Now, I have a college degree under my belt and I’m working on one more. I’m smart enough to know that there is indeed rhyme and reason that explains how the folks at Momma’s Mustard, Pickles & BBQ get the skin of the restaurant’s wings crisp and flavorful while leaving the chicken meat moist and juicy. There’s probably some science to how long to cook their pork before a set of magical hands pulls the tender meat off the bone and onto a Klosterman bun. But I’ve come to believe in a little bit of magic after several visits to Momma’s. It’s the only way to explain how this restaurant produces consistently fantastic food that charms newcomers, pleases regulars and inspires the staff to deliver warm, down-home service that matches the meals they serve.
Nostalgia inspires everything that comes out of the kitchen at Momma’s Mustard, Pickles & BBQ. Owner Chad Cooley and partner/chef Jamie Givan serve Kansas City-style barbecue, an ode to Cooley’s upbringing in Kansas, according to the restaurant’s website. The mustard and pickles portion comes “from Momma’s love” — Cooley’s mother would make batches of mustard and pickles during his childhood and continued to send them in care packages as he moved around the country, the website says. Fortunately for Louisville, Momma’s has two locations (one in Jeffersontown, on in St. Matthews) where we can get our own jars of pickles and mustard, along with a healthy heap of barbecued meat and sides.
Is your heart warm and gooey with the mentions of Momma? Well, the restaurant also donates 2 percent of its sales each month to local non-profit organizations. Talk about a sentimental one-two punch to the gut. I couldn’t help but like these guys without even taking a bite. Now that I’ve tasted the food, I might be in love.
The Momma’s menu is heavy on the meat, as any self-respecting barbecue joint should be. The choices extend beyond the just the usual pulled pork, brisket and chicken that you might find at similar restaurants. For example, you can choose between pork ribs ($12 for a half rack, $24 for a full rack) and beef ribs ($16 for a half rack, $32 for a full rack), which was enough to impress this barbecue novice (I’ve heard enough grill-side debates to know that beef versus pork ribs is a contentious issue). I’m also a fan of the spicy sausage ($10 for a spicy sausage sandwich with two sides) that’s made in-house and the smoked turkey ($9 for a turkey sandwich with two sides), which would elevate any boring midday sandwich.
The side dishes ($2 for small, $4 for medium, $7 for large) are strong enough to stand up next to the bold flavors of the main dishes. The mac and cheese is one of my favorites (not as good as my mom’s, but that’s a battle no one will win). It’s a creamy bowl of deliciousness that made me understand how some people can eat macaroni and cheese as a main dish. The same seasoning that gives the restaurant’s wings a kick also coat the french fries ($2 for a small order), so the two dishes make a wonderful pair.
And those wings… I need a minute to wax poetic. Now, it feels a little wrong to order chicken wings at a barbecue restaurant, where I feel the need to eat a main dish that has been slathered, slapped and slowly smoked to submission. Slow-cooked barbecue is harder to find than an order of chicken wings, so why go with a dish you can get at any bar? The answer is simple at Momma’s: You can’t get wings like this anywhere in Louisville. First, Momma’s leaves the sauce off the wings, a bold move when it’s so easy to smother chicken pieces in sauce to hide the under-seasoned meat underneath. Instead, the mesquite dry rub of spices that coats the skin is on full, broad display. A waiter once told me that the restaurant uses a combination of quick frying and baking to cook the wings ($1.15 each or 10 for $10). The technique results in wing pieces with crisp skin on the outside and succulent meat on the inside. The menu brags that Momma’s has “THE BEST WINGS EVER!!” and I agree.
Fortunately, Momma’s provides many ways for customers to sample the menu with just $10 in hand. Here are some $10 meals I recommend:
Split an order of 10 wings ($10) and a medium fry ($4) with a friend and get yourself a small side ($2). Order total: $9
Portion sizes at Momma’s are pretty hefty. Splitting some fries and ordering another side is enough to supplement five wings. Also, we took a waitress’s recommendation to get a side of ranch and add a squirt of the barbecue sauce on the table and made a tasty dip for both the wings and the fries. Big shout-out to her for the tip and the rest of the staff, who are nothing but nice every time I visit Momma’s. Definitely ask them for recommendations on their favorites.
Treat yourself to the slider sampler that comes with one of each of the restaurant’s mini sandwich options: pulled pork, brisket, smoked sausage, chicken and turkey. Order total: $10
Rob and I ordered the sampler on our first visit since we couldn’t decide what to get. There’s no picture because we ate everything so fast. Our bad.
Try three sausage sliders ($2/each) and a medium side of macaroni and cheese ($4). Order total: $10
The spicy sausage is my favorite of the slider selection. Add a little of Momma’s barbecue sauce and some sweet pickles, and you’ve got yourself a treat.
Opt for a turkey, pulled pork or brisket sandwich that comes with two sides. Order total: $9
Along with the macaroni and cheese and french fries, Momma’s sides include coleslaw, potato salad, mashed potatoes, baked beans, green beans and “cheezy corn.” There are also some other sandwich selection for $10 or less, such as the grilled cheese on which you can add any meat ($10), a sausage sandwich ($10) and the turkey club ($9).
Momma’s Mustard, Pickles and BBQ is a Louisville treat. Try it yourself. I dare you not to believe there’s some magic there.
Momma’s Mustard, Pickles & BBQ
Two Louisville locations: 102 Bauer Avenue and 119 S. Hurstbourne Parkway
- There’s also a Momma’s food truck you can spot around town.