Pity the poor transplanted Southerner in frosty New England. Iced tea comes from powder. Nobody's heard of a butter bean. Folks fling meat on the grill, burn on a sauce, and call it "barbecue." The insults to this great regional cuisine are endless. Yet there are oases, mainly soul-food restaurants in Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan, where large African-American communities appreciate real Southern cooking. One such is Poppa B's, a casual neighborhood restaurant so good that even the palest Northerner can find something here to love.
The quarter fried chicken ($8.25) is an unparalleled start, what I have often called the best fried chicken in Boston: ungreasy, juicy, with a crisp, herb-rich coating. Skip the 50-cent breast-quarter upgrade for the moister, richer leg quarter. The same superlative frying technique benefits fried catfish ($3.95/sandwich; $8.75/plate), chicken livers ($7.95/plate), and chicken wings ($3.95/four giant wings; $7.50/plate). The chef knows his way around a hickory-fired smoker, too. Barbecued ribs of pork ($5.95/sandwich; $12.95/plate; $18.95/ whole slab) and beef ($5.95; $12.95; $19.95) have such a delicious dry rub that they hardly need the house-made barbecue sauce. There's a beautiful, messy Carolina-style pulled pork sandwich ($4.95), vinegar-piquant and topped with slaw. Grilled liver and onions ($7.50/plate) is also fantastic: just-pink medium, smothered in a fine brown gravy.
Plates come with two choices from a big selection of traditional soul-food sides. Standouts include greens (collard, turnip, and mustard, dotted with tomato), okra (beautifully batter-fried), macaroni and cheese (wickedly creamy), and black-eyed peas (with or without rice). You can order more as sides ($1.50–$3.00/small; $3.00–$4.50/large). Complimentary cornbread ($1.00 for extra) is a rare stumble: fluffy, sweet, and cake-like, nothing like the proper dense, savory skillet bread. Save your sugar cravings instead for real sweet iced tea ($1.50) and excellent desserts like banana pudding ($3.50) and sweet-potato pie ($3.00).
Speaking of sweetness, the service here is as welcoming and winsome as I can recall in Boston. The cheery room always seems to be hosting some happy, raucous large party in the 16-seat loft or 18-seat main room. I'm looking forward to exploring the amazing-looking breakfast menu, featuring little-seen specialties like sausage gravy with biscuits and chicken and waffles. Taken as a whole, this friendly, authentic soul-food package is warm enough to thaw even the chilliest swamp Yankee's heart.
Poppa B's, located at 1100 Blue Hill Avenue, in Dorchester, is open Tuesday–Thursday, 7:30-8 pm; Friday–Saturday, 7:30 am-9 pm; and Sunday, 9 am–4 pm. Call 617.825.0700.