New Orleans: Mother's -- The South Will Rise And Shine!

I hurry down Magazine Street in New Orleans out of fear. My mind panics with possible scenarios; I do a quick check of my wallet in my front pocket, disguising my twitch as a coach's secret signal to steal third. It's hard to be this sharp this early, but I have to be. My thumping heartbeat stops for a second when a passing car hits a puddle in a pothole, splashing the 7AM morning quiet away.

Rounding the corner to Poydras Street, I close my eyes and use a wish I hope I have: Please don't let there be a line at Mother's restaurant.

Mother's is an experience that sticks with you forever and starts before you eat the food -- so this review tastes a little different.

A choir of angel's voices swells as I see the lone bouncer-looking doorman. I did it. But my struggle's not over. I'm jangled awake as I walk in the restaurant by the silverware banging-diners who look up at me and instinctively cover their food like a protective dog. Long as they're up, they grab a bottle of Crystal hot sauce and dash a few drops on their crawfish etouffe omelette.

The already-present diners and any others in line all makes for a dangerous combination that could mean that Mother's is out of the treasure that I and all these other early rise-and-shiners are here to grab -- biscuits and black. Homemade fluffy biscuits so dense they could be thrown out as the first pitch. Back in the magic kingdom of a kitchen, there's a ham roasting on a rod spinning over a fire and under a watchful eye.

That ham has my name tattooed all over it with its inky black, crisp, caramelized edges. When those bits are all carved off and served -- that's the end of that, until another day, and another ham. Carpe de black-ham.

I count the people in front of me and try to peek behind the line to see how much food is left. I don't plan on settling for a Ferdi Special Po' boy, or the red bean omelette, all very good, but not why I raised my hope and heart rate.

My hungry eyes meet those of a beautiful, future cougar working behind the line. She looks me up and down. What you want, baby? purrs out; she's a woman who can make a pot boil and a man blush.

On a different day I'd tell her I'd like to nuzzle my face in her ample bosom and take a nap, but today I hungrily stammer out my order, Morning ma'am. Biscuits and black and side of roast beef with debris and gravy. And two eggs over easy. She tilts her head and narrows her thickly-lined eyes. I stand up straighter, Oh, and please and thank you. I get waved forward with a swat of her grits-covered spoon.

I pay and shuffle through the ancient door to find a table in one of the rambling rooms with walls that tell stories.

I pass a life-size cadaver of butter sleeping on a tray, and stick my entire hand in it like I'm inseminating a cow. That's only in my mind; I would like to touch it just once though. I sit and stir my chicory coffee, enjoying the chatter of gravel-voiced diners eating off a Hurricane hangover. I'm close enough to the waitress stand to not be overlooked, and I overhear one waitress compliment another's hair. The freshly-tressed pats her head, lamenting, Three hours in the beauty parlor and here I am on my feet working at Mother's on a Saturday.

My plates are dropped off with a motherly Here you go, sugar and I give her back a look that means to be a hug.

Even though the black ham is sticking generously out from all sides, I lift the top of my biscuit to get a confirming peek. I lean in over the bowl of piping hot roast beef and pass my hand over it, waving the aroma towards my face just to feel my lips curl into a smile.

Debris is deliciously opposite from what it is -- the scrapings and drippings and leavings that gather in the pan while the meat is roasting for hours. They are little tiny, odd-shaped flavorful bits that not only a mother could love. That pan isn't deglazed with wine or stock, it's deglazed with love.

I scoop up a heaping forkful of meat like a strong farmer tossing hay into a stall. It drips drops of juice and I wonder how clean the table is and if I should lick it. Not wanting the spanking of bacteria, I let them be, and steer the gorgeous liquid-soaked meat over to top of the ham already sitting on the biscuit, and lay it on thick. Gilding the lily? Nope -- I am mounding a production worthy of a star. I crown it with a firecracker-red spot of classic Tabasco. The gravy soaks down into the biscuit, making every bite as wet as a sloppy kiss.

I've enjoyed lunch and dinner here, too. But there's a different vibe. The food bounces around with a faster rhythm and the bar is lively. It's noisier and crowded -- like your whole family's home. I prefer breakfast, when it's still quiet, and just me, my pokey-up hair and mom. 

I'm dining with someone new to Mother's, who didn't want to be running down this historical street. His mind could only go back ten minutes ago when he was hopping madly around the hotel room trying to fasten his trousers. He barely got one leg in, making him think the Big Easy's food turned him into Fat City. He panicked -- New Orleans was wild but not no-pants wild. At breakfast.

Give me my pants! I demanded as I tossed him his larger pants and grabbed mine.

Now, I watched him eat breakfast as if for the first time in his life. He had jiggly eggs over-easy in skillets that later will fry chicken, proving which comes first. He sees a crew working as a family who cares about Mother's -- for the food, each other and us. The No Tipping policy is hard to obey.

He crossed over to understand Mother's flavor. Once you let the taste of New Orleans roll around in your mouth like a Bourbon Street stripper twirling her pastie-tipped boobies, and let a jazz trombone slide it on down your throat, it gets under your skin and courses through your veins with the permanence of the flowing Mississippi.

In a metaphor for life as thick as the gravy, you enter one door at Mother's and leave through another. You've been all warm and cozy, feeling safe inside the womb-ish dining room's brick-lined walls, then you're spat back into the bright sunlight, onto the dirty streets of New Orleans. Your faith in time-honored traditional regional, down-home country cuisine is born again.

We passed a Mother's disciple outside on a smoke break. My friend, with his new but cocky familiarity of the local ways, bummed a light. The strong Gulf wind blew the flame out twice, but the waitress didn't give up. As he thanked her, I remarked that she must be glad when large groups leave town so she can rest.

Mother's never closes. There'll be a group after you and one on top of that.

But you must've closed after Katrina, I Anderson-Coopered her.

Oh, yeah, Katrina. She looked at me then looked away. I saw things crawl down this street that I never thought I'd see in the city.

What'd you see?

Owls. I saw owls, alligators, squirrels, possums. She took a long drag of her cigarette. I saw an eagle swoop down by my FEMA trailer. Almost snatched my baby.

What would you do if that eagle snatched your baby?

I'd go get that eagle and take my baby back. She stamped out her butt.

That's a mother.

Mother's. 401 Poydras Street, New Orleans, LA 70130 (504) 523-9656.


  1. We found our way to Mother's on our visit to Nawlins. It's in the financial district, as if all those businesspeople couldn't bear to be far from her.
    Cafeteria style, but in the style of a small town where you say please and thank you and you make eye contact. It's what keeps things human around there. I see people here who won't even get off the phone to bark out an order at a counter like that, and you know that would not fly in the South.

    1. Unless you want a spanking. And that part of Nola is about 6 blocks up, to the left.


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