>> Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Why don't I go to Hungry Mother more often?
We are spontaneous diners who don't plan ahead. As many unlucky diners have learned throughout the years, not planning ahead = not dining at Hungry Mother.
I have found Hungry Mother (together with the likes of Bondir, The Helmand, and Craigie on Main), to be one of the most difficult reservations to get in Cambridge at the last minute.
It's not hard to see why. Their prices are reasonable and the food is phenomenal. It's unusual that I'll write about a restaurant three times on this blog, but I think it's warranted here. After all, the first post had no pictures (I know, crazy huh? Early days of the blog!) and the second post was just a recipe for one of their dishes. So now (finally!) for the first time, I have a proper write-up full of mouthwatering photos as well as my thoughts about the experience.
Hungry Mother is easy to miss. It's hidden in a little street corner right near One Kendall Square in Cambridge (across the street from the theater). It opened in 2008 to much anticipation and fanfare and has been very, very popular ever since. Forget trying to show up without a reservation on a weekend evening. Be prepared to wait.
The food is Southern American made using refined French techniques. The chef-owner is originally from Virginia and sprinkles various bits of his home state throughout the restaurant. For example, "Hungry Mother" is also the name of a state park in Virginia, and the state bird of Virginia is the cardinal (the logo of the restaurant).
The menu constant changes depending on what's available and what's seasonal. They try their hardest to source ingredients locally or (in the case of Southern-specific ingredients), from Virginia. For us, it had been quite a while since we had last visited, so we anxiously explored the menu and tried several dishes.
The house made Surryano Country Ham Biscuits came with a homemade red pepper jelly, smoked bluefish pate, and pickled okra. We loved the sweet + savory + spicy combo that came from the salty ham, buttery biscuits, and sweet & spicy jelly. I loved the spicy red pepper jelly so much I purchased a jar of it on my way out (yes, they sell them at the counter for $9 a jar).
One of my favorite dishes of the evening was the Crispy Smoked Pork appetizer, which came with Hakurei turnip greens and Jim Nardello peppers in a rich, savory potlikker broth. The broth was incredible, incorporating the rich, smoky flavors from the pork. A cornbread stick served as the perfect tool by which to soak up any remaining broth.
The Chatham Bluefish came with "hm" bacon ("hm" presumably means Hungry Mother? Or maybe House-made?). It was topped with tomato jam and served over a salad of arugula and red Norland potatoes tossed in a cider vinaigrette.
This dish was solid, though I think deep down inside we both thought that the famous fried catfish was the better dish.
Bryan absolutely loved the Baked Anson Mills Grits, which were made with "hm" Tasso ham and tons of sharp, Vermont cheddar. It was wonderfully cheesy, very creamy, and all around very good.
The Sauteed Local Collard Greens, cooked with pepper vinegar, was fine, but uninspiring.
My other favorite dish - the one I could not stop eating - was the Skillet Cornbread with Sorghum Butter. Sorghum is a type of sweet molasses made from sorghum, an early grain. Sorghum butter is sweet, sort of like honey butter.
The cornbread was addictive. Buttery and moist on the inside, crunchy on the outside - it was definitely amongst the best cornbread I've ever had. Heck, I'd go back for that dish alone. We only ordered a "small" portion (half circle), but you can easily get a whole one for the table to share. I guarantee it won't stick around for long.
Bryan got the Strube Ranch Wagyu Bavette Steak, which was served with creamed native corn, blacked arrow head cabbage, and "b-1" sauce. The steak was solid, though the entire dish was not particularly special. We've had more interesting dishes in the past, and I think this time around, our main entrees were good, but didn't exactly blow us away.
Nevertheless, we're still huge fans of the restaurant. My favorites are the Crispy Smoked Pork appetizers and the Sorghum cornbread. The fried green tomatoes are excellent, and we've enjoyed the French gnocchi a lot on a past visit.
Their menu changes daily, so there's always a chance to try something new. Of course, certain classics, like the cornbread and the fried green tomatoes, probably never leave the menu.
For dessert we tried the Blueberry Stacked Cake, which was great - not too sweet, and full of luscious, in-season berries. I still miss the buttermilk pie they had the first time I came. I'm not sure if they will ever bring it back, but I hope for it every single time.
Overall, this fun little Southern place is a gem in Kendall Square. It's very evident why Hungry Mother is so popular. On top of the great food, they also serve some really interesting cocktails and have an extensive spirits list. Finally, the space is warm and cozy, reminiscent of a traditional Southern restaurant with many rooms, each one painted a different color. You almost feel like you're inside a big house.
233 Cardinal Medeiros Ave
Cambridge, MA 02141