from a burger at a Southern joint and had me stick to the country options, but I may have dodged a bullet. Porch swings aside, what little Southern fare I tried fell more than a little short. I'll be back, so time will tell.
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