f 7inchSlam.com: August 2008

8.08.2008

Big Mama Said There'd Be Days Like This

Just for a quick taste today before we get to the meat of this post, here are some fine examples of the extremely red-eyed Steve and Ciggy tossing together some most triumphant (in the parlance of Count Drugula) fried chicken over at Sarah Street this spring. I like to think we made some great chicken, but sometimes you can't hold a candle to the real thing, which you will see after this set of pictures.









So since our last update, I've been uprooted from my humble digs in South Side and have scampered over to the East End in our beloved 'Burgh, shacking up alone in a space-age bachelor pad in East Liberty suitable for the likes of a disheveled fancy-boy like myself. Back when I was a youngster, most Sundays I was shepherded into the ominous sanctuary of East Liberty Presbyterian Church by the folks, much to the consternation of the newly minted Sunday School teachers, until about the age of nine when all parties concerned decided that the Lord's work was not a vocation designed for my wise-cracking then-metalhead constitution. But now, I have returned to my familiar stomping grounds in the shadow of the steeple over on Highland Avenue, much to the delight of Momma A ("Just think, you get to wake up and look out the window and see that church your great-grandfather helped build" - OK, Mom) and finally I have two grocery stores within a two-block radius that supply me with better ingredients than the South Side Giant Eagle could ever dream of.

In addition to having said grocery stores within easy walking distance, I got myself a new pizza place, a new bar with some delicious food and Punk Night which gave me the chance to spin records there about a month or so ago, a bunch of Ethiopian restaurants I don't see myself visiting anytime soon, and a brand-new bike commute straight down Liberty and through the Strip District that tacked eight extra miles onto my route everyday.

However, now my favorite part of the day is zooming down Liberty at 7:30 AM inside a fancy private bike lane and then rolling through the Strip on the freshly-repaved Penn Avenue, and you've already seen what can be consumed by any aspiring gastronomist that breezes through there, I'd guess. But the place I want to discuss today is further down Penn next to the 16th Street Bridge and I roll by it everyday: Big Mama's House of Soul.



I decided to take the trip during my lunch break Downtown, and I rode over to the Strip again, hoping to be the first customer that day. My hopes were dashed when I noticed a group of retirees had beaten me to it:



But undeterred, I waited through the sea of people that piled up in about five short minutes and eventually filtered out through the door. I placed my order for lunch: fried chicken, greens, and mac and cheese - my soul food standard order - so I could effectively give Big Mama a chance to show off some of the restaurant's finest wares. Big Mama is not an imagined marketing creation like Betty Crocker. She is very sweet, very real, and a lady who commands all the respect you can deliver when you are in her presence. Her waiting area had become flush with patrons who had little room to stand and little control over their volume and slightly pushy behavior.



Here's Big Mama (real name: Brenda Franklin) in action:



After she took my money, she succeeded in clearing out the waiting area in front of the kitchen in order to work. All the patrons were told to go around the corner to an air-conditioned room on the side of the building. I figured it had to be better in there than sitting out in front at the picnic tables with a bunch of white-haired norms, so I went around the corner, only to find an open door to a room lined with football Astroturf and Steelers memorabilia covering the walls. I was the only one there for some reason. None of the other customers were even on the side of the building I sat down in a chair with one of Big Mama's helpers hanging out nearby and opened my Styrofoam container and silently began to eat. The food was stellar:



Here's another look.



Killin' it.



I was taken aback with how great this chicken tasted. It had an excellent crunchy breading, spiced perfectly with a noticeable cayenne-addled kick and delicately tender meat. But you probably don't even like eating. Lord knows I don't...



Big Mama breezed into the room and finding me there immediately gave me a tour of her Steelers room after I asked some preliminary questions while I was eating. She was quite happy to dish with me about her life, her restaurant, and more. The Steelers figure heavily into her universe, as she is lauded for her fandom and cooking by the team. Santonio Holmes and Hines Ward seem to be her #1 dudes. Autographs decorate items all over her pickup room (which is where I figured I was) and I was getting the VIP treatment by even being allowed to be in there. Here's a taste:


The Super Team XIII LP. I think Siltbreeze is repressing this... oh wait, they're probably Eagles fans. WHATEVER.



Hines had to say this:



Good enough for me. Also, good look on adding XL MVP to the signature, Hines. YES.



All the Steelers and BBQ stuff is great, but you have to remember one-half of our coverage here is music. Well, of course Big Mama had us covered. She has been a jazz and gospel singer for decades, playing with every notable jazz artist in the city, and for the non-Burghers out there, we have a pretty extensive jazz history in town including dudes like Harold Betters, Roger Humphries (who Big Mama sang for and is in the 8x10" up above), and more. Then I got the best part... Big Mama turned up the stereo that was playing and sang me a gorgeous gospel snippet that was so moving that I gave her a hug as soon as she was done. Here's the video (you might need to turn this down... I did the best I could):



In case you've noticed, I've kept it pretty clean in this entry, and that is because Big Mama is a reverend and will not tolerate any cursing. I was well-appraised of this fact when I dropped an F-bomb in my conversation and was strictly admonished for cursing in her presence. But sometimes you need to shut up, so I appreciated her telling me who's who and what's what. Big Mama is a number one lady and I'll do pretty much whatever she needs me to do. I was invited to Jazz on the Bridge that weekend, which I guess is every Sunday down on 16th and Penn. If I had the chops, I'd bring the Epiphone down there and try to swing, but instead I think I'll return for the ribs this time. Anyone who wants to come with knows where to find me.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,