I had been to Martha’s (458 Sayre St.) a couple of times, but for various reasons hadn’t gotten around to writing a review. I had eaten lunch there several times because it is well-regarded and also walking distance from downtown offices.
Martha’s is a white house, divided into multiple rooms. You enter through the front door and are presented with a very narrow hallway where people are clustered waiting for tables and waiting to pay. There’s a staircase heading upstairs to your left, but I have never been up there. The entry hallway is covered with those autographed pictures of semi-celebrities that have dined there and left promotional traces of themselves.
Martha’s smells great. It has an atmosphere that immediately makes you comfortable. You feel like you are in someone’s house. The servers are incredibly friendly and quickly offer you sweet tea or lemonade. Many people take a mix of the two.
Now, here’s where the review gets tricky. At all of my early meals at Martha’s, I came away perfectly happy. I was prepared to write a glowing review about a delicious lunch. I had fond memories of their “pick from the menu” veggie plates and tasty desserts. I remembered the whole meal being quite affordable and a good experience.
However, the first time I tried to go to Martha’s with the intention of writing a review, they were closed. Turns out, they, like almost everything in Montgomery, is closed on Mondays. For a future Lost in Montgomery post, we will put together a list of all of the establishments that are closed on Mondays. It’s shocking how hard it is to buy a good meal on a Monday.
OK. No problem. We tried again a few weeks later. We entered just as an entire busload of teenagers was being seated in the back dining room. We sat for 20 minutes or so without anyone coming to take our order. We were on a tight lunch schedule, so we couldn’t wait. We figured they were just understaffed and overwhelmed by the arrival of some field trippers looking for lunch. No problem. It happens. We did notice that there appeared to be a buffet set up, but we didn’t know if that was a special setup just for the group, or a new format, or a new option, or what. Like I say, nobody came to talk to us, much less take our orders.
Finally, we went back this week. We sat in the back dining room which was vibrating like one of those old vibrating football games. We think it was some kind of problem with the air conditioner. No problem. Our sweet tea cups looked like a T-Rex was stomping around, but no problem.
Here’s the problem: It appears now that Martha’s has made a permanent switch to the buffet system. And, while not ideal, that wouldn’t be a problem in and of itself. But they also appear to have switched from just using meat as a flavoring for some of their veggies to making their veggies into some kind of meat stew. Gone were the collards (perhaps with a tiny piece of pork that could be picked out). Instead, there was some kind of blend that was 50-50 collards and pig meat. Same deal with the cabbage. Same deal with the peas.
We decided we couldn’t rationalize paying buffet prices to only be able to eat the rice and the corn. Why can’t these damn places figure out that there are thousands of ways to flavor vegetables that don’t involve animal flesh? It’s not that hard! We left and — given our suspicions that this is just the new permanent format at Martha’s — we won’t be back.
That’s a shame. Martha Hawkins seems to be a nice lady and an important figure here in Montgomery. A lot of people love her restaurant. But for those of us who prefer Southern food without heaping doses of shredded meat injected into every dish, we’ll have to get lunch elsewhere and just imagine what we’re missing on the dessert front.