Joni Woolf: Like a warm spring day … right under our noses

Published 10:17 am Wednesday, May 1, 2019

The nose will lead you there. You’ll be in Piggly Wiggly in Ellaville, shopping for a few groceries, rounding a corner, heading toward the front of the store, and the aroma will suddenly overwhelm you. Is it chicken frying? Potatoes? Pan cornbread? Follow your nose to the front of the store, and there stands the deli, where it has been for several years, it’s only promotion the sights and smells of good food cooking, every day.
Since I usually shop in the afternoon, I had missed the breakfast crowd, and the later, larger lunch crowd that comes daily, as working men and women stop by to pick up a full-size meal at a modest price. This is not a restaurant in the ordinary sense. You cannot sit down in the Piggly Wiggly store and eat your meal there (though they probably would not throw you out!). Everything is “to go,” packed in Styrofoam boxes to retain the heat until the purchaser gets to his or her work site or office, or perhaps a truck’s tailgate if the date is pleasantly warm, like our recent days have been.
I went early, to beat the crowd and to have plenty of time to consider the choices. I also wanted to talk to someone (Crystal Taylor was kind enough to pause in her work day to answer my questions) and ask how long it had been there. “Oh, several years …” she began. It’s just called the Deli at Piggly Wiggly, but it is a meeting place for all kinds of folks who enjoy a good meal that is easily accessible and modestly priced.
There was chicken cooked several ways — baked, fried, in a pot pie; there was a wide variety of vegetables — cabbage, black-eyed peas, sweet potatoes, French fries, green bean casserole topped with crinkly fried onions (you know the recipe), English peas, butterbeans; and pretty cornbread cooked in a frying pan in individual patties. I chose two pieces of fried chicken (drumsticks), black-eyed peas, cabbage, sweet potatoes, and cornbread (I had iced tea waiting at home). The server put my food in the Styrofoam box, marked it $6.88, and I proceeded to the grocery’s check-out counter. (Each item is priced individually.)
Once home, I opened up my package, and decided I would enjoy an early lunch, since I had been up making cakes since 6 o’clock, and was beginning to feel a bit hungry. The chicken was perfectly cooked (done) and with a nice crispy crust, but not greasy. The vegetables were well-cooked and well-seasoned, and, unusual for some cafeteria-style food, it was not too salty. In fact, I would score it perfectly seasoned with salt. The servings were a “working man” (or woman’s) size lunch, a hearty repast for those whose work demands the consumption of a higher number of calories than are needed by someone like me. I ate half the food in the box. I have enough left for supper, so at the rate of $6.88 for the full box, I figure I have two meals at $3.44 each.
The food that I enjoyed reminded me of Rick Bragg’s stories of his mother’s cooking, as described in his book that I have written about lately (“The Best Cook in the World.”) They are the foods of simple, down-home cooking, of sustenance rather than style. Once in a while, style can bring comfort and contentment, and a feeling of well-being. Most of us enjoy a touch of that — occasionally. But when we are hungry and need fuel, there’s little that will bring the satisfaction that a hearty, well-cooked “meat and three” provides.
Venture out occasionally, beyond your comfort zones. Stop at a new place, perhaps one you pass every day or two and never go in. As I write this, I think about the restaurant I pass three days each week as I go to exercise at Southwest Georgia Gym in Americus. I never go in, though I hear the fish are very good. I see people coming every day at 11 to pick up their “carry-out” lunches. I therefore promise myself to take my own advice, and venture out. We’ll never know what surprises await if we are unwilling to take a chance. Maybe I’ll see you at one of those places neither of us has ever been. That would be nice.

Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at