Tupelo and Hungry Mother are two of the most celebrated additions to the Cambridge eating scene over the past year. That they are both southern inspired suggests a niche in the Boston area that was screaming to be filled at least since the closing of Bob the Chef’s over on Tremont. By most accounts, Tupelo and Hungry Mother are doing a fine job, and our experiences at both restaurants largely confirm this. So a traditional like/dislike review seems less appropriate in this case than a comparison of these largely similar establishments. If you’re in the mood for some catfish, fried oysters, roasted chicken or grits where should you go? Here’s recommending Tupelo.

With appetizers at $5-8 and entrees for $12-15 Tupelo beats Hungry Mother’s prices ($8-11 apps and $18-25 entrees) by a sizable margin, without sacrificing anything when it comes to the food or atmosphere (though Hungry Mother does trump Tupelo in terms of drink selection and quality). Tupelo’s fried oysters with green tomatoes ($8) stacked up against Hungry Mother’s fried oysters ($11) and I preferred their catfish ($14.50) to Mother’s ($18).

Most of Hungry Mother’s offerings stray a bit too far from the comfort food and too close to the French for my taste. The dishes tend to be a bit more “refined” than at Tupelo, but in a totally vanilla way. There is nothing comforting or interesting about the rainbow trout dish below. Other entrees on the menu are similarly uninspired e.g.  french style gnocchi (I’m not sure what makes these gnocchi French, but anything that would make them less Italian can’t be good) and veal strip loin. These items do not jump off the menu. Tupelo’s entrees, on the other hand, sound unhealthy and delicious: beer battter crepes, daube of beef with hominy mashed potatoes, bourbon maple bbq chicken, new orleans gumbo. The one disappointing part of Tupelo was the biscuit. There are few breads I like more than a good biscuit, but this version was dry and bland. Other than that, Tupelo satisfied on all counts.

Hungry Mother's fried Chesapeake Bay Oysters

Hungry Mother's fried Chesapeake Bay Oysters

Crispy Catfish with fresh green tomatoes, parsley potatoes, and pickled jalapeno aioli

Tupelo's Crispy Catfish with fresh green tomatoes, parsley potatoes, and pickled jalapeno aioli

Hungry Mother's cornmeal catfish

Hungry Mother's cornmeal catfish w/low country red rice middlins, andouille sausage, green tomato relish

Fish was good, but the middlins were quite bland, which was an issue the last time I had this dish.

Hungry Mother's grilled rainbow trout, fingerlings, red vidalias, bacon, almond-brown butter

Hungry Mother’s grilled rainbow trout, fingerlings, red vidalias, bacon, almond-brown butter

Half Roasted Chicken, Bourbon-Maple BBQ chicken with cheddar grits, sweet onions and quick dressed greens

Tupelo's Half Roasted Chicken, Bourbon-Maple BBQ chicken with cheddar grits, sweet onions and quick dressed greens

The half-chicken was moist and sticky and salty and sweet and went great with the dense cornbread and the cheesy grits. This is what I want if I’m in the mood for southern flavors.

Tupelo's Brown Butter Pecan Pie with Toscanini's Tupelo honey ice cream and blackberry sauce

Tupelo's Brown Butter Pecan Pie with Toscanini's Tupelo honey ice cream and blackberry sauce

The pecan pie was delicious though i read somewhere that it might be off the menu now. The rest of the desserts looked equally good, so there should be no shortage of delicious ways to finish your meal.

Tupelo on Urbanspoon

Hungry Mother on Urbanspoon

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The Hen House’s signature dish is the 5-step program, where patrons choose their waffle (buttermilk, multigrain or cornbread), their butter (whipped, cajun, herb), their syrup (maple, clove honey, maple bbq), their chicken (tenders, whole pieces, wings), and their sauce (too many to list). Most people seem to go this route, scraping the chicken off the bone on top of the waffle and then smothering the melange with butter, syrup, and sauce. Considering that I do not like waffles, syrup, or any relative of bbq sauce, I am probably not the best person to write a blog post about eating at The Hen House. But here I am, and though I did not do the Program, I loved my chicken and corn bread. I got the combo meal with three pieces of chicken, 2 sides, and a drink, which cost $8 or so and was way more than I could eat. The chicken was crispy, not at all greasy, and flavorful. The cornbread was moist and delicious. My second side was collard greens, but I was too busy to notice them. I really ordered them because I felt guilty ordering only buttery cornbread and deep-fried chicken. But the guilt was unnecessary. I had gone into the meal resigned to feeling sick immediately after eating. Surprisingly, my compatriots and I felt totally fine after the meal. We even discovered, by way of a small sticker on the door out, that The Hen House is transfat free, if that’s the sort of thing you care about.

Carlo and the two friends we were dining with can vouch for the chicken and waffles. According to them, the waffles were light and crispy, though not as hot as one might like. And, with all the sweetness layered on top of the dish, the chicken needed a bit more salt. Carlo enjoyed his side of fried cabbage, as it was surprisingly comprised of equal parts bacon/assorted pork and cabbage.

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The atmosphere at the Hen House is similar to that of a sandwich shop. It’s not particularly comfortable, and I don’t recommend it for a night of romance. That said, the service was very friendly, if a little disorganized. The cashier had never heard of the root beer floats that appear on The Hen House’s online menu, but after thinking it over for a minute, he said he could make one for me anyway. It’s also a little slow for a place where you order at the counter. We waited at least 10 minutes for our food, but so long as you’re not in a hurry, this is actually a good thing because unlike most fried chicken you’re going to get in Boston, this stuff is actually being made to order. The Hen House may be difficult to get to without a car (with a car its very easy – right off 93 and with a parking lot at the adjacent liquor store), but if you can swing it, it’s well worth the trip.

Hen House Wings 'n Waffles on Urbanspoon

I had read about Hungry Mother in the Globe a while ago and we finally got a chance to try it over the weekend. The concept is southern flavors (if Virginia can be considered Southern) meet French technique. Exorbitant amounts of butter meet more butter and cream? I hoped not – and there were several attractive items on the menu, so I went in with an open mind. The restaurant is half a block from the Kendall Cinema which makes it the ideal dinner and a movie place. If you eat before 6 and are seeing a film, the restaurant will get your tickets for you – a convenience we did not make use of so can’t personally attest to, but I’ll take their word for it.

Entering Hungry Mother was a bit shocking. I’m not sure who designed the layout of the space, but for the love of god why did they put the bar in a cramped room next to the entrance. Customers were shoulder to shoulder, shuffling from side to side trying to sneak their way to their seats. Once we were escorted into the main dining room the lunacy of the setup became even more apparent – the rest of the restaurant is actually quite spacious. Luckily, that was the low point of the experience. We began with three of the four small pre-appetizers Hungry Mother offers: spicy pimiento cheese dip, deviled eggs, and warm beef tongue canape. We skipped the boiled Virginia peanuts–I just couldn’t bring myself to order boiled peanuts in a restaurant. Perhaps if I’m in the Planter’s hospitality center after the grand tour of the factory. For a nice dinner? No thank you. The cheese dip was fine, the deviled egg very good (the only deviled egg i’ve ever eaten and enjoyed), and the warm beef tongue canape could have been excellent, but the glaze was a bit too sweet, overpowering the taste of the tongue. On the whole, some satisfying but not dazzling snacks.

For appetizers we ordered the berkshire pork ribs and the fried oysters, both were excellent – the ribs were sticky and tender and delicious and the batter for the oysters was impressively light and greaseless. I wish both plates were entrees. That’s not to put down the entrees, they were good too. We had the bluefish and the catfish – simple dishes but tasty combinations (particularly the mustard-caper brown butter for the catfish). Not too sure about the “middlins” that accompanied the catfish. Seemed like glorified rice pilaf to me. Some sides of baked grits and cornbread (the sorghum butter was tasty and interesting) and desserts of chocolate cake with milk and strawberry shortcake rounded out the meal nicely, though the strawberries had a thawed wateriness to them. Prices are eminently reasonable: $7-13 for appetizers, $17-27 for entrees. Overall, I don’t know that Hungry Mother merits consistent trips to Kendall Square but if you’re going to a movie around the corner you’d be a damn fool to eat elsewhere.

Hungry Mother on Urbanspoon