Doing it Cajun-style

Big Moma’s serves up home-style soul food in Oroville

DOWN-HOME COOKIN’<br> Greg Iturria savors his po’ boy sandwich while Meegan Condon enjoys her red beans and rice at Big Moma’s Fish & Stuff.

Greg Iturria savors his po’ boy sandwich while Meegan Condon enjoys her red beans and rice at Big Moma’s Fish & Stuff.

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

Big Mama’s Fish & Stuff

455-B Oro Dam Blvd.
Oroville, CA 95965

(520) 532-0110

Big Moma’s Fish & Stuff announces its fare by means of bright yellow menus (which match the bright yellow T-shirts donned by the cooks and wait staff). Owner and cook “Big Moma” Dorothy Alexander writes: “Welcome to a place you can call home. For those of you who don’t know me yet, I enjoy having fun, eating and sharing this joy with others.”

The first time I ate dinner at Big Moma’s, which is tucked in a nondescript strip mall just off of Highway 70 in Oroville, we ordered the Cajun catfish meal ($12.50) to share—a catfish filet (dry rubbed with Big Moma’s special seasoning and coated in seasoned cornmeal), Bayou fries and a salad. We also ordered a side of macaroni and cheese ($2.95), a couple of serve-yourself sodas and some banana pudding. Ordering happens at the register, and the meal is delivered to the table.

We took our supplies back to the table we had staked out in the cozy room—one of six round, cheerily tableclothed tables, not including the one near the front register designated as “Big Moma’s Table.” The sound of the evening news coming from the TV, along with the happy chatter of other patrons, gave the place the feel of being at Big Moma’s house, waiting to have our dinner set before us, hot from the kitchen.

The verdict on this first visit? Our portion of catfish set atop a bed of huge, steaming fries was hefty, piping hot and delicious. I thought the mac-and-cheese needed a touch more salt—not an insolvable problem. The banana pudding contained vanilla wafers—just like the recipe in the copy of Sylvia’s Family Soul Food Cookbook that sits on my kitchen counter—and was sweet, creamy and sinfully delicious. The sample of buttermilk pie that was brought to us by one of Moma’s friendly employees was also yummy.

“At times I get in the mood to cook certain dishes,” Big Moma explains on her menu, “but I will do so when I can obtain quality ingredients. When my quality can be met, you’ll get a chance to enjoy some of my favorite dishes.”

Some of Moma’s specials ($14.50, includes cornbread and medium drink; not available on Mondays) include Cajun spaghetti and meat sauce, alligator stew, neckbones and rice, and barbeque pork ribs.

During my second visit, my dining partners and I ordered the special of the night, crawfish étouffée, along with a five-piece New Orleans Southern fried chicken dinner ($11.50), a side of black-eyed peas with hot buttered cornbread ($2.95) and a side of greens with cabbage and salt pork, also with cornbread ($4.50). We were advised that the fried chicken would take 20 minutes.

The gigantic bowl of black-eyed peas arrived first. They had a nice flavor, and tasted very fresh and slightly salty in a mouth-watering way. The crawfish étouffée—a big bowl of tummy-warming goodness consisting of crawfish, potatoes and tomatoes loaded into a spicy red sauce made with chicken and seafood stock over white rice—was delicious. Our fried chicken—curiously three wings and two legs, no breast or thigh—was served with salad, those huge Bayou fries and a thick slice of white bread for sopping. The chicken couldn’t have arrived at our table any faster from the deep fryer. Its delicately seasoned skin was as hot and crisp and fun to eat as it could possibly be.

After stuffing our faces, we didn’t have room for any of the sweet potato pie that had been beckoning to us from the pie case, and we even had leftover chicken, greens and black-eyed peas to enjoy for a midnight snack.