Delores Powell laughed at the question about her brand-new Jamaican restaurant, Mama’s Kitchen.
“The best thing on the menu?” she repeated. “Wow. People have different likes. I think everything is so good I cannot specifically say.”
When pressed, she mentioned her favorite, oxtail – not oxtail soup.
Powell, known for being the recipient of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” in November 2009, today will celebrate the opening of Mama’s Kitchen, at Massachusetts and Plymouth avenues, on Buffalo’s West Side. The small takeout restaurant is almost directly across the street from the home she shares with four of her seven children, and about six blocks from the Peace Bridge.
The menu features Jamaican-style escovitch fish, jerk chicken, brown stew chicken, curry goat or chicken, fried dumplings and the Jamaican national dish, ackee and saltfish. And the oxtail that makes her so proud. She cuts up the oxtail, cooks it on the stove top with spices and seasoning, then serves it with gravy and rice.
“People tell me they’ve never tasted anything like this oxtail before,” she said. “I do have some secrets in the sauce.”
Powell is biased, of course, but she was asked what a native would say.
“If a Jamaican come here, they would say, ‘Yes, mon, it’s good food.’ ”
Opening her own restaurant has become a second dream come true for Powell, following the dramatic makeover of her family’s Massachusetts Avenue home more than three years ago.
“Ever since I was a little girl – I grew up in a big family, my mom had 17 children – since I was 8 years old, I was cooking for the family,” she said.
And she remembered her mother’s words to her: “When you get married, I don’t want your husband to send you back home because you couldn’t cook.”
Powell marvels at her own good fortune, after some very tough years.
“Before ‘Extreme Home Makeover,’ I felt like a caterpillar, something that is ugly,” she said. “ ‘Extreme Makeover,’ that’s when the cocoon burst, and I emerged as a butterfly.
“Indeed, we can look at this butterfly and see how beautiful it is, but we never stop to think of the stages that the caterpillar goes through to become the butterfly.”
To Powell, there’s a lesson there, about having faith in God and never giving up on a dream, no matter how impossible it may seem at some point.
City and WNY AmeriCorps officials are hailing the new restaurant as part of a continued transformation of Buffalo’s West Side, the site of some 119 neighborhood projects in 2009. Mayor Byron W. Brown also will be on hand for the opening at 12:30 p.m. today.
“Since ‘Extreme Home Makeover,’ I have seen dramatic changes all over the West Side,” Powell said, crediting PUSH Buffalo, the Breakout project and some city initiatives, including garbage cleanup and police presence.
“One thing I can tell you for sure, police have been here like never before,” she said.
On Saturday afternoon, Powell talked while about half a dozen family members made posters and blew up balloons for the restaurant’s grand opening. They were quiet, almost studious, working in a home that is as clean and neat as a pin.
“This is a blessing to us,” she said. “I couldn’t afford to build a house on my own. So I knew if I got a house, I would keep it neat and clean. Under no circumstances will we let it fall apart.”
The tiny takeout restaurant, with a few stools inside, will be open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday through Friday.
More information on the restaurant is available on its website, www.mamaskitchen17.yolasite.com.