Friday, July 6, 2012

Food for the heart, mind, and SOUL!

By Benjamin Ramos Rosado,

Collard greens. Potato salad. Fried catfish. Candied yams. Fresh made banana pudding. These are the building blocks of a soul food dinner that will make you hoot and holler like an old lady feeling the “spirit” on a Sunday morning in church. So if you’re ready for a life changing religious experience (i.e. a good meal), then go to Miss. Maude’s Spoonbread Too and get ready to testify!

Miss Maude’s Spoonbread Too is one of Central Harlem’s greatest culinary treasures. Miss Maude’s is one of two restaurants owned by former Wilhelmina model Norma Jean Darden (she named the restaurant after her Aunt Maude), who also operates Spoonbread Catering; which specializes in cutting edge multi-cultural cuisine.

Miss Maude’s is a medium sized diner-style space with tables in the center; three cushioned booths; a counter for take out orders; and family photos and press clippings hung on the walls. Simple and clean, the space is welcoming in that wonderful way that mom and pop establishments are.

The wait staff is friendly and sweet, but slow. My server was funny and engaging, but it took a long time to get my dishes; I made sure to note that in the suggestion box near the bathroom.

As I looked over the menu, Mr. Johnson-a 73-year-old cotton haired African-American widower from Central Harlem-sat in the table next to mine to wait for his take out order. With a friendly smile, he asked me if I had been to Miss Maude’s before, and then began to give me his dinner recommendations, “You come here, ya’gotta eat the fried chicken. Nothing is better than the fried chicken! My wife used to love the fried catfish, but I love the chicken. Get the chicken. Trust me the chicken! Unless, you can’t don’t like chicken, then eat the catfish!”

He said chicken at least 20 times, before his take out order (fried chicken (surprised?) with candied yams and macaroni and cheese) was ready. As he left, I thanked him for the company and re-focused my attention on Miss Maude’s amazing entrée menu, which features: Southern Fried chicken (Surprised yet?), Miss Maude’s Famous BBQ Chicken, Baked Turkey Wings, Fried/BBQ/Fried Shrimp, Louisiana Catfish, Homemade Meatloaf, and Uncle CL’s Short beef ribs, and Center Cut Pork chops (grilled or smothered).

All entrees are served with fresh baked cornbread and two sides such as: Macaroni and cheese, candied yams, collard greens, Black-eyed peas, potato salad, mashed potatoes, spinach, and cornbread stuffing.

Miss Maude’s menu also features a soup/salad/starters section that offers: BBQ wings (glazed with their renown BBQ sauce); Aunt Norma’s fresh green salad (with cherry tomatoes, baby corn and your choice of dressing); and Miss Maude’s Famous seafood Gumbo.

Despite Mr. Johnson’s recommendations, I had to follow my heart and order the Louisiana Catfish with collard greens, potato salad and an extra side of candied yams. Since my childhood, I have loved catfish! I used to devour Ms. Mable’s mouth-watering fried catfish sandwiches from her mom and pop restaurant across the street from my father’s bodega. I had to see if Miss Maude’s catfish could stand up to that scrutiny…and it did!

The Louisiana catfish was excellent! The cornmeal and white flour breading was crisp and delicious and the catfish was soft, flavorful and well seasoned. Many soul food places serve you a plate of oily, salty or dried out catfish and have the nerve to call it good, but Miss Maude’s Louisiana catfish exemplifies how fried catfish should taste. It took me back to those Saturday afternoons spent gobbling up Ms. Mable’s sandwiches in the back of the bodega, when I should’ve been restocking the refrigerators.

The collard greens, cooked with ham bone and diced onions, were wonderful and the candied yams were also a treat! I love it when candied yams are sweet and have a cinnamon taste to them as well. The potato salad was good, but it had a bit too much mayonnaise for me. Despite the excess mayo, it had all the wonderful elements you expect from southern potato salad, such as celery, green and red peppers, relish, and hardboiled eggs.

After having a wonderful dinner, I had to finish off the meal with a good dessert. Miss Maude’s dessert menu features: Coconut Layer cake, Sweet potato pie, Homemade peach cobbler, red velvet cake, and Miss Maude’s Signature banana pudding. Overwhelmed by the potential deliciousness of all the desserts, I asked my server what he recommended and he told me his favorite dessert was the banana pudding; so I ordered it.

The banana pudding was rich and delicious; the whipped cream topping was sweet, but not heavy, and complimented the banana pieces in the pudding. The cinnamon vanilla wafer piecrust bottom was also an extra treat! My server was right when he said, “It’s off the hook good!”

One of the many reasons I am a proud to be a Harlem boy is that we have the best soul food in New York City (Sorry Brooklyn, face facts, you come in second)! Every so often, I head downtown to Harlem to feed my heart, mind, and soul; nothing satiates that hunger better than the food at Miss Maude’s Spoonbread Too! Go Taste for yourself!

¡Buen Provecho!

Miss Maude’s Spoonbread Too
547 Lenox Avenue
(Between 137th St. & 138th St.)

HOURS: Sunday 11:30am-9pm, Monday-Thursday 12:00pm-9:30pm, Friday-Saturday 12:00pm-10:30pm.

ATMOSPHERE: Friendly, laidback and comfortable.

SERVICE: A bit slow, but the servers are very nice.

SOUND LEVEL: Good for Conversations!

KID FRIENDLY: Bring the kids!


BEVERAGES: Sodas, Homemade iced Tea, Fresh Squeezed lemonade, Spoonbread Punch (made with fruit juices), Coffee, Hot tea, and Strawberry Wine ($2.00-$3.95)

PRICE RANGE: Appetizers/Salads/Soup ($3.95-$7.95), Entrees ($12.95-$16.95), and Desserts ($3.50-$4.95)

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