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Tucker on my mind

Matthews offers a lesson in Southern charm

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Standing in line at Matthews Cafeteria, you forget all that talk you've heard about the New South. My jaw dropped when I heard a woman strike up a conversation with two strangers about familial connections and vacation Bible school at the local Baptist church, all with a sweet Southern drawl.

The to-be-seen scene of Matthews is a cultural mish-mash of races, accents and heritage, all waiting in line for a heap of traditional Southern fare. Call it a greasy spoon, a feeding line or a meat-and-three, Matthews Cafeteria is the real thing. On any day of the week, you'll see Tucker locals crowd together within its white cinderblock walls. Sit at the red-checked oilcloth-covered tables or opt for to-go boxes to enjoy the goods at home with the family.

What we ate: A different selection of vittles is served up every weekday. Many folks insist that Thursday -- turkey day -- is the time to be there. And we mean real turkey, sliced from the bird and served with dressing ($2.90). The fried pork chops ($2.85) run a close second, along with the sausages and kraut, mushroom steak, and liver and onions. Juicy, salty fried chicken appears daily for either lunch or dinner ($2.30). Tuesday isn't too shabby, with salmon croquettes, meatloaf, chicken and dumplings, pot roast or corned beef. The meatloaf ($2.80) is served thick, and covered in a zippy, ketchupy sauce.

The sides ($1.09) also change daily, but you can usually be assured of turnip greens and creamy mashed potatoes. My broccoli casserole was a little dry, but the sweet potato souffle was oh-so-good. And while I couldn't pass up a helping of creamed corn, I let someone else enjoy the boiled okra. No thankya.

Service: The line moves rapidly thanks to the mix of self-serve sections and smiling women dishing out helpings. If you want your meal to go, you'll be treated to service as sweet as the iced tea.

Cheapest item: Cold sides include sliced tomatoes (90 cents) or deviled eggs (90 cents). You'll think you're at a summer picnic.

And for dessert: Sweet stuff like banana pudding ($1.20-$2.30), and slices of apple, pecan or blueberry pie ($1.40) fill the bill. My slice of lemon icebox pie was wonderful, and tempting enough that I nearly went back for another.

Grease count: A local told me a story of how he was coming to Matthews twice a week for takeout. When he returned after a long absence, the servers asked where he'd been. "After getting my cholesterol checked, the doctor said I had to cut it out for a while." The server assured him, with a concerned smile: "We're doing better."

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