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Amidst the constellation of home cooking joints in Central Arkansas, Your Mama's Good Food has long been our North Star. We drift away from time to time, but always return to the 30-year-old downtown purveyor of fried goodness, vegetables made with love (or a lot of butter) and rolls as big as bocce balls.
So it was with some trepidation that we received the news that Fleming and Barbara Stockton had sold the restaurant they'd run for nearly 21 years. The deal, which was announced last fall, also left us comfort food-less for three months, while the business moved from the Tower Building to a larger space a few blocks away in the Pyramid Place Building.
The verdict after two months and some change in the new location under new ownership? The food is as straightforward and delicious as we remember it. In half a dozen visits, we've sampled all the standbys: crispy fried chicken; fried pork chops covered in rich, brown gravy that we suspect could improve just about any meal; slow-cooked beef tips over egg noddles (more gravy); and deep-fried chicken fried steak (still more gravy). Ditto for familiar sides being as good as we recalled. No one has better mashed potatoes in town. Fried okra, black-eyed peas, turnip greens, thick-sliced cooked carrots (in lots of butter) and smothered cabbage were predictably good as well. When separated, one roll we ordered had a layer of flour on it; otherwise, those massive creations remain peerless. The underrated sweet cornbread deserves consideration as well.
Is it an easy transition otherwise? No, though perhaps unreasonably. We miss small things about the old Your Mama's. The hexagonal tile, the green vinyl-covered wooden chairs, the smells from the adjacent kitchen that always stuck to your clothes — was any restaurant cozier? The new space is significantly bigger — 3,600 square feet in total, with a much larger kitchen and seating for around 130 or 140, almost twice as much as the last location could accommodate. It's not un-cozy, but certainly feels voluminous. There's a large entryway and two sections of seating areas, divided by an exposed brick wall with a spiffy neon Your Mama's sign on the street side. Off to another side is a private room that's used for overflow seating during lunch and is available for rental. The ceilings are high, and there's probably 50 feet for the food line to snake before doubling back. Near one private room is a large antique safe ("where we keep our secret recipes," a man busing tables joked recently).
Despite the changes, there's been much constancy. For most of the time since the restaurant reopened, Fleming Stockton has worked in the kitchen, in a consultant's role, supervising the kitchen transition. He's now retired and at work on a book called "So You Think You Can Own a Restaurant" (we don't at all, but are ready to pre-order on the promise of Stockton chronicling his path from hippie vegetarian to soul food king). Meanwhile, his wife, Barbara Stockton, long the public face of the restaurant as cashier, continues on with no immediate plans to leave. Long time grill man and fryer of chicken and such Brian Davis remains on staff as well.
The new owners, brother-in-laws John Gray and Steve Maxwell, don't appear to be candidates for running the business into the ground. Gray, the managing partner, is a 25-year food service vet, who's bounced around from New Orleans to Destin. His vision for the new Your Mama's largely has to do with broadening the restaurant's reach. He's in the early stages of the application process for a license to serve beer and wine. With the restaurant's proximity to Markham Street and River Market area hotels, he thinks there could be some opportunities for business a couple nights a week. More near-term, Gray plans to start packaging Your Mama's containers for take-and-bake evening meals. "The home-meal replacement market," Gray calls it. Comfort food in the comfort of your own home? Sounds like something we could get behind.