Momma’s Mustard, Pickles & BBQ opened two and a half years ago; I’ve been meaning to try it ever since, but for some reason had kept swinging and missing. And then I learned about the local business’ policy of distributing a portion of its profits to local charities every month. Forget my love of mustard, pickles and barbecue, I finally had a reason I couldn’t ignore.
I talked with owner Chad Cooley, who said the idea for his program, which is called “2% For Louisville,” was one he nicked from a similar concept called 1% For the Planet. So, it may not be entirely original, but it’s ambitious and generous nevertheless. The uniqueness of it is that Momma’s didn’t pick a single charity — no, it makes a monthly donation to one of six charities: The Healing Place, The Olmstead Parks Conservancy, The Home of the Innocents, The Louisville Sierra Club, Dare To Care, and Special Olympics of Kentucky.
Last year, Cooley said, $43,600 was distributed to these charities. Here’s how it works: The donations are based on 1 percent of profits, with Momma’s matching that total, doubling it. The percentage of each monthly donation is chosen based on online voting by customers on the barbecue joint’s website.
“There are so many great organizations here,” Cooley said when asked why he didn’t choose a single cause. “These guys are inspiring. I’m just glad to be able to help in any way.”
Aside from the charitable gesture, the food is a good enough reason to visit. I finally made my way to the St. Matthews location at 102 Bauer Ave. (there is also a Momma’s at 119 S. Hurstbourne Pkwy.) and sampled some of Momma’s goodness, from brisket to burnt ends to bread pudding. Thank goodness I took along a plus-one, because it’s easy to get full when you’re at Momma’s.
Among the items my girlfriend Cynthia and I tried were wings, smoked turkey and brisket sliders, several sides, burnt brisket ends and pulled pork grilled cheese. I had been told by many that the wings were the thing to try, and they were right. They are coated with the house dry rub, smoked for two-and-a-half hours, tossed in peanut oil and rubbed again. As you would imagine, they are crisp and mildly but uniquely spicy, with moist and tender meat the reward inside.
Another highlight was the seemingly simple side item called cheesy corn. Imagine replacing macaroni with corn, and you’re on the right track. I couldn’t help thinking this may have been the secret to eating corn when I was a kid. Cynthia couldn’t get enough of the slaw, which also is seasoned with Momma’s rub.
Cooley said both the potato salad and slaw have that spice in them, as the original recipes just didn’t have the assertive flavor he wanted at first.
“I was about a day away from being the only barbecue place ever to go without potato salad and slaw,” he said. It was a fine choice. (And speaking of the rub, it is also the secret seasoning for the hand-cut fries. Don’t pass these by.)
Asked for his favorite menu item, Cooley cited the beef ribs. He explained that many barbecue joints don’t have beef ribs because “you can’t make any money on them.” He admitted he really doesn’t make a profit on them, but he likes them too much to take them off the Momma’s menu.
“Some of this stuff I just keep around for myself,” he said. “Everything here is cooked exactly the way I like it.”
That would explain the liberal employment of the Momma’s house rub. And that’s not a complaint.
For me, the winner — at least of the items we sampled — was the pulled pork grilled cheese sandwich. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a Texas-toast grilled cheese, browned perfectly with plenty of melted cheese and wads of tender, juicy pork seasoned with — you guessed it — Momma’s house spices. Heck, you don’t even have to dip it into either of the barbecue sauces available at every table. I could have eaten three of them (and may yet), and Cooley said it can be made with brisket and smoked turkey as well.
Cynthia, however, was probably most impressed by the bread pudding, which included some chocolate and had vanilla tones that fooled my palate into thinking bourbon was involved. Oh, and Cooley said there was lots of butter in the recipe.
“Butter is one of my favorite food groups,” Cynthia said as she put away bite after bite of the pudding.
The only disappointment of the day was that I didn’t get to try any of Momma’s house-made mustard or spicy pickles. Why? Because it turns out Momma’s Mustard, Pickles & BBQ has to have a canning license to keep making them on site. So, the canning is on hold for a few weeks while they get the proper licensure.
But don’t wait — it’s quite possible your favorite charity could use a boost. Eat first, then vote. (I recommend the pulled pork grilled cheese.)