Rita Mae’s scores with homemade dishes

Marriott to occupy hotel building
February 28, 2008
Troy Anthony Lirette
March 3, 2008
Marriott to occupy hotel building
February 28, 2008
Troy Anthony Lirette
March 3, 2008

A rustic structure on Federal Avenue’s been beckoning me on my travels to Morgan City. In the course of searching for a great hole-in-the-wall dining establishment, people kept leading me to Rita Mae’s.

A converted house located on the boulevard, Rita Mae’s appears totally unassuming. The only indication of its existence is a hand-painted sign hanging outside that reads, “Rita Mae’s Kitchen.”

The building’s front countenance suggests home cooking – and that is exactly what you’ll get here. Rita Mae’s feels like you are going to your grandmother’s house for dinner.

The restaurant consists of several small rooms, an enclosed front porch with a long, narrow counter lined with stools for single diners. There are two interior rooms with about five to six tables. They don’t put on any airs here. This restaurant is not large and, it seems by design, never will be.

Keep in mind, when we say home cooking, we mean home cooking (as will be apparent from this review). You learn from the second you walk in that Rita Mae’s has established a very loyal following over the years for one thing and one thing only: the food.

Rita Mae’s is a family operation and I think everyone who works there is related to owner Rita Mae Noel. On my first trip, her granddaughter was cooking in the kitchen and I think also serving tables. On another visit, an 11-year-old great-granddaughter was waiting tables.

The service is admittedly slow, almost lassez faire. You just need to know in advance that Rita Mae’s is a place that you patronize for a nice, slow, leisurely, casual meal. For example, ask for a refill of your tea when it is half empty, and then you might actually get that refill 10 minutes later when you are a little parched. In sum, those working at Rita Mae’s don’t move quickly and neither should you as part of your dining experience. If you live by their rules regarding service, you will have a very pleasant dining experience. If you are one of those who can’t slow down and must move at a fast pace, then keep on driving, because you won’t change Rita Mae’s. Just the opposite, the diners conform to the ways of Rita Mae.

We liked that you don’t dine alone at this restaurant. We met people at adjoining tables on each visit. Expect to share what you ordered, what you liked and where you are from. It is part of the “community'” of which you become a part when you enter Rita Mae’s environ.

Like I said earlier, the food is IT at Rita Mae’s. They maintain a limited menu, which you should expect of a place that cooks to order. The two main dishes are white beans and rice or red beans and rice. Both come with hand-fried chicken, grilled pork chops or smothered/breaded pork chops.

This is why you go to Rita Mae’s. The fried chicken is crisp and hot. The pork chops were simply fantastic.

We tried the fried catfish special on another day that came with some mustard potato salad and excellent jambalaya.

The gumbo, too, is excellent, when they have it. Another trip had chicken stew as the special, and once again the meal hit the mark – homemade in every sense of the word.

One of my friends’ daughters had fried shrimp and homemade-style fries. The shrimp were very large and fried well. The restaurant also has a very good homemade hamburger, the Clint burger. As burgers go, it hits the spot.

For dessert, Rita Mae’s offers bread pudding, sweet potato pies, peanut butter brownies and pralines. We recommend the bread pudding, which had raisins, bananas and we think some coconut.

The food itself connects at each turn with this one exception: they are out of the staples too often. Fried chicken wasn’t available on two of our three trips. Gumbo was available only once. Onion rings were on the menu but we never saw them. The bread pudding wasn’t available on our last trip and the sweet potato pies were available on only one trip.

We understand Rita Mae’s does a very brisk plate lunch business where you can fax in your request for the special of the day, then pick it up. Because you truly don’t know what will be on the menu each day, we recommend you phone before dining to make certain you won’t be disappointed by being unable to order your intended selection.

Rita Mae’s isn’t for everyone, but I suspect there is a certain element out there who will choose to dine once and then be a patron for life.

Rita Mae’s Kitchen 711 Federal Ave. Morgan City (985) 384-3550. Reservations not required. Plenty of parking.