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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Opening a bottle full of memories from Indianapolis' Pa & Ma's

The sauce waits for the coals
Over two summers in the early 1980s, a man known to many in the Indiana Statehouse as “The Pope” frequently took a college intern to a small building in the near northside of Indianapolis to further my education.

The lessons I learned from the always interesting Bill Pope did not count toward my degree from Indiana University, but they definitely were lifelong learning.

Today, Pa & Ma’s, located at 974 W. 27th St., continues to serve delicious pork barbecue and its sauce is available for purchase in grocery stores throughout central Indiana.

Opening up a bottle while making some grilled pork chops in backyard awakens memories from 1982, when I first had the rib tips, smothered in Pa & Ma's spicy sauce.

After my freshman year, my father’s connections landed me a summer job in the office of the Indiana Secretary of State. Deep within the bowels of the Statehouse was a dusty, muggy place called the packet room, where records about thousands of corporations in the Hoosier state were kept.

Whenever one someone wanted a copy of a company’s incorporation papers, I was sent to retrieve them. Before long, I found myself working there all day, at what became one of the most sought-after assignments, following orders from "The Pope."

One of the few remaining Democrats left working for a Republican administration, "The Pope" always had good music on the radio, led fascinating discussions on the issues of the day and took me to Pa & Ma’s. He was a massive man – both in physical size and intellectual capacity.

The finished results
Usually, we’d go there to pick up rib tips for whoever wanted them back at the Corporations Division.

Pa & Ma’s is the oldest continuously black-owned restaurant in the city. Open since 1940, I had the privilege of going there when it was still run by its original owners, Anna and Rodney Wilson (Today it is owned by Monica and George Nelson).

The first thing I remembered upon was walking into the small building was the sight of ribs cooking over charcoal in an open brick rib pit. Coming up to a simple counter, we were asked, “Would you like it mild or hot.” Depending on your response, they would put a little or a lot of sauce over your meat.

In other words, they only had one sauce and it was hot.

Eating our rib tips back at the Statehouse always required a lot of napkins. I wouldn’t be surprised if we left our mark on a few documents. 

Computers and the Internet may have replaced the need for a packet room, but thankfully Pa & Ma’s is still with us.

Today, I understand that they also serve good Soul Food staples such as macaroni and cheese, baked beans, greens, sweet potato pie and cobbler. I don’t remember there being a dining room then, but there is one now. You can even select sauces to apply to your food at your table.

As I pour a bottle of Pa & Ma’s sauce over whatever I’m grilling, I’ll think about you Bill Pope, wherever you are.

Here is my wife's recipe for her Smashed Sweet Potatoes:

Sweet Potatoes with Cranberries and Pecans
Complimenting the pork chops was my wife’s Smashed Sweet Potatoes with Cranberries and Pecans. Here is her recipe, which also can be used as a filling for Sweet Potato Pie:

-- Take four or five sweet potatoes and steam them on the stove top until tender.
-- Remove the skins from the potatoes and place them in a casserole dish and crush them until they are all softened.
-- In a separate fry pan, melt a half stick of butter and add a quarter cup of pure maple syrup and a third of a cup of dried cranberries and a third of a cup of chopped pecans.
-- Saute until the mixture comes to a quick boil. Pour the mixture over the sweet potatoes.
-- Gently stir into the potatoes a couple of times and the place into an oven at 375 degrees for 10-15 minutes. Serve directly from the oven.

Pa & Ma's Barbecue on Urbanspoon

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