I selected the restaurant in the heart of Germantown because it is the newer one and the larger. It looks as if it had been a banquet hall at one time, and is capable of holding a crowd of perhaps 200.
The restaurant service is basically cafeteria style, though it includes a $4.99 buffet from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays. There also is a full take-out menu - this applies at all locations - featuring sandwiches, platters, snacks and bulk vegetables.
Ribs, of course, are the strong item here. They are available as a rib platter (four ribs $9) and in a variety of combinations with chicken. The rib takeout is big business, with a half slab going for $9.50 and full slab for $16.50. There also are tender beef ribs ($7.50 for a platter with two vegetables).
It takes only one bite to understand why the ribs are so popular. They're slow-cooked juicy and succulently tender. And they don't have that burnt, crystalized, sticky sauce you find at a number of chain rib houses. The sauce is rich and smoky; it doesn't intrude on the flavor of the meat. It can be had in varying degrees of hot, but be forewarned: Extra hot is extra hot. If that's your style, go for it, it's in a class all its own. You can even order Mama's barbecue sauce by the cup ($1).
While chicken and ribs are mainstream here, there's a whole bunch of other things to eat. For example, there's chopped pork and beef barbecue ($7.50) - something that's difficult to find up North here. Or you can have catfish ($6.50), baked turkey wings ($5.50) or a pork-chop platter ($6.50).
If you like greens, Mama Rosa makes them crunchy and full-flavored. Other worthy vegetable choices include yams and apples, green beans, macaroni salad, potato salad, rice pilaf and cole slaw.
Along with the usual dinner rolls and rye bread, there's corn bread - although I got stuck with an end piece that was burnt on the edges. Sandwiches range from fried flounder ($3) to chopped barbecued chicken ($1.50).
The buffet, by the way, offers unlimited food, allowing you to eat your way through the likes of fish and chicken potpie. And you get vegetables and dessert, too.
Desserts include potato pie ($1.50), carrot cake ($1.50), peach cobbler ($1.50 small; $3 large) and lemon cake ($1.50). For coffee, simply help yourself.
There are a number of takeout chicken-by-the-box items, as well other special takeout items. You can call ahead with your order. All takeout platter selections include two vegetables, bread and paper goods. No liquor.
MAMA ROSA'S SOUTHERN DINNER OUTLET
5531 Germantown Ave., 215-848-3860
Open: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays.
Price range: $1.50 to $7.50
Credit cards: Mastercard, Visa, American Express.
Nonsmoking section: Yes.
Facilities for handicapped: Yes.
Atmosphere: Takeout-banquet hall.