Mama’s Cafe country dinner is back in full force after 2 years away from San Antonio

I can’t speak to the decades of impressions Mama’s Cafe has left in San Antonio since it opened in 1981, spread to multiple locations, and then contract to just one. By the time I first sat down at Mama’s in 2019, it was the twilight of a long slide that would end with Mama shutting down that summer.

It was the year Cappy Lawton, founder of Mama’s Cafe, decided he had seen enough. After taking a step back and watching other people run the cafe for 30 years, the family patriarch behind the dining establishments of San Antonio Cappy’s and La Fonda on Main took over the rights to Mama’s and shut down the place, with plans to renovate and reopen in a few months.

A few months turned into two years, plagued by a maze of municipal permit issues, construction delays, the pandemic and a nagging labor shortage. Run by Cappy’s son Trevor Lawton and a family with the will and the capital to make it happen, Mama’s reopened in May, becoming a solid country-style cafe without all the dusty baggage that came with it.

The clean, bright space of Nacogdoches Road, just outside of Loop 410 on the northeast side, looks like a Texas Mayfly museum selling chicken fried steak. One room is a depository of signed cowboy hats on the ceiling, overlooking long shelves of cowboy boots and a wall of branding irons from working ranches.

The bar is home to iconic neon signs from the long-gone Hipp’s Bubble Room bar and a portrait of Willie Nelson rendered in thousands of bottle caps by Bradford Lawton, a famous designer and brother of Cappy. Reclaimed wood runs in weathered stripes throughout the restaurant, there is a shaded courtyard at the back with a waterfall and a cork ceiling decorates the bathroom hallway.

It’s a feast for the eyes, however. The real work takes place in a decidedly modern kitchen, producing well-executed dinner classics and a few quirky surprises: you can get a large plate of liver and onions with all the iron fist flavor in a velvet glove that you can get. love. You can also get a grilled steak with a bottle of Caymus.

But the dinner part is where the fun is.

Mama’s Cafe menu includes a salad called McQueeney Special with chili, corn chips, cheddar and chipotle ranch, left, and a serving of buttermilk cornbread with guajillo honey.

Mike Sutter / Staff

Cornbread sets the “c” in the country, and two large slices served as an appetizer with a side of guajillo honey were grainy and sweet and chewy at the same time. It’s a start and an end, a dessert as good as the coffee’s huge apple strudel, as American as apple pie and as German as the euphoric sense of freude it conjures up.

Stay in the cheerful German mentality long enough to enjoy a schnitzel sandwich, complete with a pork loin finely pounded and fried until cracking, amplified by apple butter, braised cabbage, and funky cambozola. Cabbage also ranked as the best of over a dozen sides, a glossy dark purple punctuated with an afterglow of smoked pork.

The pork receives the American treatment like a plate of reasonably good grilled pork chops. They’ve been thinly sliced ​​and well seasoned, with pops of color on the sides of rich creamed spinach and wild rice pilau topped with veggies.

For maximum color, try something that makes a lot more sense in the bowl than on the page: McQueeney’s Special. They call it a salad, but it’s really more like chili with an entourage of shredded iceberg, corn chips, cheese, and spicy chipotle ranch. But it was good chili, with slices of beef wrapped in a mahogany blend of rowdy red spices.

If you’ve been a fan of Mama for a long time, you’re probably already waiting for me to talk about fried mushrooms. Fine. It was like earthy gold-plated nuggets, crunchy blonde fries, with curls of batter to spice up the magic of the cream sauce and homemade ranch dressing good enough to eat like cold soup. The. Are you happy? Because I was.

Fried Mushrooms with Cream Sauce is a staple at Mama's Cafe, a country cafe-style restaurant owned by the Lawton family on Nacogdoches Road outside of Loop 410 on the northeast side of San Antonio.

Fried Mushrooms with Cream Sauce is a staple at Mama’s Cafe, a country cafe-style restaurant owned by the Lawton family on Nacogdoches Road outside of Loop 410 on the northeast side of San Antonio.

Mike Sutter / Staff

This cream sauce energized everything she touched including creamy mashed potatoes and a chicken fried steak that filled its crispy shell from side to side with tender beef but not beaten to death. He cut with a fork and passed the Goldilocks test: not too hard but not too soft.

Also from the deep fryer, a chicken sandwich that did a lot more than deliver crunch and a pickle. At Mama’s, it glistened with macha chili oil and a dusting of queso fresco, with a wide palette of grilled cacti doing the work of southwestern flavor that no pickle could ever do.

A crispy chicken macha sandwich with a side is part of the menu at Mama's Cafe.

A crispy chicken macha sandwich with a side is part of the menu at Mama’s Cafe.

Mike Sutter / Staff

***

2442 chemin Nacogdoches, 210-826-8303, mamascafesa.com

Quick bite: Newly renovated country-style cafe from the Lawton family behind Cappy’s and La Fonda on Main

Hit: Chicken fried steak, crispy chicken macha sandwich, apple strudel

To lack: Crispy stuffed eggs, meatloaf, grilled PB&J

Hours: 4 pm-9pm Wednesday to Friday; 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. from Saturday to Sunday. Possibility of catering on site and to take away.

Price range: Aperitifs, $ 7 to $ 9; sandwiches and salads, $ 9- $ 16; entrees, $ 14 – $ 25; desserts, $ 6 – $ 8

Alcohol: Cocktails, beer and wine

***** Excellent, an almost perfect experience

**** Good, among the best in town

*** Average, with some notable points

** Poor, with a buyout factor or two

* Bad, nothing to recommend

Food critics on Express-News pay for all meals.


The catfish got the clean, crispy fry treatment at Mama’s, maybe even too clean, if you’re craving the silty undertones and cornmeal breading you’re more used to. And some of the original experimentation fell flat, like a toasted peanut butter and jelly sandwich that has nothing to do with this adult menu. It was a wet mess of PB&J, sliced ​​pears and melted cheese between greasy slices of Texan toast. These are small things.

More important thing is what happened to the stuffed eggs in the deep fryer to make the egg whites hard and chewy, giving a bad Easter egg vibe to what is usually at the top of the list of reliable watches in a Texas cafe.

Second on this list is a good burger, but it was tossed at Mama’s house by a thick sledge of iceberg lettuce and wilted tomatoes that took away the well-done beef patty at the base. The third would be the meatloaf, but at Mama, I would have done everything for more meat and less bread.

These are things to work on in a country cafe where almost everything else works. This is not surprising, as this is a family that knows the business inside and out, from a strong branding to the training of a service staff who exudes a sense of belonging on down the line.

If Mama’s were just a country cafe, it could fall victim to the same things that led to its decline in the first place. It’s not. It’s a nod and a nod to country café culture, with respect for nostalgia but a lucid look at the present.

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