Fun in a Box is Back, Baby!

Folks of a certain age will recall with fondness sitting on a low brick bench on Lee Road in Cleveland Heights hunched over a small white cake box layered with fried chicken wings, french fries and tangy barbecue sauce. The menu item’s name – “Fun in a Box” – was an apt descriptor to be sure, but the flimsy plastic fork that came with it seemed like a cruel joke played on the drunk post-bar crowd by the owners. As for the small stack of tissue-thin paper napkins: they never stood a chance.

Mama’s Boy, the low-key carry-out shop that dispensed those boxes of bliss right alongside Chinese-American gems like egg rolls and fried rice, lasted for close to 30 years. After a brief but ill-fated attempt to reopen in the Flats a few years back, Mama’s Boy faded into the history books.

Until this week, when Mama’s Boy (34840 Vine St., 216-932-3144) reopened in Eastlake.

“Mama’s Boy was my parents’ creation, which they started back in the early ‘70s,” says Andrew Johnson. “I grew up in the business peeling potatoes, cutting french fries and cleaning up.”

Johnson, who ran Mama’s Boy during its last decade, has been making and selling that shop’s beloved Carolina-style sauce through a website. He’s been looking for a spot for years, he says, so that he could get back in the business of making customers smile.

For those sad souls who never experienced the gastronomic greatness that was Fun in a Box, Johnson describes it as, “three breaded, crunchy whole chicken wings drizzled with our homemade famous barbecue sauce, fresh-cut fries, more sauce, and it all comes in the traditional white cake box wrapped with a red rubber band.”

He’s even brought back the flimsy plastic fork and paper napkins.

In addition to that iconic dish, he’s added house-smoked barbecue dishes like ribs, pulled pork and beef brisket, plus sides like mac and cheese, potato salad and braised greens. He swears his new sweet potato fries go better with Mama’s Boy sauce than the original spuds. There’s still that fried rice and those egg rolls will soon make their debut.

When it comes to the main event, Johnson says that longtime customers should taste a vastly improved product.

“We double-dip the fried chicken for extra crunchiness and we fry it in peanut oil,” he says. As for the old days, “The late-night drunk crowd; as long as its quick, good and tasty, they’re good.”

Mama’s Boy is a carry-out joint. Stop in to buy bottles of that bold, spicy and sweet barbecue sauce, which works great as a baste or dip.
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Douglas Trattner

For 20 years, Douglas Trattner has worked as a full-time freelance writer, editor and author. His work on Michael Symon's "Carnivore," "5 in 5" and “Fix it With Food” have earned him three New York Times Best-Selling Author honors, while his longstanding role as Scene dining editor garnered the award of “Best...
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