Budget Beat

Budget Beat: Lil' Mama's Soul Café

By Jay Bennett

I can never eat a "regular" pancake again after trying a few bites of the sweet potato pancakes at Lil' Mama's Soul Cafe, a little storefront eatery on Seventh Avenue halfway between Indian School and Camelback roads.

The missus and I ducked into this unassuming little strip-mall joint for a late breakfast last Sunday and we were sufficiently impressed. The place was dead, and I'm not sure why. The food was great. We indulged in an excellent breakfast before vowing to go back for dinner someday — the dinner half of the menu looked just as tempting as the breakfast menu.

This stretch of Seventh Avenue is home to a bunch of antique stores, vintage shops, a groovy coffee shop, a record store, a great guitar store, several bars, and other assorted cool merchants. It could be an absolutely great shopping destination if someone in this car-crazy burg would get a clue and turn it into a walkable shopping area. Some traffic-calming measures on the busy, five-lane thoroughfare would do wonders for this area. Until then, you have to get in your stupid car just to go from shop to shop.

But I digress. Lil' Mama's has a small but efficient menu, featuring some staples of Southern cuisine: fried chicken, waffles, catfish, ribs, BBQ sandwich. It's all stuff that you wouldn't eat every day, but once in a while is an indulgent taste treat. Everything on the breakfast menu is about $8 or $9 while most things on the dinner menu are $11 to $13, prices that surely should appeal to the budget-minded among us.

The missus loves her some pancakes (or pan-pies, as my dad likes to call 'em), and I thought she'd died and gone to Heaven after she took a bite of those sweet potato pan-pies. In fact, she's the one who declared she'd never go back to plain ol' pancakes after munching on the sweet potato variety. Not a fan of such hyperbole, I had to try some for myself. Well, it's fitting that it was Sunday and all, because eating a Lil' Mama's sweet potato pancake, doused in syrup, was as near a religious experience as I've had in a while. In short, get thee to the nearest purveyor of S.P.P.'s now, preferably Lil' Mama's.

Sweet potato pancakes: Like candy for breakfast, y'all.

I ordered the pork chop (with two eggs and hashbrowns) because I hadn't had a pork chop in eons, prolly since I was knee high to a grasshopper, back when Mom used to make them occasionally. Mom's no slouch in the kitchen, and Lil' Mama's pork chop was darn near as sublime as hers.

This slab of meat was crazy-juicy and grilled to perfection. It was flavored with a housemade blend of spices that has had me dreaming of that mouthwatering chop for the past few days now. Yes, it's that good! The hashbrowns were okay, but not great. I could've used a bigger serving. The eggs, well, they were eggs — a nice complement to the chop. Just for kicks, we ordered a side of mac 'n' cheese because, you know, it's mac 'n' cheese.

Pork chop: Suddenly, all I crave is pork chops. Weird. (Photos by Laura Hahnefeld)

The one drawback was the slow service. We were pretty much the only diners in this small place, but it took at least 25 minutes for us to get our stuff. Granted, it's all made-to-order, but still, pancakes and pork chops don't take that long to cook.

It's cool that there's no shortage of good soul food places in Phoenix (Lo-Lo's, Mrs. White's Golden Rule Cafe) and I'm glad Lil' Mama's is there for those of who live north near the Camelback Corridor.

If you're looking for something different for a weekend breakfast outing, try this place. And if you happen to go there for dinner, please let me know what you think. Write to me at [email protected] And, as always, feel free to clue me into your favorite budget dining options.

Lil' Mama's Soul Cafe 4306 North Seventh Avenue 602-266-9980