A local couple serves up Southern traditions in Sparks
M&M’s Southern Café is located at 820 Holman Way, Sparks. Learn more by calling 356-1070 or visiting mmssouthern.com.
Were it not for M&M’s Southern Café, the Truckee Meadows food scene would be woefully lacking when it comes to Southern cooking.
Owners Mitchell and Geishula Moore opened the doors to their first location on Mill Street 12 years ago, but when space became available in 2015, they moved to their current location on Holman Way—next door to Perfect Peace First Presbyterian Church, where Mitchell has been a pastor for the past eight years. There’s more than bread and wine on the menu at M&M’s, however, with a full complement of Southern staples and a few delicacies cooked just the way mama did—literally.
“I’m from Los Angeles, but my mother—who taught us all the recipes—she’s from Texarkana, Arkansas,” Moore said. “She comes from a family with 19 brothers and sisters, so all they did was cook; they had to cook. She taught us early.”
Hot dogs and hamburgers and the current uptick in multicultural dining joints may spring to mind, but for a long time Southern food was the American cuisine. Many of the dishes served at M&M’s are favorites for the older generation and transplants from the South and East Coast looking for a taste of home—and there’s a reason they call it “soul food.”
“Southern style is authentic; it’s a dish where everything is made from scratch,” Moore said. “You basically put your soul into it. You put a lot of effort into it rather than just pull it out of a box and grill it or fry it. You cook it to your own taste—if anything tastes good to you, it’s going to taste good to other people.”
Many people might associate Southern food with the greasiest fry-up on the menu—and, hey, that’s occasionally the case—but M&M’s variety of breakfast, lunch and dinner options keeps things fresh. And while Moore is personally proud of his Southern fried chicken, he has yet to see a crowd favorite emerge among his patrons.
“With the menu that we have, everybody orders what they want that day,” Moore said. “We do ribs, we do gumbo, we do the fish, oysters and shrimp, black-eyed peas, greens, yams, and everything’s done by scratch.”
It’s a lot of familiar comfort food—but served alongside the classics like po’ boys, beignets and okra, are some delicacies that might seem a little exotic to those not born and raised in the South. Different cuts, and even different species, of meat are commonplace in Moore’s dishes. He elaborated on some of them, for the uninitiated:
Alligator: “It’s a delicacy rather than just a meal. People like things that’s out of the ordinary; they like things that’s different. We serve the tail of it, which is the sirloin or the tenderloin of it, and we fry it like we fry a chicken because it has the taste between a pork chop and chicken.”
Chitterlings (pronounced “chitlins”): “Chitterlings are the intestines of hog. Some people fry them, but we boil it. In order to come in and order chitterlings, it’d have to be something you were raised up around. It’s like going to a Mexican restaurant, and you eat tacos and burritos, but you haven’t gotten used to eating tripe or tongue or something like that. We boil it with onions and bell peppers until it’s tender—it takes like four or five hours to cook. It’s good, but it’s the way that people look at it, because of what it is, and you ain’t familiar with it.”
Gizzards: “Nobody really can explain what a gizzard is; the only thing we know is you get one of them from a chicken. Gizzard is basically the part that the feed goes in, and it helps them digest it. People love them because it’s that gristly taste. Some people eat ribs and they like the gristle, it’s something you bite in and it’s got a little toughness to it, a little chewiness to it—but the flavor is good.”
The Moores are used to accommodating their customers’ tastes—whatever they may be. But for the pastor and his wife, good service extends beyond the walls of their restaurant. M&M’s officially closes every Sunday for Moore to deliver his sermons at Perfect Peace. But, in the couple’s view, good food and scripture have a practical relationship.
“Sometimes what we do after church is, we’ll come over here and feed the church,” Moore said. “You learn it like this. Even if I wanted to witness to somebody, you can’t go and talk to a hungry man and talk to him about Jesus because the thing that he’s listening to is his body: ’My stomach is hungry.’ So what you have to do is feed his stomach first and he’ll sit down and listen to you, but he can’t listen to you when he’s hungry naturally.”
Serving the community means the restaurant has made friends, too. With an average rating of 4.5 stars and over 145 reviews on Yelp, M&M’s routinely finds its way to the top of the “Best Soul Food in Reno” search results.
To Moore, real Southern tradition is finding a place for family, food and faith around the table.
“You feed them naturally and you feed them spiritually,” Moore said. “It’s all the same thing.”