When you see a menu that offers a choice of all of the following, you know you're in for serious soul food: Chitterlings, ham hocks, hog maws, pig tails, neck bones -- even pig feet. "Great Down Home Cooking at It's Best" is what it says (yes, typo included) on the menu and while I won't argue that point, I think they should change the motto to "Everything but the Squeal" at Williams Street Grocery & Deli. If you don't want authentic, go someplace else. If you long for bits of the pig that many folks won't touch, this is your place.
It happens that I am of the authentic school, within reason, and when I saw neck bones on the menu (it changes daily), I ordered a plate of them in the
serving line. The two men standing behind me shook their heads, but I was betting on those necks tasting as good as any my grandfather ever boiled up, and I wasn't disappointed.
For those of you who aren't in the know, the delicate morsels of meat between the bones are among the most tender and flavorful you'll find on a pig. The texture is somewhat comparable to a beef short rib that's cooked for hours and is falling from the bone. The flavor, pure porcine. Divine.
The pig's foot is another matter. As a child I appreciated them pickled, freshly plucked from the jar on country-store counters, but they didn't appeal to me boiled. Like chicken feet or duck feet in Chinese restaurants, these were no more than skin and bones. One bite was enough to convince me that, well, one bite was enough.
But here's the thing: You don't have to eat pig parts unless that's what you're craving. I declare the meatloaf at Williams Street Grocery to be the best I've tasted. But let me add that I have no particular affection for meatloaf. It was infrequently (maybe never) on the dinner table when I was a child, so I have no strong opinion on how it should taste. I have a theory that complex tastes can be acquired at any point in life, but that if you don't come to love simple foods like peanut butter, meatloaf and mac and cheese when you're young, you'll never consider them comfort food and consequently they won't hold a strong appeal through adulthood.
Nonetheless, I know enough to say that the meatloaf I tasted was done right. It was moist and didn't appear to have fillers, and it was dense enough to hold up to a fork. A tomato sauce on top added flavor and color, and the tremendous size of the lunch portion would ensure all but the heartiest eaters a day or two of meatloaf sandwiches.
Standouts among the vegetables were the squash, simply sliced and boiled until tender, not mushy; the cabbage -- again, done but not overcooked, the mac and cheese and the dressing (oh, of course I know those aren't really vegetables). But the greens put the rest to shame: Tender but with a bite, cooked with onion and lightly smoky. (Avoid the green beans, though. I tried them twice and they were limp and tasteless both times.)
All of the desserts at the restaurant are made from scratch. Having tasted the butter roll, I finally see the fuss folks make about this gooey dessert that is little more than a rolled biscuit drenched in a sweet butter sauce. But try this one -- you can share it because it is incredibly sweet and rich -- and you'll see it, too. If you're already a fan of the butter roll, this is one that'll go to the top of your list.
-- Jennifer Biggs: 529-5223
Williams Street Grocery & Deli
Address: 755 Williams Street (one block north of LeMoyne-Owen College, at Williams and Porter)
Service: Counter service by pleasant folks
Reviewer's choice: Neck bones, meatloaf, greens, cornbread
Telephone: (901) 942-6444
Hours: Daily 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Price range: Plate lunches $6 and up; vegetables only start at $4.
Payment: Visa, MasterCard and debit card, no personal checks.
No-smoking area: Yes
Handicapped access: Yes
Alcoholic beverages: None