As Yale students readjust to the dining hall’s Manhattan clam chowder and beef tacos, some inevitably find themselves missing Mom’s good ol’ home cooking. But for any Yalies hailing from the Caribbean, a little slice of home exists here in New Haven at 16 Norton St. And for all other Yalies, Mother’s Homestyle Kitchen provides the curried goat that Mom never made.
Touted as one of New Haven’s friendliest establishments, Mama’s (as the place is called by its regulars) does not at first appear to be a place two college-age girls want to be at dusk on a Thursday night. Its surroundings are certainly bleak and are not exactly conducive for a family-friendly atmosphere. Located directly across the street from Yale Bowl Wine and Spirits, Mama’s is one of the few dry businesses on the block — the other businesses including a bar and a strip club around the corner.
Suffice it to say, I was a little bit wary.
Yet, as I noticed the huge grins from the staff and servers as I walked in, I found myself automatically beaming back. Mama sure has a way of making you feel at home.
Once inside, it’s almost possible to forget the X-rated environment beyond Mama’s doors. The atmosphere of the place is like that of an all-night diner; while it may not be particularly fancy, it is casual and comfortable, with large round tables covered in cheery floral tablecloths and walls covered with pictures of Bob Marley and paraphernalia from the Jamaican national football (read: soccer) team. Policemen came in to order take-out and to joke with the pretty waitresses, mothers brought their children in to receive a smile from Mama herself, owner Zoya Jades, and I began to appreciate the low-key, down-home safe haven Mother’s has served as for the last ten years.
Jades, who prefers being called “Mama,” was enormously proud of her restaurant’s upcoming 10-year anniversary, handing out brochures and commemorative stickers to her customers.
“I’ve been here for ten years, and I’ll be here as long as the Lord allows,” she said.
With a price range of anywhere from five to 20 dollars (and prices are subject to change), Mama’s can work as either a quick, cheap dinner or a longer, slightly more pricey dining experience. On the advice of the server, who was well-versed in the fine art of Jamaican cuisine, I ordered a “small bowl” of the soup of the day, red pea stew, as an appetizer. While the soup itself was hearty, full of savory vegetables and potato chunks and seasoned with just the right amount of spices, the term “small bowl” is definitely a misnomer. Mama must want to fatten up her clientele, because her portions are huge. By the time the rolls arrived, I was practically too full to even contemplate digging into the fried plantains, an island standard and favorite of Mama’s regulars (and for good reason — they’re yummy).
The main courses at Mama’s are ridiculously large, consisting of an entree, a bowl of vegetables bigger than the average human head and choice of side dish. While the banana dumplings were surprisingly bland and tasteless, the red snapper and its curry sauce was delicious — that is, once I got past my distaste of seeing an entire fish, head included, being served to me on a platter.
“Just cut off the head,” Mama said. “It tastes fine without it.”
Post-decapitation, I agreed with her.
The one major disappointment was the curried goat, the restaurant’s specialty, which Mama’s online reviews had described as its most popular dish. Unfortunately containing no semblance of curry, the stringy consistency of the meat left me in no rush to suggest goat as an entree to Berkeley dining hall.
By the end of the meal, I was practically too full to move. Mama had certainly done her job well.
Though it certainly isn’t fine dining or haute cuisine, Mother’s Kitchen is an island of warmth and tasty Jamaican treats — sorely needed in the neighborhood around the Yale Bowl. If you’re up for the adventure, prepare to leave full and happy.
Just don’t order the goat.