For better or for worse, I am a child of the south. Right away that carries enough connotations to fill a book, but I’ll stick to the more familiar context of food. As most people know, food in this part of the country is a way of life. From the slave tended barbeque pits of the antebellum south to the modern day country buffet, there’s a good chance that any conversation here will likely touch on the topic of food. While this obsession, when compounded by an increasingly sedentary lifestyle, does carry the ever-growing side effect of an ever-growing waistline, it also creates burnt out taste buds. For as much the idea of a quality home-style southern meal appeals to me, the glut of mediocre to poor southern buffet and home-style restaurants has left me searching for anything and everything but the food of my home state and region. With that in mind, it’s no small amount of irony that after travelling some 1500 miles from Jackson to Boston, I had caught a cab to Cambridge to sit at the bar at Hungry Mother.
Why Hungry Mother? Why did I come all the way to Boston to eat high end southern cuisine? One reason is that the good people of Chowhound raved about it, another reason is that my buddy Tom, a spokesman for and proponent of Boston if I ever saw one, recommended it to me, and the last and maybe the most important is that it was the first restaurant that took my reservation on that Saturday afternoon.
Having made reservations for four, I thought it would be best to arrive early and wait for Alex, Sarah, and Ben at the bar. Normally this would be time to catch up on twitter but a tidy selection of inventive cocktails constructed with house made ingredients kept that to a minimum. I was already two cocktail masterpieces deep when Alex and Sarah arrived with the news that Ben had bailed for dinner; no worries, it was more for the three of us.
Like so many southern meals, this one began with a little bit of pimento cheese.
Working to improve the usual mix of grated cheddar, mayonnaise, and canned pimentos, this pimento cheese was made with smoked cheddar and chevre and it had the tartness and smokiness to prove it.
Having been spoiled by my favorite local pimento cheese, I was a little disappointed to find Hungry Mother’s version missing any porcine goodness but the exceptionally juicy pimentos buoyed my spirits.
Taking another shot at the “To Tide You Over” section of the menu, the smoked beef tongue canapé was next.
When cooked well, tongue is one of the most tender and beefiest cuts of the cow and this canapé was a fine example of the breed.
Served with Dijon and Robinson Family Swiss on a baguette, this sweet and moist mini sandwich was a tease. I can only imagine what sort of sensory overload a full size example would be.
Ever since I put my name on a pig from La Quercia, I’ve had a mild obsession with trying all their products. The small plate of prosciutto Americano was no exception.
Regardless of which fruit it was, the preserves complimented the nutty prosciutto and everyone happily cleared the plate.
At this point, everyone’s main course arrived along with a duo of side dishes. First was the Anson grits with Hungry Mother tasso and cheddar.
Ever toothsome, these Anson grits were a true ambassador for the south and while the tasso may not have had the smokiness of Donald Link tasso, they still made for a fine blend of grits, pork, and cheese.
Biting my tongue in worry and anticipation, I held my breath when the skillet cornbread was introduced to the table.
With the first bite my fears melted away. The cornbread had a thick crust you can only get from a ripping hot skillet and the taste was just a bit salty. When combined with the sweetness of the sorghum butter, it was homespun magic. In retrospect, I really wish I had ordered a side of collard greens too.
Since orders of pimento cheese, grits, and cornbread had already been brought to the table, it seemed only natural that my entrée would be an order of the smoked bbq pork shoulder.
At this point you would expect a rant about how only southerners know true bbq, but I’m sorry to disappoint. Once a person realizes that bbq does not mean hotdogs and hamburgers on a grill, the sky is the limit and the people at Hungry Mother have enjoyed that epiphany.
I’ve enjoyed my fair share of good, bad and terrible bbq, but this pulled pork was something else. Far from the half brown plates I found in North Carolina, this pork was light on the smoke but heavy on the richness. The exterior had a delightfully desiccated crunch that was replaced by the unctuous texture of well-cooked pork shoulder.
As for the slaw and hushpuppies, this Lexington slaw was red, crispy, and spicy while its sauce was a dynamite compliment to the pork. Taking a different approach than the cornbread, the hushpuppies were crisp yet tender, sweet yet spicy, a delightful duo of dichotomies.
In the end, the three of us were devastated. We did our best to finish it all but we came up short. Shortly after, while entertaining the idea of dessert and more cocktails, I couldn’t help but wonder. Is this what it takes? After so much subpar kitschy southern shit at home, when I have a pining for high quality southern fare, do I really need to book a flight to Boston? Have the Yankees beaten the south at its own game? The answer, I think, is no. I don’t believe Hungry Mother beats out the best that the south has to offer, but it comes alarmingly close. I have to admit I had my doubts about Hungry Mother and southern cuisine in Boston but after one night, I’m a true believer. Hungry Mother may not be the best, but they’re giving the south a run for its money. In the end, I’m just happy to see my home cuisine done so well and that even this far north, people can appreciate and get a taste of real southern cooking.
Hungry Mother Address & Information