Martha’s Place

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.

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6 responses to “Martha’s Place

  1. When attempting to get a veggie plate, I often discover my plate would have to be mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, and french fries to truly avoid the meat. (See Jim N Nicks, etc) Well, at least there’s corn bread. That would have to contain corn, right?

  2. I can understand why you were disappointed because I know you’re a vegetarian, but you do know that you were still “eating” meat when you picked the pork out of the collards, right? Maybe you fished out the remains, but it’s flavorful essence was transferred to the greens. That’s why they’re so tasty. That said, I would also object to what you described as a veggie/meat stew, as the meat it supposed to be for seasoning, not overwhelming the whole dish.

    There might indeed be thousands of vegetarian friendly ways to flavor veggies, but as I’m sure you know you’re just not going to find them in authentic southern meat-and-three restaurants. I’ll spare you my take on the history of southern foodways, but that’s just how it is.

  3. Yes, I know that picking the meat out of the collards still counts as “eating meat.” It’s a compromise needed to be struck as rarely as possible in order to survive. It’s not ethical. It’s not healthy. But it’s one of those little things that lets us live in the south without being hated or constantly packing a lunch. I can only be thankful that I’m not vegan, although I’m not sure I have credible answers to the ethical questions posed by that lifestyle.

  4. Martha’s is open on Atlanta Highway. I go there once a week for a lunch meeting. I’m not a vegetarian, but I only eat local, organic meat that I can trace back to the farmer who raised it. While it is still hard to find a vegetable without meat in it at Martha’s, I find I can almost always get some rutabagas, mashed potatoes, rice, fried green tomatoes and the best corn bread muffin I’ve ever had (don’t tell my mom).

  5. We had the opportunity to eat at Martha’s Place. The food and the owner are just the best.

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