Monday, December 17, 2007
When people think of Leimert Park, they usually focus on Leimert Plaza Park and the one block of Degnan to the north. But the neighborhood of Leimert Park encompasses the eastern side of Crenshaw Boulevard, including Crenshaw and King Blvd all the way north to Rodeo Road. M&M Soul Food sits right beneath one of the blue signs delineating the Leimert Park neighborhood.
When you see a soul food restaurant on television, nine times out of ten it is going to be M&M Soul Food. They are one of the most visible soul food restaurant in Los Angeles, along with Roscoe's and Stevie's. At one point they seemed to be opening up an M&M on every corner. As one person on the Chowhound board put it, "They are determined to become the Denny's of South Central."
M&M Soul Food really is like Denny's in more ways than one.
Like Denny's, the best meal you will find here is breakfast. Thick, fluffy, almost bread-like waffles and homemade biscuits are sure to please. Staples such as grits and eggs are cooked just right, which is not as common as it should be. M&M offers a wide variety of meats with breakfast, including hot links, liver, salmon croquettes and chicken wings. My favorite by far is the fried catfish. Only in New Orleans and South Los Angeles am I able to eat catfish for breakfast. Served as a whole fish, the bones can be perilous, but the filet lifts off easily. The exterior is crunchy and satisfying, while the meat is flaky and fresh. I must warn you that everything comes with a big pat of margarine unless you request otherwise. The ice tea is sweet tea and the lemonade might make your teeth hurt. This is Mississippi soul food, after all.
Also like Denny's, the cooking here can be uneven. Everything depends upon knowing which dishes to order. The fried fish and the moist barbecued chicken are outstanding. The chicken is one of the things that has kept me coming back to M&M. The BBQ ribs, however, just can't stand up to ribs that have been smoked for hours over real wood chips. And when Phillips is just a few blocks away, there is no reason to bother. The smothered dishes suffer from an uninspired and salty gravy.
Where M&M pulls it back together is with the side dishes. Their yams are the rock star of the vegetable world. I have tried to duplicate them, and I believe they are boiled in a simple syrup of sugar and water for hours. The greens, mac and cheese and red beans are also stellar. Some days it is worth stopping in just to order the "vegetable plate".
The baked goods are made at the M&M on Imperial and brought in daily. The banana pudding is unpredictable. The nilla wafers are crunchy on top and mushy in the middle, so it's the luck of the draw. The peach cobbler is supersweet soul food at its best.
Word has it that there are "some M&M you go to, and others you don't." Originally, the M&M empire was owned by a woman named Mary, who has since passed on. When she retired, she sold some of the restaurants to Patrick Brown. He runs this M&M and another one on Crenshaw and Imperial. Mary's son runs the M&M on Centinela and the one in Carson. Most or all of the others have closed down. There was also a popular, but unrelated, "rogue" M&Ms on Degnan that recently went out of business.
The food is good, in some cases excellent, The service is efficient, and perfunctorally friendly. Something just feels off about M&M. It can't shake the anonymous feeling of a Denny's. Perhaps a local shopkeeper put it best when she told me, "It just seems like nobody loves that place."
M&M Soul Food (323) 299-0982
3552 W MLK Blvd. LA CA 90008