Culinary adventurers looking for something new may not be thrilled by the S&S Cafeteria, but for me there are few things more thrilling than the beautiful vista of a well-appointed cafeteria line. Nothing is cutting-edge or shocking on the menu of this big, popular eatery just down the street from Augusta’s Medical District. Choices start with a rainbow of Jell-Os, slaws, ambrosias, and composed salads worthy of a pot-luck church supper. Then comes the day’s selection of desserts. These include marvelously yammy sweet potato pie, a crusty baked apple that is like a recomposed cobbler, millionaire pie whose supersweetness is balanced by a vividly savory crust, frothy banana pudding, and at least six different kinds of layer cake. I’ve yet to hit a clinker among the sweets.
Main course? It is a challenge to choose. Roast beef, carved to order, looks swell. So does fried chicken … but S&S’s motherly baked chicken is too good to pass up. It is moist and fork-tender, authoritatively seasoned but without culinary swagger. Then there are roast turkey with all the fixins and sugar-cured ham and meat loaf and spaghetti and baked fish. They all are so handsome! On the other hand, this is a kitchen where you can forgo an entree altogether and make a fully satisfying meal of nothing but vegetables: sharp and custardy mac ‘n’ cheese, tonic turnip greens, bacony creamed corn, broccoli casserole or broccoli O’Brien, stewed okra and tomatoes, sweet potato balls or sweet potato souffle. Ad infinitum.
Even the choice of bread presents a challenge. I love the crackling cornbread with its crunchy skin, but the biscuits and yeast rolls are textbook-right.
S&S is a place that demands multiple repeat visits for full appreciation. Indeed, a lot of folks pushing trays through the line are regulars who know both the menu and the staff. A large percentage of them are senior citizens, including occasional busloads who arrive from nearby assisted living communities. No, this is not a trendy place to eat, God bless it. It is a source of decent food, a genre of eating that Jane and I have championed since we started hunting Roadfood, and a branch of American cuisine that we celebrated as far back as 1984 with our retro-cookbook, Square Meals.
Note that this particular restaurant is one of eight S&S Cafeterias currently in business: five in Georgia, two in South Carolina, and one in Tennessee. If Roadfood is all about unique one-of-a-kind restaurants, it is not, strictly speaking, Roadfood. But with meals this yummy, I have no intention of speaking strictly.