This is one of those reviews I keep putting off and putting off. Ever since I heard back in the fall of 2010 that The Jewish Mother was replacing the horrible Kelly's that previously occupied the backstage locale, I was excited. I have been a Jewish Mother fan since the..., well, let's just say a long time! Favorite sandwich? Mother's Mother! Favorite late night nosh? Crepes!
I was really looking forward to having them within walking distance from work.
We now return to our previously scheduled reality. They are not what they used to be. The Mother's Mother, my former love, no longer has "real avocado". Instead they have replaced it with what I like to call Wholly Quacamole. You know what I mean? That fake avocado spead. Let the sobbing begin. So, I no longer order it. We are offically broken up forever. Time to move on....
On a recent Friday Alex and I ventured out for lunch. We went out of our box by ordering the Jewish Mother Nachos, Latkes, and Hush Puppies (Alex's last minute addition). Our server was very good, and the food arrived rather quickly. As usual we dug in, forgeting about our "job" to photograph the food. We do this frequently, as we have hearty appetites! Intestingly enough,the nachos were hollow. As in, nothing in the middle. I immediately renamed them the Hollow Nacho, which I thought was hilarious. (Alex not so much). They tasted just okay. Cheddar is not a great melting cheese. It becomes oily when cooked and hardens quickly when it cools. A good nacho requirement is melted cheese that separates as you pull apart the tortillas chips. When the cheese is hard, the chips break apart and you cannot get a serving.
I like their Latkes. They are consistently good, and we have order them at least 3 times now. They are crispy on the outside and nicely seasoned, served with applesauce and sour cream. I like mine straight up.
The Hush Puppy is a misnomer at the Jewish Mother. These taste nothing like a traditional cornmeal Hush Puppy. They are large and round, with a soft batter-like inside and a crispy dark outside. The taste is definitely sweet. I realize that Hush Puppies are never considered a "light" menu item, but these sat in my stomach like a rock for the remainder of the day. At 8PM that evening I still regreted eating them.
Lastly, the desserts. This is the BEST part of the Jewish Mother menu. Don't bother reading the menu either. Get up out of your seat and walk over to the showcase. These cakes need to be seen to be fully appreciated. Alex and I will stand in awe, like kids in a candy store, trying to decide which one tempts us the most. Typically, we cannot chose just one, and either buy a couple to share, or buy some to take home. No self control! On this day we chose the Lemon Berry cake, and the Four Layer Chocolate. I thought the Lemon Berry was exceptional. After eating all that heavy food, it was light with just the right amount of sweet. Oh yes, Alex and I always have room for dessert!
I would be remiss if I failed to mention that the Jewish Mother is pricey. A lot of folks in my office won't go there because of this. Most sandwich and burger options start at $9.99, which is putting them in the $15+ lunch category when you add a drink, taxes and tip. As Alex also mentions, this is the Backstage for the Norva. I appreciate the ease with which you can get Norva tickets, and it keeps me from having to experience the bureaucracy and price gouging fees of Ticketmaster, LiveNation, etc. Don't get me started on these guys... Lastly, the Jewish Mother recently opened a new Hilltop location which also features live music. I have driven past the brightly painted building, but haven't paid a visit yet. There is some brouhaha over the ownership of The Jewish Mother which has resulted in a lawsuit you can read about here.
I remember going to the Jewish Mother at the Oceanfront when I was in high school and during summer college breaks. It was always a fun place that showcased decent bands. The rumor started that the Mother was moving to downtown Norfolk and Laine and I were excited to have a new, old place to add to our lunch list. The Mother did not change much of what used to be Backstage Cafe/Kelly’s, but they did bring their enormous menu, which includes all day breakfast, tons of sandwiches, a few salads, appetizers and a plethora of delicious desserts.
For our first visit, I decided the Mamma Ada Avocado Muenster burger would be great with a veggie burger. I was glad when it came out like it did but the burger was not a veggie burger, but rather a large portabella mushroom, topped with avocado spread and muenster. I love portabellas, but not everyone does and then menu should let customers know that the veggie burger is in fact a big shroom. As I mentioned, the avocado is a spread, not slices, so it was a bit of a slippery sandwich. I did enjoy it, as well as the cole slaw I chose for my side.
For our next visit, I decided I had to try the Pita Pan, peanut butter, honey, bananas and raisins. I swapped the pita for wheat bread and nixed the bananas, being that I despise this fruit more than one can imagine (I cannot even smell a banana without gagging). The sandwich was exactly as described, but the bread was definitely pre-sliced loaf bread, of which I am not a fan. Bread can make or break a sandwich and this bread took the sandwich down a few notches. Jewish Mother’s potato salad is great though, so not all was lost. Our guest ordered Laura’s De”light”ful Wrap, with hummus, lettuce, tomato, sprouts, black olives, cucumbers and cheddar cheese. He was not impressed by the wrap but did like the potato salad. This visit we decided to try some of the homemade desserts that look pretty killer in the cases. One slice each of the Red Velvet and Florida Sunshine cakes. Both were fantastic, particularly the Florida Sunshine. It reminds me of an orange cake Laine’s friend had at a party we attended. Lights, summery and delicious.
On the third visit, I decided to try the Pita Pan again, but give it a go on the actual pita. Thinking this would make the sandwich better, I was dead wrong. The pita was definitely store bought and SMALL and dry. The lame wheat bread was better! A different guest of ours ordered Laura’s De”light”ful Wrap, with hummus, lettuce, tomato, sprouts, black olives, cucumbers and cheddar cheese and she received the wrap better and was pleased. We also ordered Mama Rachel’s Potato Latkes and they were divine. Always a favorite, latkes are potato pancake that is fried and the Mother serves them with applesauce and sour cream. If you have never had a latke, you must try one. Trader Joe’s does sell a version and honestly, they are not too bad for frozen.
On yet another visit, I decided to tempt danger and order a salad. BAD move. The You Asked for It - You Got It! salad with spinach, pecans, sprouts, chopped eggs and marinated vegetables seemed like a good idea, but I just do not think the Mother is a salad kind of place. The marinated vegetables were carrots and who knows what else diced up so small that you could hardly determine the vegetables’ identities and the marinade tasted like plain vinegar. For $11, this was lame at best. I was bugged big time. Boo on bad lunches.
Finally, another Friday arrived and I realized I had an online deal to use at Jewish Mother. Laine and I lost our minds and ordered Hush Puppies, the Latkes and the Jewish Mother Nachos. The puppies were like rocks (improvement needed there), the latkes were good as usual and the nachos were not bad. They had enough cheese but could have used more vegetables (I know you have olives!). If that was not enough (and it wasn’t to use our online deal), we ordered a slice of the Lemon Berry Cake and a slice of the Four Layer Chocolate Cake. The chocolate cake was good (chocolate cake - not a novel idea there), but the berry was superb and our favorite of the two. We clenched our hearts as we left and hoped we would avoid any afternoon cardiac arrest episodes back at the office.
Service on all occasions was always decent. The first time or two, things moved a little slowly, but the last few we were able to get there, eat and get back to work within an hour. I am not in a huge rush to hit the Mother again soon (my heart is still recovering), but I also appreciate that they are in Norfolk and they give downtowners another lunch option. Plus, if you are hitting a show at The Norva, you can grab something beforehand. I could see myself grabbing a dessert here and there from them because the desserts are one of their specialities and have always been worthy. Look at the case when you visit - the size of the eclair will amaze you. A last pro of the Mother is they sell Norva tickets at the bar for the same $2 fee the box office charges. You do not have to try to time when the box office is open (a mystery) and more importantly, you can avoid Ticketmaster and their outrageous fees, which Laine and I are still trying to understand.
The Jewish Mother Backstage
320 Granby Street
Norfolk VA 23510