At the oilcloth-covered tables in the two wood-paneled dining rooms of Martin’s sits a cross section of the Montgomery populace: men and women in full business attire, ladies lunching, tradesmen (in their clean clothes), and, on Sunday, an after-church crowd dressed to the nines. While in no ways formal or uppity, Martin’s is a polite place to eat. Comfortable, hospitable, and reasonably priced, it is an understated jewel of a restaurant, a neighborhood café that serves the finest in meat and three meals.
The last time I approached the front door, I exclaimed out loud how lucky I was that the white-board menu posted outside listed banana pudding as a dessert of the day. “Yes, sir,” offered a woman who was walking out. “It’s so good, I had two portions!” Seated next to me in the dining room that day was a well-dressed gent who, noting that I had ordered three desserts, confessed that he had eaten lunch a short while ago downtown, but craved good pie, so he drove out to Martin’s for a slice of coconut meringue. Martin’s food has been earning loyal customers for decades.
Meals start with either crisp-edged cornbread muffins or biscuits that are flaky-crusted with gossamer insides. Lunch anchors, which vary by the day, include succulent-crusted fried chicken and baked chicken that is every bit as luscious as the fried – so tender that the gentlest tug with the tines of a fork easily separates moist, velvety bites. There are catfish fillets, beef tips, fried flounder, and pork chops; and starting every day at 2pm, heftier dinner entrees that include the likes of meat loaf, whole catfish, fried chicken livers, fried oysters, and fried shrimp.
Side dishes are an honor roll of masterfully cooked southern vegetables: soft and savory cooked cabbage, pot-likker-sopped collard greens, butter beans, cheese grits, candied yams, bowls of shimmering red cherry Jell-O chockful of fruit cocktail.
When banana pudding is on the menu, it’s a must: at once dense and creamy, its ‘Nila Wafers softened just enough to maintain their cookiehood but also offer rugged contrast to the more viscous ingredients, the hunks of banana firm and fresh, the whole thing leavened by thick veins of whipped cream. Pies also are first rate, the coconut custard crowded with shreds of coconut and topped with frothy meringue, the chocolate cocoa-infused but not at all devilish.
I enjoyed lunch here so much when I last passed through Montgomery, I scheduled a return trip for Sunday, when the same great Dixie square meals are kicked up a notch with entrees that are like home cooking, but probably better: roast beef cut into rosy flaps that are as tender as beef can be; and sliced turkey that is aromatic and full-flavored.