By: Kayla Anderson
Located in Sparks, Nevada, next to the popular gambling town of Reno, M&M’s Southern Café offers good ’ole Southern soul food. Tucked into a neighborhood shopping center that’s minutes from the city’s downtown Victorian Square, M&M’s is open five days a week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The dine-in restaurant serves everything from grits and cornbread to chicken livers and smothered oxtails.
M&M’s is named after owner Mitchell Moore, who has lived in Sparks with his wife, Gieshula, for over 20 years. Originally from Texas and Arkansas, Mitchell worked as a barber and Gieshula a manicurist. Together, Mitch and Gieshula worked hand-in-hand doing what they loved, but Mitch’s heart was always in the food that they grew up with.
The couple took out a second loan on their house (“It was a lot of money, I was not happy,” says Gieshula) and Mitch opened a food truck. Serving simple things such as fried chicken, gumbo, and fish and chips was a popular and lucrative business, but eventually the couple wanted to expand to be able to offer all of the side fixins, like sweet potatoes, black-eyed peas and green beans, which are hard to make without access to a full kitchen.
Stumbling upon the 820 Holman dine-in location, they found it was perfect for the business as it is in a bustling shopping center and right next door to a church where Mitch serves as the pastor. As customers filter in and out, some sitting down to eat and some ordering out, it seems like Geishula knows everybody.
“We see a lot of neighborhood folks,” says Geishula. “Once you get their loyalty, you know when they’re coming in, what they like. Everyone has a routine — they order a certain thing on a certain day of the week. They’re like family to us,” she adds.
Most of their Southern specialties, such as the alligator and oysters, are imported from Louisiana and then prepared with the family’s traditional recipes. Mitch’s mother, a local hairdresser in her 70s, also bakes the pies, cakes and bread puddings.
“Everything’s made from scratch, which is tedious, but the reaction of the people is worth it,” says Geishula.
Once the food comes in from Louisiana, the Moore family definitely knows what to do with it. The couple still keeps in contact with relatives in Monroe, Baton Rouge and New Orleans. The Southern soul food is embedded in family tradition. “We have some mean cooks in the family…whew!” she adds. Geishula says the family’s barbecue throwdowns are always a good time filled with laughter, fun and delicious food.
I order a sweet tea, alligator stick and a basket of frog legs that includes a couple of hush puppies and collard greens. Alligator is the café’s most popular item — they used to hand it out at the local farmer’s market for years before prices went up and it was considered a delicacy. For less than four dollars, M&M’s serves up lightly breaded alligator meat on a stick. It has a pork chop texture with a saltwater tang. A lot of people think it tastes like chicken.
In less than 10 minutes, the basket of frog legs and collard greens comes out. The greens are a throwback to being in the South, offering a wholesome and filling flavor on my palate that has cured me from ever touching a can of these again. Normally, the greens are boiled in fatback or turkey broth to give that kind of flavor, but Geishula won’t say exactly what is in her mother-in-law’s secret recipe.
Diving into the frog legs, I find there’s quite a bit of meat hugging the small, sneaky bones. They have a bit of a stringy, chewy texture and taste more salty than the muscular alligator tail. The hush puppies and sweet tea pair nicely to tone down a briny palate.
The young, beautiful dark-haired waitress comes back and although I’m stuffed I order the beignets, another New Orleans staple. Beignets are doughy squares topped with powdered sugar and served with maple syrup on the side. They smell like heaven while being baked and I’m fortunate that I don’t live next to that incredible smell — like what comes out of a doughnut shop or cinnamon bun store. The big, deep-fried fluffy piles of combined goodness taste close to a sugar doughnut but better because they are served warm and fresh, like receiving a hug.
For good ’ole-fashioned Southern soul food, M&M’s is the place to go. Not only do they serve everything under the sun that’s guaranteed to fill you up, it is very reasonably priced. A sweet tea, alligator stick, frog legs, collard greens, hush puppies and beignets all cost under $25. I even had some left to spare.
Recommended dishes by the owners and staff:
- Geishula’s favorite: BBQ ribs and macaroni and cheese
- Mitch’s favorite: Catfish and macaroni and cheese
- My waitress’ favorite (who grew up eating at the restaurant): peach cobbler and chicken and dumplings
For more information about M&M’s Southern Café, visit www.mmssouthern.com.