Real Southern Comfort at Mama Dip’s Kitchen, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Just a short walk from Chapel Hill, North Carolina’s pretty downtown is an institution. Mama Dip’s Kitchen is where locals flock, college students bring out-of-town family, and tourists throng to feast on genuine home-style southern cooking. Think fried chicken, BBQ pork, fried green tomatoes, mac ’n’ cheese, black-eyed peas and sweet potato pie and you’ll get the idea.

Mama Dip’s has been serving up this kind of soul food for over 40 years, ever since Mildred Council, aka “Mama Dip” after a childhood nickname, opened her doors. The granddaughter of a slave now in her late 80s, Mama still appears in the restaurant occasionally, though it’s now managed by her daughter.

The food is best described by one of their mottos: “Put a little South in your mouth.” This is what your grandma cooked if you grew up where consonants are long and everyone’s well lubricated with sweet tea. I ate at Mama Dip’s as part of a large group, so we got a taste of a wide range of menu items, mostly served family style.

Location: Mama Dip’s Kitchen is at 408 West Rosemary St. in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. It’s just one street off Franklin, the town’s main drag, and a few blocks from downtown. Parking is available.

Menu: It’s southern. Traditional southern. It’s the food grown from the soil of Mama’s growing up on a farm, of her fertile mind stuffed with years of experience in the kitchen, of decades cooking for just regular folks.

You’re met at the door by a sign announcing the day’s specials and which greens and casseroles are being served that day. Appetizers include area staples like fried green tomatoes with ranch dressing, hush puppies, sweet potato fries (yummy!), sweet potato biscuits, and bread-and-butter pickles. Or begin with a bowl of Brunswick stew or catfish gumbo. Moving on to the main event, keep in mind that Mama Dip’s is not the place to be if you’re trying to avoid fried food. It’s available, like the chicken and dumplings that tasted a whole lot like my own mom’s, the stewed beef, spaghetti or Mama’s famous BBQ pork. But it’d be a shame not to try that crispy, not-greasy fried chicken, the pan-fried pork chops (two on a plate), or the cornmeal-battered fried catfish.

As Mildred Council herself is fond of saying, “Fried chicken is a form of love.” Love yourself and try it.

Also on the menu: barbequed pork ribs, chitlins plain or fried, salmon cake and deep-fried shrimp, chicken-salad sandwich, and country-fried steak on a bun.

All main dishes come with two sides and bread, either a roll, buttermilk biscuits or cornbread. The cornbread was wonderful, cakey rather than dense and gritty and not too sweet. Sides include the greens and vegetable casserole of the day, black-eyed peas, pinto beans, fried okra, macaroni and cheese, okra and tomatoes, baked apples, cole slaw, mashed potatoes and gravy, yams, and a few others.

A limited list of beer and wines is available but to be truly “southern,” order the sweet tea. It’s delicious, some of the best I’ve had.

Be warned. You need to leave room for dessert. We tried the banana pudding, an experience straight from my childhood complete with the vanilla wafers. We also loved the sweet potato pie. There’s plain or chocolate pecan pie, cream cheese pound cake, coconut custard pie, fruit cobbler, bread pudding and chocolate cake.

Price Range: Prices are at the higher end of mid-range. An average meal for two people with appetizer, main dish, dessert and a drink will run about $50. Appetizers are $2.95-7.95, main dishes are $10.95-15.95. Desserts are $3.95.

Thoughts: The ambiance at Mama Dip’s is like being in a big old farmhouse kitchen, dressed up a bit. Wood-paneled walls, polished wood floor, wooden booths and tables with dark red laminate tops. Don’t expect fancy here. This is food that’s served up rather than “plated,” on solid crockery reminiscent of the school cafeteria. This is food for regular folks.

A classic self-made southern cook, kitchen taught, Mildred Council calls herself a “dump cook.” That’s when you don’t measure, you cook whatever just came in from the garden or the barnyard, you know exactly how much “a handful” should be, and you test by tasting. Mama Dip has published two cookbooks, and several house-made items are available for sale near the cash register.

I’d never eaten fried green tomatoes before, and it was love at first bite. Thick slices of beefsteak tomatoes, in crisp batter, not at all greasy, the fruit inside still firm and toothsome. We were so enamored of them, we ordered a second plateful.

The staff was warm and friendly, talking to us like family. The service was quick enough, though you might have to remind them for refills on that sweet tea. The place can get very busy. On early Sunday afternoon, they say it’s packed with the after-church crowd.

If you need another recommendation, I’m told this is Michael Jordan’s favorite place when he’s in Chapel Hill (where he was a college basketball star before becoming a national icon).

Mama Dip’s Kitchen will serve you up a taste of your childhood if you’re from the south. And if you’re not, it’ll introduce to all that yumminess you’ve been missing all your life.

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Disclosure: My group was hosted for our meal by the Orange County Visitors Bureau. This post contains affiliate links. Clicking through for more information or to make a purchase  may result in a small commission being paid to us. Thank you for supporting this site and its authors.


 

Donna Meyer

Donna Meyer is a freelance travel writer and the creator of Nomad Women, a blog to inspire older women travelers to get out and see more of the world. When she is not traveling the world--and eating everything in sight--she lives in San Miguel de Allende, in central Mexico.

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