Chow, Baby recently broke a proud tradition of avoiding malls during the holidays. Until last week, it had been five years since I’d set foot in one. And after 30 seconds in Ridgmar Mall, I remembered why. In those moments, I was exposed to three of my least favorite things on the planet: circling parking-lot vultures, pushy salespeople in kiosks, and children running and screaming. (The only redeeming feature of the place is those giant pretzels.)
My recent stop in hell was a precise in-and-out mission. I didn’t have the spare mental wattage to veer off my path. Even so, I needed a serious application of comfort food afterward as a restorative.
Dodging past the last perfume counter and bell ringer, I jumped into my Korean rocket, somehow breached the impenetrable wall of mall traffic that allows cars neither in nor out, and just started driving. I had originally planned to hit La Media Naranja (961 W. Magnolia Ave.) for what has to be the most decadent, excessively cholesterol-heavy sandwich in the history of civilization, the torta Cubana ($6.95). The goliath, crammed with chorizo, ham, milanesa (pan-fried beef flank steak), mozzarella cheese, pork sausage, avocado, and fried eggs, is like cement for your arteries.
But I never made it there. Maybe I was still in mall shock, or my brain was clanging with the echoes of screaming children — whatever, I zoned out while driving. When my senses returned, I was passing under the I-35 bridge and entering East Fort Worth. As I was figuring out how to turn around and get back to the Death Sandwich, a little beacon pierced my mental fog. I pulled into the parking lot of Mamma E’s Bar-B-Que (818 E. Rosedale St.) and decided I was just fated to eat there.
The dining room of the former KFC outlet is tiny, with only a handful of tables. At the walk-up counter stood the tall, thin figure of Mamma E herself, Ernestine Edmond, with a little granddaughter clinging to her leg for all she was worth. Mamma E guided me through the menu of barbecue and home-cooked meals, calling me “Baby” as she described this and that. On the advice of a regular customer seated nearby, I settled on the rib and link combo ($10.79) with baked beans and potato salad.
The meal’s presentation was as unpretentious as the dining room but then, plastic foam containers simply carried out the building’s fast-food heritage. The fall-off-the-bone tender ribs and smoky links were served together in a thin, mildly spicy sauce. The ribs tasted as though they’d been cooked low and slow, not crisp but with a nice dark crust and a smoky taste from the combination of mesquite, oak, and pecan wood. The casing of the sausages had a nice snap, and they boasted a throat-tickling spice. The whipped potato salad, made with both mayo and mustard, was light and airy, while the beans had a strong, intense flavor. The house-made pecan pie ($2.59) was a gooey, sweet delicious treat and worth the trip all by itself.
You’ve got to love a place where someone’s grandmother is making you dinner. That meal pretty much erased the trauma of the mall from my memory. It was as though I’d hit my psychic reset button. A happy accident brought me there, but the food and friendly service will take me back again, on purpose.
Contact Chow, Baby at firstname.lastname@example.org