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Barbeque by the Numbers

Mama's Stares Down the Toughest Critics

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Mama's BBQ

5264 N. Lombard 445-9524

As a former denizen of the Southern United States, there's a good chance I know more about what makes good barbeque than the average diner (i.e. YOU). This doesn't make you any less of a human being, and you're certainly entitled to your opinion--but when it comes to barbecue, you should know my opinion is worth more than yours. That said, there's a brand new restaurant on Lombard, and a few things you should always look for when casing out new barbeque joints:

1) A grill made out of an oil barrel sitting on the sidewalk. Mama's BBQ has this.

2) Big, fat, honkin' ribs. I hate it when restaurants deliver a rib that looks like it fell out of a downer cow. I want a meaty, tender rib, and that's what I got at Mama's. Purists may prefer a bit more bark (or charred skin), but this is a damn fine rib.

3) A delicious sauce to adorn the rib. Sauce can make or break a restaurant, and happily for Mama's, they have a very fine sauce. A smoky rich, tomatoey sweetness pervades the concoction, which contains just enough spiciness to make your lips tingle. Mama's obviously trusts the quality of their meat, choosing not to disguise it in runny ketchupy goo.

4) Pulled pork. It's a North Carolina staple you won't find in many other states, including the embarrassingly inferior barbecue of Texas. Mama's has a pulled pork dinner plate chock-full of shredded piggy, marinated with the above-mentioned delicious sauce. And though my pork was a tad on the tough side, it served as an enjoyable feast. In fact, the only thing missing was two slices of Wonder Bread to sop up the sauce and wad up the pork. Which brings us toÉ

7) Wonder Bread. Yes, it's white trash, but in my opinion (which we've already clarified as worthwhile) its inclusion is highly necessary. Mama's does NOT have Wonder Bread. Instead it has Wonder Bread's fancy cousin, cornbread. Though Mama's does many things well, my cornbread left much to be desired; too weighty, with a bitter aftertaste that caused me to wonder if this particular batch had gone south (and not in a good way). However, this is easily remedied, and I have faith the problem will be corrected by my next visit. Besides, Wonder Bread is cheap.

8) Side dishes. Yes, Mama's has them, and for the most part, they are terrific. The coleslaw is some of the best I've tasted in Portland; big chunks of cabbage, with just the right touch of sweetness, and creamy sauce. The collard greens are fresh, full-flavored and brimming with meaty bits. And while perhaps too sweet for some, I found the baked beans to be very serviceable, and a nice complement to the meal. One word of warning about the garlic grits, however: Deep-fried hush-puppy style, these can easily arrive overcooked, but with a ranch dressing dipping sauce, all is good again.

And finally, 9) Pecan pie. The cornerstone of any barbecue palace, Mama's has it, and this version has enough sugary, molassessy sweetness to knock the teeth out of your head. For a new restaurant, Mama's BBQ shows a tremendous amount of promise, and could eventually unseat the mighty Campbell's with a few minor revisions (starting with Wonder Bread!).

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