We've been living with a lot of disruption in the restaurant business due to the pandemic, so I occasionally get emails from readers asking about places that have closed. Some temporary, some permanent. One of the most popular subjects has been the old J's Place in the northwest.
It may have been more than COVID since the chef/owner was killed in 2017 and management changed hands, but the good news is that the restaurant has been renamed and revived under the original owners from when the place opened on Ming Avenue. It's now Mom's House, and all those folks who missed the old chicken and waffles and fried catfish can come back for a fix of good ol' Southern food.
Karen Hoyt, for one, said her husband absolutely loved the fried catfish at J's Place and had tried all the other versions in Bakersfield and found it to be the best by far. Reader Rafael Martinez also wrote to say that some of the old employees had moved to the Glitz Cafe on Union Avenue, and that's where he'd been going during the dark period.
When we visited Mom's shortly after the reopening, the place was already jammed on a weekday night, and there was a picture on the wall of the original Ming Avenue crew, a handful of people getting takeout at the register (you'll have to slip past them to notify the hostess if you want a table) and they have a lot of Bible verses on the wall near the entrance. Other than a large mural near the kitchen that looked new to me, it's a lot of the same.
I have long loved the fried chicken here, getting almost as passionate about it as I was about the old Pantry on Brundage Lane, and I long ago took radio host Scott Cox's recommendation on the fried shrimp they made, which was similarly impressive. (Shrimp is not on the current menu, but they have meatloaf, oxtails, neck bones, ribs and chicken with dressing.)
I had to sample that catfish ($14.95), so I got that with sides of macaroni and cheese and a waffle (yes, you can get a full waffle as one of your two sides, which makes a great dessert), but I also ordered a wing on the side ($3.50) just to see if they still had game on their chicken.
My companion selected Mom's regular chicken tacos ($12.95) with dirty rice and chili beans.
Hard to say what was worth praising first, so let's start with the fish. Back at my dad's Park Cafe in Manitowoc, Wis., every Friday he offered fried perch, caught locally in Lake Michigan. Believe it or not, back then you could eat fish caught in that lake and the Lade Brothers would go out daily and bring the tastiest fish back. Nowadays when you get that in Wisconsin, the odds are they imported the fish from Canada.
Anyway, my dad's way was to give it a simple dusting of cornmeal and deep fry it, and what Mom’s House offers with the catfish reminds me of that simple but appealing way of making fish. Great food doesn't have to be complicated, and I now understand why Mr. Hoyt loved this dish.
The chicken is the same as it ever was, also exceedingly crunchy and coated with flour with just a bit of black pepper in it, and I look forward to ordering it with a waffle again in the future. The waffles here are thin but dense and dark inside and out, with a real substantial mouth-feel and taste, lots of butter on top. I would recommend those, too.
Now my companion ordering tacos at a non-Mexican restaurant might seem odd, but the chicken used is deep-fried fillet cut into chunks, and topped with lots of shredded cheddar, lettuce and tomato chunks. Yeah, like I might make, with soft corn tortillas. The dirty rice had a lot of sausage slices in it, the beans were rich with finely ground beef, but both were on the salty side. I'd order them again only as long as the blood pressure was in a decent range. Both meals included a square of homemade cornbread that is just calling out for a bit of honey on the side.
After visiting, I got an email from Karen Hoyt, and both she and her husband thought the fish was as good as it ever was.
"Tasted just like it did before if not even a little bit better in my opinion," she wrote. "They were fairly busy for the time of day and stayed busy the whole time we were there. The side dishes tasted a bit better to me too. I had dirty rice and fried cabbage and both tasted great. My husband had yams and mashed potatoes with gravy which he said was very good also. Overall, it was a great meal."
Staff were not wearing masks, if that's important to you, but they were exceedingly friendly and efficient. A veteran crew, that's for sure.
Mom's House can be recommended for a fine dining experience.