116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — A new soul food option has opened in Cedar Rapids for dine-in, carryout and delivery from the Rapid Fods cloud kitchen at 4444 First Ave. NE, Suite 3001.
New restaurateur Carla Long of Cedar Rapids is trying her hand at something that has always been the dream but was slightly out of reach in its brick-and-mortar form.
Mama Pearls offers all the traditions of soul food with a dessert menu that is not an afterthought.
In addition to rare Cedar Rapids finds like fried catfish or gizzards and liver, Long offers traditional favorites like smothered chicken or pork chops, macaroni and cheese, collard greens and fried cabbage. If you like meat, take heart that even some of the vegetables are made with meat; the fried cabbage is made with smoked turkey.
Where: 4444 First Ave. NE, Suite 3001, Cedar Rapids (next to Firestone Complete Auto Care, across parking lot from Von Maur on the south side of Lindale Mall)
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday through Sunday, or until sold out.
Phone: (319) 693-7730
Website: Mama Pearls on Facebook
Details: Available for carryout or delivery through Grubhub and DoorDash. Orders also can be made in person for dine-in at the cloud kitchen’s dining room.
With no prior restaurant experience and a brief stint offering catering out of St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church’s commercial kitchen nearly 10 years ago, Long decided to take the plunge for a few reasons.
As a CNA in Marion for the past several years, residents have encouraged her to open her own spot after her dishes became popular at potlucks. A cloud kitchen’s low overhead made the opportunity appealing.
And at 44, she said she’s not getting any younger.
“It’s now or never,” she said. “That’s what sealed the deal.”
Long started cooking with her mother, a Tennessee native, at age 13.
“When she’d work, I’d cook,” Long said, learning to make all of her family’s favorites.
Later on, she took a couple semesters at Kirkwood Community College to try to get into cooking professionally, but life events got in the way.
With some doctored versions of her mother’s recipes, Long said soul food means comfort. At Mama Pearls, she said diners will be able to taste the difference put into the food made while gospel music plays in the kitchen. Seasoning — not spice — is the key.
Her mother, Caroline Hodges, still works alongside her to make the cornbread and banana pudding for Mama Pearls.
Those with a Southern sweet tooth also can order strawberry shortcake, pecan pie, caramel cake, sweet potato pie and peach cobbler.
“Everyone can get together and have a good time,” she said. “It gets you full (and) you can conversate.”
So far, Long has found a niche with those who don’t eat red meat, making her fried chicken and catfish popular.
“I didn’t realize there’s a lot of people who don’t eat hamburger meat or pork,” she said.
With the dream within reach, she wants to take it all the way.
“I want people to drive here and say ‘Hey, I want to try that chicken or that fish,’ ” Long said.
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