Soul Food Elevates Whalley
Business is booming at Mama Mary’s Soul Food Restaurant, which opened two weeks ago on Whalley Avenue. No one was enjoying the collard greens and corn bread more than loyal customer Miss Daisy Jones.
Owner Tanya Harris (on the right in the photo), along with her husband Robert, relocated Mama Mary’s from its longtime location on Congress Avenue to a well-placed spot across from Edge of the Woods. She said she and her husband made the move to expand the clientele. It’s already happening.
Tanya Harris said more than half of their old customers are coming by for the pig feet and chitlins (that’s stomach, according to chef Robert Harris, well-boiled) and the particularly popular chopped barbecue. Many others are discovering the cuisine, whose origins, in this family, go back to Robert Harris’s mother Mary. She came to New Haven from Alabama after World War Two.
“We have about 35 percent of our clientele who are relatively new, and many of them are not African-American.” She described a white couple who lives around the corner on Norton Street. “They were so delighted,” she said, “to find a restaurant that offered fine dining that they could walk to.”
The law firms in the area, the employees of the correctional facility on Whalley, the people who work at the pizza parlors all come to Mama Mary’s as well. Was Tanya Harris surprised? “Absolutely not. There are lots of people who want to delight their palates by eating, so to speak, out of the box.”
Tanya and Robert Harris — whose sister Sandra operated Sandra’s on Whitney Avenue until it closed about six months ago — have done an upscale renovation of the space that was formerly Stella’s kosher bakery and restaurant. It’s wood-lined, with an inviting oval refrigerator case that shows off desserts even before you order your main course. There’s a long cool granite counter where another longtime customer, who identified herself as Sharon and remembered previous Harris restaurants on Chapel Street, was ordering fried chicken.
“We’ve changed the location and the decor,” said Tanya Harris, “but absolutely nothing about the menu. The customers wouldn’t allow it.”
Another dish that Daisy Jones was looking forward to ordering on another day was liver and onions.
How is that dish done in soul food style? What makes it Southern?
“Well,” explained Jones, “it’s smothered in gravy and served over rice.”
Other food that’s a big hit so far, and usually in the summer, is the fish — porgies, whiting and catfish. The porgies too are fresh, caught by Robert Harris himself. He goes fishing for them up in Stonington or New Bedford. “He comes back,” said his wife, with evident pride, “with maybe a hundred of them and we freeze them, and then serve them. It’s a moist flaky fish, and Robert deep fries them in a fine light cornmeal, along with cornbread. We take the head off, but the fish is there, bones and all, of course.”
“I especially like it with cabbage,” added Daisy Jones.
Business, said Harris, was good for lunch and dinner both, even on the weekend, when churchgoers come in after services. They slide into booths which are comfortable wooden pews. “So they eat and pray at the same time.” (The restaurant closes on Mondays.)
What was Daisy Jones praying for? Tanya answered for her, “We’re praying for health and perseverance, and prosperity.”
Speaking of prosperity, how was the adjacent Jamaican restaurant, The Caribbean Connection, faring, now that Mama Mary had opened up? Chefs and owners Grygory Martin and Norma Potts, mother and son, were pleased. “We actually considered expanding into the space,” he said, “when it became available. But we couldn’t afford the rent. But it’s fine, we’re good for each other. Their customers come to us and ours go to them. And they’re really nice people.”
If people are tired of porgy, Martin suggested at his place they try a delicious Jamaican-style fish he calls brown stewed snapper. It’s a red snapper cooked in oil and vegetables and served with rice, cabbage, and plantains.
A Rastafarian whose goal is to become a complete vegetarian, he succumbs occasionally to chicken and still enjoys the fish he describes.He especially loves fishing. “I’ve asked Robert Harris to take me fishing, and he said he would, after he gets a little less busy.”
Which does not appear to be happening any time soon. Mama Mary’s Soul Food Restaurant can be reached by (562-4535) or through its website. The Caribbean Connection is reachable at 777-9080.
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Posted by: JackNH | July 30, 2008 8:49 AM
I'm going! This place is just what I've been looking for. Any reviews so far?
Posted by: THREEFIFTHS | July 30, 2008 10:15 AM
I saw the menu IE:Chopped BBQ,PORK RIBS,PIG FEET
CHITTERLINGS,PORK CHOPS,FRIED FOODS,This type of food is killing the African American Community.Thank God I Am Vegetarian.
Posted by: Deuce | July 30, 2008 11:42 AM
"This type of food is killing the African American Community"
Damn, can't even read about a restaurant here without racist ramblings. Whites eat that stuff too. I'll give this place a try.
Posted by: THREEFIFTHS | July 30, 2008 1:11 PM
First my post is not racist,You need to read the study in the African American Community on diet!!!
My community is suffering from Obesity,High Cholesterol,High Blood Pressure and Diabetes.All this comes from this type of food,Look At the fast foods like Burgerking which should be called Murder king.Mcdonlds which should be called Mcdeath, And we must not forget good old KFC which Should be called Killer Fried Chicken!!! Rember Popeye ate Spinach not Fried Chicken.Any Doctor or Holistic Doctor will tell Fried foods are not good for you,Have you forgot Tras fat,The Rastafarians eat food call Ital google in and you will see what it is.Can you tell me where is the nutritional value in shaving a pigs A and than calling bacon and then fried in a pan and when you
look at it is is nothing but grease and this goes in you arterys which give you Cholesterol.So I am concern with the health of my people and if white people want to eat this food that is there concern
not mine,And by the way There seems to be more white people who are vegetarian than black people,But a lot of black people are starting to change there diet from this type of food.P.S.I will still go to the Rastafarians and the Edge of the woods for my food while you still are eating your mad cow!!!!
Posted by: Carla Morrison | July 30, 2008 1:38 PM
I just found me a new spot. I was wondering what I was going to do since Sandra's closed. Mama Mary watch out, here I come. :)
Posted by: Edward_H | July 30, 2008 2:17 PM
This type of food is killing the African American Community
No. Eating TOO MUCH of this kind of food will kill ANYONE. Moderation and exercise are key to keeping healthy.
Most likely I will check them out on Thursday for lunch. I wish then good luck It is great to see small business opening up in this area.
Posted by: Deuce | July 30, 2008 2:22 PM
Wow, I was just joking about 'racism', trying to be satirical. So instead I get a vegetarian rant.
Enjoy your weeds and moss, I'm going to get me some pork ass!
Posted by: Tom | July 30, 2008 3:13 PM
Sandra's is still #1.That was nice that she passed her business down to her brother.
Thank God for their mother "Mama Mary" because now we have good soulfood in New Haven.
Posted by: THREEFIFTHS | July 30, 2008 8:50 PM
Eating too much of this food will kill anyone,That is my point,But here in the African American Community it takes a high toll on us.In fact it is so bad South L.A. City Council just pass a one year moratorium that would ban fast food restaurants in South L.A. which has the highest incidence of diebetes in South L.A. County.To Deuce racism is nothing to joke about or to be satirical about,But as i have said i will
enjoy my ital food and you can enjoy your pork ass
and mad cow!!!!P.S. GOOGLE In How Hot Dogs and Lunch meat is made!!!
Posted by: Bill Saunders | July 30, 2008 11:20 PM
The government does not need to be in the business of legislating/banning restaurant chains to save people from their own bad habits. Education is the key. Leave it to crunchy-ass California.
If the government wants to really get involved in staving off the diabetes epidemic, ban/limit high-fructose corn syrup as an ingredient. Does everything need to be so sickly sweet??
Personally, I'm dying to try the pigs feet (no pun intended).
Posted by: Deuce | July 31, 2008 9:39 AM
Threefifths, I was only satirizing racism with respect to the context of the posts on NHI. I joke about any subject matter unless it involves injury or death. Humor is healthy. And why is it that vegetarians get so militant and try to convince others to eat their way? You don't see meat eaters campaigning their dietary choices. For the record, I tried giving up meat a few years ago. I lost too much weight and energy. I went back to meat and was healthy again. I have not had any health issues due to eating meat. Life feeds on life. I am not in denial of my animal nature. I will be sampling this new restaurant, possibly joining Bill Saunders for some slaughtered swine. That's what this thread is about, good wishes for a New Haven business.
Posted by: THREEFIFTHS | July 31, 2008 9:46 AM
It is government that is trying to educate,Infact
a friend of mine who is a medical doctor in Harlem
got a grant to study Diets in the Inner city,I saw some of his reports and it is not looking good.Second read my post it is not just about diabetes,Look at te others IE: High Blood Pressure
and High Cholesterol.So enjoy your pig feet,But also bring a bottle of tylenol for the headache that will follow from eating your pig feet!!! P.S, Here is what soul food real means.
"And why is it that vegetarians get so militant and try to convince others to eat their way? You don't see meat eaters campaigning their dietary choices."
I've been a strict vegetarian for more than ten years, at least five as a vegan, and I'll never understand why some vegetarians get so holier-than-thou about it... It appears to me that Threefifths is attempting to be more educational than preachy, though, and for many of us vegetarianism is an ethical choice that we made while we were meat-eaters; somehow, a message reached us and resonated.
To tell you that your choice is wrong, however, is not the way to do this.
I just want you to be aware that many of us, vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike, can do our part for society without being jerks about it.
Posted by: Bill Saunders | July 31, 2008 3:47 PM
Just got back from from a delicious small plate of pigs feet, with collard greens, mac & cheese and corn bread. No headache yet.
For you vegetarian folks, you can enjoy side dishes (served separately) of black-eyed peas, corn, potato salad, string beans, cabbage, & fried okra. The desserts also look awesome, but alas, I do not have much of a sweet tooth.
No reason to cast dietary aspersions here. There's nothing that brings people together like sharing regional, ethnic cuisine, as was evidenced by the culturally diverse clientelle.
All seems pretty fairly balanced to me.
oh, btw, you can liken me to the Kentucky Colonel if you want, but my last name usually has a 'u' in it. (not to sound like dave streeter, or anything -- omg, anything but that).
Posted by: THREEFIFTHS | July 31, 2008 7:22 PM
Steve you are correct,I am just try to educate, At no time in my post did i say that there choice is wrong,I said you enjoy your pig feet and pork ass and i will enjoy my Ital and the food from the Edge of the Woods.One of the reason i became a vegetarian is to help keep my weight down and
because the study on eating of meat,Also my Daughter who is a strict veg for over 20 years told me that we are born vegetarian due to the fact that all new borns are give to eat strain fruits and strain vegetables. So if new borns can live off of this type of food minus meat than so can Adults.My friend in Harlem the Doctor who got the grant to study diet in the Inner city told me that July 4 is the biggest day of meat consumption and July 5 is the biggest day for the consumption of laxatives due to constipation!!! So all i am trying to due is educate.As the great
Mahatma Gandi sid A nation can always be judged
by the way it treats its animals.P.S. I also feel the same about Chinese Food which is load with sodium,But again that is your choice.
Posted by: James | August 1, 2008 12:22 PM
Bill, FYI even those "vegetarian" foods yo mentioned are likely cooked with animal products. I worked as a cook in the south for a number of years out of college and I can tell you that black-eyed peas are likely cooked with a large ham-hock or some fat back for flavor. String beans likely have some bacon in them. For flavor. As for the cabbage, who knows. And I'd imagine that there is some way to get pork into corn. Point is that if you're a strict veg, you're leaving there with some animal in you whether you think so or not.
That being said, I eat what makes me happy and so should you. Moderation is key, but some times you just have to say screw it and sit down to a plate of ribs and collards. And if you can support a local business while you're at it, so much the better.
Posted by: Bill Saunders | August 1, 2008 1:47 PM
You make a good point, and I should have 'investigated' a little further. I know when I make collards at home, chicken stock, and a little pork rind are key to extra-yummy greens.
Posted by: Edward_H | August 1, 2008 5:18 PM
A little pork fat never hurt anyone. In fact I think it is good for the soul!
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