Sad news – as of the start of 2008, Momma Cherri’s has gone into administration. Reviews of the restaurant from recent months show that people were having much less positive experiences of the restaurant than we did, and it looks like the financial troubles the restaurant was experiencing a couple of years ago have come back with a vengeance. Momma Cherri’s Soul in a Bowlbook is still available for those of you who want to know how to make that excellent chicken.
Brighton wasn’t all rain, bad service and good opera. I’ve been hankering after a visit to Momma Cherri’s (2-3 Little East Street, Brighton, tel. 01273 325305) for a few years, ever since the Times reviewed it back in 2003. Momma’s is an American soul food restaurant, serving up all that good stuff that you find in really traditional cafes and grills in the US – grits, hush puppies, ribs, cornbread, and Southern fried chicken like Colonel Sanders only dreamed about.
You might have seen Momma Cherri’s on Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. A couple of years ago, the restaurant was having some financial trouble – fortunately, they’ve been one of the few businesses to pay attention to Old Celeriac Head’s advice (from a good starting position – he remarked on arriving that the food was excellent but that the business itself needed some work), and they’re now going strong, with new, larger premises near the seafront in Brighton.
There’s an air of barely controlled chaos inside, with some truly bizarre interior design choices (bobble-headed James Brown figurines, Asian tribal masks, big wooden African heads and a whole lot of American flags), giggling staff rushing around and a busy mix of patrons. We visited for brunch (from 11am to 2pm on Sundays) – Momma herself was, sadly, breakfasting at home that day, but the friendly staff showed us round the menu and made us very comfortable.
In a world of low carb, low fat, low taste food, Momma Cherri’s is an absolute godsend. My fried chicken was actually better than any I’ve had in America (no mean feat, this) – deep-fried moist, succulent meat encased in a shatteringly crisp cornmeal coating. Cornmeal and spice mixtures are available to buy at the restaurant if you want to try your hand at reproducing any of the food you eat here; Momma has also just released a cookery book called Momma Cherri’s Soul in a Bowl for those of us who can’t make it to Brighton as often as we’d like to. I’ve only one quibble, and that’s with the use of some pretty mediocre frozen chips to accompany some of the dishes – ask for the excellent hash browns instead of chips when you go.
The Soul Brunch plate, which Dr Weasel very sensibly selected, was a thing of wonder. Here was ham, glazed apple slices, cornbread squares, hash brown potatoes with fried onion, shards of crisply fried bacon, a perfectly fried egg, and, to top it all off (literally – it was sliding off the egg), a slice of pecan pie. This pie is the only one of the desserts (among which was one of my very favourites, key lime pie) which isn’t made in restaurant – the chef is allergic to nuts. We drank two large pitchers of Momma Cherri’s gorgeous homemade lemonade – not too sweet, not too sharp, and wonderfully clean-tasting.
If you’re craving gumbo, jambalaya or grits, head over to Brighton. Be sure to book – it’s a far cry from the days when they had to call celebrity chefs in to save this place. It seems like everybody in the south of England has cottoned on now, and they’re all queuing up for a table. Thanks Momma – we’ll be back soon.