Big Mama’s bill of fare ranges from universal comfort food (smothered chicken, mac ‘n’ cheese, banana pudding) to dishes that demand appreciation of non-mainstream soul food icons such as chitlins, oxtails, and neon-green Key lime cake. An inconspicuous corner storefront in a clean-n-tidy Augusta mall, it’s a friendly, inexpensive place to have whatever sort of lunch you desire. The menu even lists hamburgers and two kinds of chicken salad — fried or grilled.
Smothered chicken is an unqualified delight, a dark-meat portion offering thigh and leg meat that is itself tremendously moist, encased in skin that’s been cooked to become a virtual sheet of succulence, smothered in dark, well-seasoned gravy. Oxtails require work to separate nuggets of meat from bone and (at least some) fat, but such effort with knife, fork, and tooth rewards the eater with nuggets of beef that are unspeakably tender and big-flavored. Among side dishes, fried green tomatoes are standouts — firm, tart disks of tomato encased in crust that shatters into seasoned, fatty richness that brilliantly complements the nightshade fruit within. Rutabagas, cut into tender, bite-size cubes, are good in an entirely different way — as simple and direct as a root vegetable can be, just barely peppery. Mac ‘n’ cheese does the job it’s supposed to do: provide creamy dairy respite from spicy food. Other available meal companions include greens (choose collard or turnip), black-eyed peas, stewed okra, yams, fried squash, and weekend-only hash on rice. No-meat plates with three or four vegetables are, of course, an option.
There’s nothing extreme about Big Mama’s red velvet cake, which delivers only a hint of cocoa, but it is the right palliative dessert for this sort of food: moist, fresh, tender, generously layered with cream cheese frosting. Banana pudding is a style not uncommon in these parts — simply custard, bananas and cookies without meringue or whipped cream to lighten it. It’s not a bad dessert, but neither is it elegant the way leavened banana pudding can be.