Mama’s Boy – Southern Hospitality in South Norwalk

After several visits to Mama’s Boy Southern Table and Refuge in SONO I can highly recommend this restaurant for its food and ambiance.  Fairfield County native and owner Greer Fredericks, and her business partner Ami Dorel, bring a southern feel to the décor, and Chef Scott Ostrander is making his mark on the menu with some great dishes.

The “BBQ Pulled Pork” contained great texture and flavors that were accented with a touch of spiciness from the jalapeño corn pancakes. The Mama’s Bourbon Q sauce added a deep rich element to the dish.

The “Charleston Crab Cakes” were served alongside a medley of tomato, corn, butterbeans, and lemon herb aioli. The cylinder-shaped cakes were full of crab and the accompanying vegetables were a perfect complement for sweetness and texture.

DSC_1551-001The menu also offers “Deviled Eggs” with house-smoked Tasso, and okra pickles. The Tasso added smokiness to the creamy yolks, and the major difference between Mama’s and others is the pickled okra. Combining a piece of okra with the deviled eggs was like no other Deviled Egg I have ever tasted. The “Salt ‘n Vinegar Fried Oysters” were fried perfectly and were delicious with the addition of the vinegar.

The Soup & Salad contains two great options. The “BLT Salad” was delicious, but not a reduced calorie recipe. It included fried green tomato, candied bacon, artisan lettuce, and topped with a buttermilk-herb dressing. The combination of the sweet and peppery bacon, the crispy fried green tomato (a thicker slice would have been preferred) and the sweet field lettuces created a delicious salad.

The “Shrimp and Grits” is becoming their signature dish and it just kept getting better. On my latest visit the appetizer-sized dish contained three U-21 southern white shrimp, sitting atop Fall’s Mill grits, topped with house-smoked Tasso, spring onion, and finished with pimento cream gravy. The shrimp are sweet and the grits were fantastic; the texture was creamy with a little crunch.

True to southern cuisine, Mama’s offers its version of the traditional chicken ‘n waffles. “The Little Yardbird” includes pieces of hens that were first marinated in pickle juice and hot sauce and then deep fried. The result was an incredibly moist meat with flavor and texture from the crispy coating. Paired with the waffles, bourbon infused NY sorghum (I prefer a sweeter, more maple-y sauce) and braised greens.

SONO now has catfish on the menu. Mama’s Boy serves its “Corn Bread Crusted Catfish” with Carolina Anson Mills rice, okra, Vidalia onion and smoked tomato.  The filet was moist on the interior and crispy on the exterior while the corn bread coating gave a sweet component to the fish. The sauce was delicious and contained dices of both okra and additional tomato; the rice was a soft textural complement to the dish. I added a few drops of hot sauce to give the dish a little kick.

The “Mushroom and Dumplings” is actually “potato gnocchi, exotic mushroom blend, herbs, and a sunny side farm egg.” The potato gnocchi were sautéed to achieve a crispy exterior and then combined with Mitaki, Oyster and Cremini mushrooms. Sitting atop was a fried egg, awaiting the release of its creamy yolk, which added a great flavor and creaminess when released. The seasoning was slightly off on the dish I sampled with the gnocchi under-seasoned, a little too much vinegar in the mushrooms and a little too much salt sprinkled on top. This is definitely a re-try for my next visit.

And save room for one of the best desserts, Mama’s Boy’s Pecan Cheese Cake. A creamy wedge of moist cheesecake was accented with a sweet topping of maple and pecans. This was a perfect way to end the evening.

DSC_1376-001Overall Mama’s Boy Southern Table and Refuge is an excellent choice in SONO. The food is creative, inventive and offers a new cuisine to the area and the atmosphere is relaxed, fun and very southern.

Mama’s Boy Southern Table & Refuge

19 North Water Street – South Norwalk, CT – (203) 956-7171

Really Liked:

  • BBQ Pulled Pork
  • Charleston Crab Cakes
  • BLT Salad
  • Shrimp & Grits
  • Little Yardbird
  • Pecan Cheesecake


  • Salt ‘n Vinegar Fried Oysters
  • She Crab Soup
  • Corn Bread Crusted Catfish

Needs a revisit:

  • Mushroom and Dumplings
  • John’s Island Frogtown Stew

A more detailed review appeared in at

Mama's Boy Southern Table & Refuge on Urbanspoon


The Red Cow – She’s Blushing in Edina

Red Cow posted the “10 New Twin City Burgers to Eat Right Now” in April and Red Cow was on their list, was convenient and fit nicely into my schedule. When I arrived a little before 6PM on a Wednesday night, the place was 80% filled with families, young couples, and several tables of retirees, a very eclectic group…all looking for the high-end diner experience. I was quickly seated (would not have been the case when I left an hour later when the waiting area was jammed). The walls were adorned with large paintings (Ms. Red Cow herself watch my every move) and the feel of the space was very family oriented and relaxing. The staff darted around the restaurant to serve customers. The relaxed atmosphere of the décor was definitely offset by the rushing servers. Since I was there for the burger, the first order of business was to choose one from the many choices available. Red Cow does a great job in offering a variety of meat and non-meat options. I chose the Manhattan, which included an 8-oz patty from NY butcher Pat LaFrieda plus Cotsworth cheese and bacon, and I added caramelized onions. To start, I ordered  the Pork Belly Sliders (offered at a discount prior to 6PM) to start.

Pork Belly SlidersThe pork belly appetizer consisted of three sliders, a slice of pork belly topped with a slaw of red cabbage, corn, red pepper, onion and cilantro, encased in a mini bun. The buns were, as others have described, soft and delicious. The pork belly carried great flavor and the slaw added a slightly spicy element to the sliders. Overall this appetizer was a great choice and the highlight of the visit. BurgerThe burger was good, but not great. On a positive note the kitchen cooked it perfectly to my requested medium-rare, the patty released a little juice, but it was extremely compressed, losing all the great qualities of a loose grind. I always question the use of LaFrieda meat as it just does not have the great flavor I look for in a burger and this was again the case, but at Red Cow there was also a subtle bitterness to the meat. I cannot give high marks to either the texture or the taste. The cheese was my favorite part of the burger, great flavor and perfectly melted. There were two strips of bacon that delivered a little flavor but I would have preferred additional saltiness and smokiness. The caramelized onions were soft but the flavor was a little acrid, the sugars were not fully released. The sweet potato fries (the limited amount they included with the burger) were very dense and did not have the soft interior texture to complement the crispy exterior. Likewise the flavor was not as sweet as many other sweet potato fries. I would guess they were frozen and merely fried on site. Overall these were not to my liking. The burger and fries were served with an aioli, no ketchup. If requested there are two choices of ketchup, prepackaged bottled and a house made. The latter was outstanding with the addition of a small amount of balsamic vinegar, which really added great flavor. In addition to the pork belly sliders, the house-made ketchup is highly recommended.

Service was actually fun to watch. The servers were young, as in high school. They were incredibly friendly and ran around the restaurant with passion. Everything I ordered was “a great choice.” There were two managers who wandered to tables to check-in so there was some supervision, but this is a hamburger joint and is staffed as such, which is a good thing. Unfortunately in my case I sat for ten minutes before anyone approached the table, so patience is a virtue. The worst aspect was after one bite of my appetizer, no exaggeration, one bite, my burger arrived. “I’m really sorry, but the hamburger came out really quickly.” The server thought that was acceptable and tried to place on the table. I just told him I was not even close to ready for the burger. He seemed befuddled but eventually understood and removed the burger. A little more training and staffing is something the owners should consider.

Overall I thought the place was a fun atmosphere to take the family for a burger. I would recommend avoiding the surcharge for the “Manhattan” with the LaFrieda meat and look into the regular versus the sweet potato fries. But be advised that a family of four could easily spend $100 for a burger dinner.

Red Cow on Urbanspoon

Brilliance @ Burch Steak & Pizza (Minneapolis)

When I was told that one of my favorite chefs, Isaac Becker, was opening another restaurant I was anxious to try. And when I discovered that he was dedicating the cuisine to two of my favorites, pizza and steak, I knew I needed to go as soon as I came back to the twin cities. I secured a single reservation on a slow Tuesday evening and drove through normal rush hour traffic to Burch, the newest addition to the growing list of great restaurants in Minneapolis.

The parking is difficult and valet for $8 seemed a bit high, but well worth the price. Once you enter the restaurant you see a large dining area directly in front of you that seats 50+ overlooking the open kitchen, a la BLG, and to the right is another large dining area with a bar that seats 20 and table seating for another 50+. The spaces are quite large, yet the use of woods, soft lighting and large windows gives the feel of romantic meets hip, they did a great job on creating a cool, yet intimate dining environment.

The menu is typical Becker-eclectic, combinations of flavors that you would never expect; his genius in combining flavors and textures shine with every dish.

I am a huge carnivore and the list of grass-fed steaks was amazing. You can choose either 100% grass-fed to grass-fed or grain finished Niman Ranch Natural (Choice of Prime); then various cuts within each category; then you choose a medium or large sized chop.

A steak is great but I wanted to taste the combinations of flavors I have grown to love at 112 and BLG. I designed a personal 3-course adventure, starting with the “Lamb meatballs” with carrot slaw, followed by the “Spicy soft shell crab” with lime and yogurt and for my main course I chose the “Coppa Cotta” pizza made with wood roasted red peppers, smoked pork shoulder, mozzarella, and hazelnuts and I added some BLG sausage (I thought it needed a kick).

breadsAs I waited, the server (who was fantastic) brought a basket of three breads, slices of a baguette, a slice of beet bread and a pretzel roll. They were warmed, which I always appreciate. A bite of each was very disappointing. There was all flavorless, and even the beet bread was boring. The good news was that I would not fill myself on the breads.

lamb meatballsThe meatballs arrived, five skewered meatballs, each slightly larger than an inch, plus a mound of slaw. I would not characterize the slaw as carrot slaw, but a delicious and slightly spicy combination of red cabbage, arugula, red pepper and carrot, accented with just a hint of cilantro. The meatballs were seasoned with Middle Eastern spices, with rich earthy spices. The meatballs and the slaw were each delicious on their own and together the spiciness of the slaw perfectly complemented the richness of the lamb; and the addition of the cilantro was delightfully subtle.

SS CrabThe soft shell crab was a single small- medium-sized crab dusted with a slightly spicy coating and fried. Sitting atop the crab was another mound of a different slaw from the meatball version, this one tinged with a citrusy lime background. The crab was nestled in a yogurt dressing which was further accented by a circle of olive oil. The slice spiciness of the crab, combined with the citrus slaw was a great combination and then both were cooled by the yogurt. Another fantastic dish.

pizza 1The pizza arrived. The first item I noticed was the color of the crust, it was more blonde than I expected and had a few circles of char, indicating the oven was piping hot. I first tasted the crust and it had a great flavor, one of the best I have ever tasted. The kitchen was not shy with the topping and I think they removed the pizza about 30 seconds too soon, since the dough at the center was not crisped enough to handle the topping. I was required to use a knife and fork for the first tastes of the center. The tastes were perfect. And the key differentiator to the pizza was the addition of the hazelnuts, yes the hazelnuts. How this idea came to be is unknown, but the addition created a level of flavor and texture I have never tasted. In addition the mozzarella cheese, the peppers and the sausage were great. The smoked pork shoulder was sliced in the manner of prosciutto and was the least flavorful of the toppings. Since I added the sausage I wanted to taste the pizza as designed, so I removed the sausage from one of the slices. The taste profile of the “as designed” pizza was more mild in flavor and still delicious. But I think adding the sausage created a much more flavorful choice.

I had no room for dessert, but wandered over to the cake display and almost wished I ate one less slice of pizza to leave room for one of these options. They looked fantastic.

Overall this is a go-to restaurant only weeks after opening. I only wish Becker would consider expanding his geographic reach and bring these flavors to Connecticut. His food would be incredibly well received.

Burch Steak & Pizza on Urbanspoon

Major Potential in the Sample Room (Minneapolis)

BurgerAs I drove past Psycho Suzie’s and the throngs of cars serpentining into the valet parking area ($5 valet parking at a motel pizza place?) I was glad that I chose The Sample Room, a more subdued restaurant, for my first night of this visit to MSP. Parking was incredible easy on this Monday evening and numerous spots were available on the street (and free).

As you approach the red brick stand-alone building you notice the awning covered terrace on the left that seats 20, and any of these would be a great seat in the warmer summer months. I originally tried sitting on the terrace, but each time the wind gave a little gust, it was just a little too chilly and there were plenty of tables inside where I could focus on the food versus the weather.

The interior is very cool. There are regular height tables that seat 22, three booths, three high-top tables for 12 more guests, plus 12 seats at the bar. On one wall, the infamous mug shot photo of Frank Sinatra overlooks the entire room (coming from NJ I felt right at home) plus paintings from a local artist, in the tradition of Picasso, adorn the other walls.

The prices are incredibly reasonable. Appetizers are in the high single digits, and most entrees are priced in the mid-teens.

short ribFor my appetizer I ordered the “Short Ribs,” described as stout braised grass fed beef short rib with cauliflower & yam purée and demi-glace. The single boneless rib was perfectly prepared; fall off the bone tender (well I guess it already did) with a deep flavor from the braising liquid. The cauliflower/yam puree was delightful; a sweet complement to the deep flavor of the beef and then the demi-glace was drizzled atop for another flavor component. The server told me that many split this dish, the dish was not large enough to share unless the entire meal is a shared tapas-style event amongst friends. And it was so good to share.

For my entrée I chose the “Bottineau Burger,” one-half pound of house-cut and ground grass-fed beef, pork belly, cheddar, fried onions, mustard aioli served on a toasted bun. This was full of various and bold flavors; unfortunately they were too bold and fought each other. This combination was better on paper than palate. The meat was less flavorful than many other grass-fed burgers that I have enjoyed; the Cheddar cheese was excellent, and I really liked the bun. The mustard aioli was way too strong, overwhelming all the other aspects of the burger and the fried onions were not fried to order and were cold and soggy. Likewise as much as I thought the addition of a slice of pork belly was a nice idea, it added nothing to the burger.

For dessert I wanted something sweet and ordered the “Bunet” described as Northern Italian (Piedmont) light chocolate custard with cacao powder, amaretto cookies, eggs, milk, and cream…basically this is a chocolate terrine. This was good, but not great. It almost felt it was prepared a day earlier. The cake aspect brought a weird texture, but I really liked the custard portion. And the texture of the two chocolate custards was excellent.

My overall impression was that this neighborhood is very lucky to have the Sample Room. For the price, the food is a great deal. The chef is not afraid of flavors, which is a huge positive. As he learns to balance the components, the restaurant should grow into a go-to northern suburb restaurant.

Sample Room on Urbanspoon