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Friday, August 03, 2007

Dinner at Mama Dip's!

This is one write-up that I've been wanting the opportunity to do for quite awhile now. The very first time that I heard about Mildred Council AKA "Mama Dip" and her restaurant, it was when I spotted her cookbook Mama Dip's Cookbook eight years ago. Something about this woman's beaming smile on the book's cover screamed out to me that one way or another, I had to try her cooking sometime. And then I happened to notice that UNC-TV, the statewide PBS network, had her live in the studio every so often to demonstrate real southern-style cooking. I'm telling you here and now: I felt dire hunger pangs just from watching this lady make biscuits.

Well yesterday evening after Lisa and I saw Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in IMAX at Exploris in Raleigh, we made a stop in Chapel Hill. And at long last, I got to eat at Mama Dip's Country Cooking Restaurant. And this was, without a doubt, one of the best dining experiences that I've ever had! Everything about it was just darned perfect. Completely blew away my expectations. And even though it's an hour away from where we live in Reidsville, I can definitely see going back to Mama Dip's restaurant and bringing along more people who'll be new to the experience: as much to get a kick out of seeing them enjoy the place as much as I want to try more from Mama Dip's menu!

We got to Mama Dip's restaurant a little after 5 p.m. Here's the pic that Lisa took of me next to the sign outside the place...

Then we went inside. We found a wonderfully welcoming place with great country decor and a very friendly wait staff. And we had a terrific waitress named Persis who really did go all out to make our first time at Mama Dip's a memorable one...

Persis took our order for drink and I couldn't resist asking: "Is she here?" Persis said that "she's not here right now" but that Mama Dip would probably be in pretty soon.

So far as drinks go, they have a good variety at Mama Dip's and Persis recommended the peach/mango lemonade: a lil' home-grown concoction that she said was really good. So that's what Lisa and I ordered. The first sip of it was overwhelming. I can't think of anything else that I've ever drank, apart from a few alcoholic beverages, that has this kind of strong kick to it. Can't stress this enough people: the peach/mango lemonade is powerful stuff! We're talking tangy to the extreme. Here's a pic of Lisa after trying it...

I knew yesterday morning that if we went to Mama Dip's that evening, that I wanted to try the fried chicken and biscuits. I didn't know that this place had barbecue pork ribs also. I wound up ordering a combo plate of fried chicken, barbecue ribs, fried okra, and apple sauce...

And Lisa got the chicken-fried steak, mashed potatoes, and macaroni. This pic also shows the biscuits...

The fried chicken that I had at Mama Dip's is maybe the best fried chicken that I've had from any restaurant. It's real southern-fried chicken, exactly the kind that Granny (my Mom's mother) used to make in her own kitchen. In fact, Mama Dip's is the kind of place that I definitely imagine Granny would have run if she had ever gotten into the restaurant business. The barbecue ribs are, in a word, "exquisite". The barbecue sauce at Mama Dip's might be the best that I've ever found in North Carolina: it's a rich melange with strong portions of vinegar and tomato, mixed-in with Worcestershire sauce and assorted peppers and spices. This is something that I had to buy a jar of to take back home with me. The okra and apple sauce were also delicious. And Lisa let me savor a bit of her chicken-fried steak too.

Oh, and the biscuits? Heck, those alone would keep me coming back!

As we were winding down our main course, Persis came to the table and told me that Mama Dip had arrived a few minutes before. Persis led me to the foyer and there she was, Mama Dip herself: Mildred Council!

In case you're wondering why she's known as "Mama Dip", it came from when she was a child - the youngest of seven siblings - growing up in rural Chatham County, North Carolina. Mildred Council was called "Dip" by her brothers and sisters because she was tall and had long arms enough that she could dip all the way down to the bottom of the rain barrel to get a full scoop when the water level was low. We got to talk for a few minutes and I told Mrs. Council how much I had been looking forward to eating at her restaurant, and how much my Mom really enjoyed her cookbooks and how I couldn't wait to come again sometime. If I could describe Mrs. Council in just a few words, I would have to say that she is very "effervescent" and that her smile is as infectious as her personality and good cheer. Getting to meet Mama Dip, on top of the terrific food and service at her restaurant, is definitely one of the best experiences that I've been able to share on this blog.

After we finished talking, I went back to our table for dessert. Lisa and I had the pecan pie, which was warm and moist and extremely satisfying, coming on top of an already great meal. Then we left, after thanking Persis for the great job she did as our waitress and after Lisa got to tell Mama Dip as we were checking out that she really enjoyed eating there, too.

I will definitely be going back to Mama Dip's Country Cooking Restaurant, and hopefully sooner than later. And I'm going to recommend Mama Dip's to everyone that I possibly can, too. This is one place that not only deserves its terrific reputation, but that I think it could accurately be said that its reputation doesn't reflect on the place nearly well enough! It's very worth your while to visit the place, even if you have to drive a bit to get there (like we did).

Mama Dip's Country Cooking Restaurant is located at 408 W. Rosemary Street in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. If you're coming in from I-40 it's a very easy place to get to: just get off at Exit 266 onto NC-86 going toward Chapel Hill. This quickly becomes Martin Luther King Boulevard and after about 3 miles becomes Columbia street. You'll want to turn right onto west Rosemary Street not long after this, and Mama Dip's will be a little less than a half-mile on your right. Just look for the sign that's in the above photos and you can't miss it :-)