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There’s a spark at Madea’s but no consistency

THE REAL MADEA
  • THE REAL MADEA

Nary a week goes by that we're aren't at some meat-and-three, soul-food stop — where pork parts come in all the vegetables, everything tastes better fried and there's always a handy hunk of cornbread for sopping up. We've just about memorized the daily specials at Your Mama's. David Family Kitchen may as well be family, and lately we've been having this beautiful dream about sailing on a lake of gravy with the fried chicken from Kitchen Express.

For all our go-to spots, there's always room to add to the list, and it was with not a little excitement that we recently visited Madea's Delicious Home Cooking, a restaurant that's been pulling in politicos and construction workers — always good indicators of quality in fried and gravy-smothered foods — since it opened in March. Situated in a small cinderblock building on Seventh Street (just west of the Woodrow Street corner where Loca Luna's Mark Abernathy plans to situate his barbecue and soul food restaurant), Madea's is so small and nondescript that, even with directions, one of our dining companions drove past the restaurant twice before finally finding his way.

Our first visit coincided with the weekly catfish Friday, and as a consequence, the restaurant's pumpkin-colored dining room, with only four or five tables, was brimming. Never one to turn down anything with its own designated day, we ordered the catfish, with hushpuppies, fried okra and cabbage ($6.50). Even though our fish came only a touch warmer than room temperature, it was crispy and well spiced. The hushpuppies were a little dry, but helped us sop up every last bit of cabbage, flavored with just the right amount of sugar.

Our companions were even more pleased. They each sampled fare not traditionally found in home cookin' spots. One got the chicken jalapeno melt, a grilled chicken sandwich topped with melted cheese and sliced jalapeno that came with fries ($5.50). The other tried the Mexican chicken casserole (the $6.50 special), a thick, multi-tiered blend of cheese, chicken, onions and tortillas. He forced bites onto the rest of the group and pronounced it “best Mexican casserole ever.”

Madea's name was inspired by the hugely popular Tyler Perry film character, who goes by a kind of contraction of “mother” and “dear” (and decidedly not from Greek mythology's Medea, who killed her children to spite her husband). Accordingly, Madea's seems to be less about home cooking as cuisine than a reflection of an actual home. Like most mothers in the kitchen, Mable Jeffrey, designated by Madea's business card as “personal chef,” serves up an innovative menu that changes weekly. There's a light lunch plate, which on our first visit included options like grilled tilapia and grilled chicken with tomato, cucumber, eggs and grilled zucchini bread. There's a selection of soups, like potato-bacon corn chowder, and desserts, like a root beer float cake that tasted more like caramel than root beer, but went down just as easy. Not to be missed: Madea's array of home-brewed iced teas, with flavors like cinnamon plum and raspberry.

After such a winning initial experience, eager to sample from the ever-evolving menu, we ventured back twice in the following weeks. Once, we happened on chicken fried steak day and ordered it with pinto beans, fried okra and corn bread. The pinto beans were thick and full of chunks of pork and had a welcome tang to them — cumin perhaps. Fried okra is kind of hard to mess up and Madea's didn't, but the chicken friend steak was a wholesale disappointment. Thin and with a lightly breaded crust, it was almost certainly pre-made, and the chalky gravy tasted like it came from a box. Anxious to recapture the quality of our first meal, we returned, with a group, another Friday. This time our fish came fresh out of the fryer, but wasn't crisp and tasted a bit mossy, as catfish can. A companion took one bite of his greasy burger and spent the rest of the meal picking at his bun.

In the near future, we'll stick to the standbys, but after such a pleasing first experience, we're planning on returning. Maybe time will breed consistency.

Madea's Delicious Home Cooking

21/2

2801 W. Seventh St.

664-2230

Quick Bite

The rare home cooking restaurant with a light lunch, Madea's prides itself on its innovative menu touches — homebrewed flavored teas, inventive desserts and ever-evolving entrees. The food, especially the Mexican chicken casserole and catfish, is often outstanding, but uneven.

Hours

Lunch Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m.- 3 p.m.

Other info

Inexpensive to moderate. No cards. No alcohol. Fax number 664-3232 for carryout orders. Be prepared to wait for a table during the lunch rush.

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