Area restaurant makes national cooking magazine’s top 100 list

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Of the vast pool of restaurants housed in unusual structures that serve simple Southern fare, Saveur magazine chose Mammy’s Cupboard to fill the &uot;Best Down-Home Cooking in an Architectural Curiosity&uot; category in its annual &uot;Saveur 100.&uot;

The Natchez favorite came in at number 50, right in the middle, of the publication’s long list of culinary favorites.

Of course, it’s hard to imagine that Mammy’s could have any competition for the slot.

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The building itself, a larger-than-life mammy that began its life in 1940 as a gas station, looks like no other restaurant.

But diners don’t go to Mammy’s just to eat under a giant brick skirt. The appeal of the restaurant is the food &045; hearty specials, rich, unpretentious deserts and filling sandwiches as simple and comforting as anything your mother, or your mammy as it were, would have made.

Doris Kemp, who has operated Mammy’s since 1994 with her daughter, Linda Moore, said she didn’t know anything about running a dining establishment when she set up shop.

In fact, for the first few months, Kemp didn’t serve food &045; only preserves she made from the fruit she grows at her home in Kingston.

&uot;I just had all these blueberries and I needed something to do with them,&uot; she said.

But people had been eating at Mammy’s for a half century, and they didn’t want to stop.

&uot;We did not intend to have food, but people kept coming in and asking for something to eat,&uot; Kemp said.

Kemp had no restaurant experience. She did, however, have five children.

&uot;My kids said, ‘Why don’t you just cook the way you do at home?’&uot; Kemp said.

The result of that strategy is a restaurant that differs little from a home kitchen.

&uot;It really is home cooking because we make everything from the very start,&uot; Kemp said.

That means waking up before dawn to bake bread, stirring big pots of beans and rolling out yards of pastry dough, heading to the local supermarket to shop for groceries.

Kemp admits to some shortcuts, though, like using canned cream of chicken soup for her wildly popular chicken pot pie.

&uot;Some things do come from cans,&uot; she said, &uot;but so do some things at home.&uot;

Like a home kitchen, aside from a large variety of sandwiches, Mammy’s only has one choice each day for a hot meal.

&uot;It’s just like eating at home,&uot; Kemp said. &uot;When you eat here, you don’t have much choice. If you don’t like what’s here, that’s all there is, and if you don’t get here early, there might not be anything left.&uot;

Kemp said her customers crave the stability Mammy’s offers as much as they crave the delicious pies and cakes.

&uot;We’ve stuck to the same thing pretty much since we started,&uot; she said. &uot;The few times that we’ve changed anything has been a disaster.&uot;

Regulars, Kemp said, know without looking at the menu that Wednesday is chicken with rosemary, and Thursday is roast pork loin.

The lineup of specials is so immutable that Kemp and Moore have incorporated it into their personal calendars.

&uot;When my child asks what day it is, I say, ‘chicken pot pie,’&uot; Moore joked.

After hearing of Mammy’s No. 50 ranking in Saveur’s prestigious list, Kemp said she was incredibly surprised.

&uot;Fifty is a good number,&uot; she said. &uot;I’d have been happy to be 100.&uot;

But recognition is really nothing new to Mammy’s. It made Saveur’s 2000 list for Kemp’s pimento cheese spread, which was included as an underrated Southern delicacy, and it’s been featured in magazine’s like Elle and The Week as well as in newspapers published from coast to coast.

&uot;You never know who’s going to eat here then go back and write an article about us,&uot; Kemp said.