Wildwood Deli And The Terrific “Tune Up Dinner”

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What’s a “tune up dinner?” In the restaurant biz, a tune up dinner is like a dry run for a special event. Sometimes it is known as a “Chef’s Table,” or a “tasting.” What happens is that the chef creates and executes a small version of a future special event, and serves his artisan fare to a paying clientele that is required to give honest feedback in regard to everything that would make a dining experience truly memorable. The patrons are, in a word, willing “gourmet guinea pigs,” and this is how legendary restaurants become and stay that way.

Just a few weeks ago, Matthew Fisher, co-owner of Wildwood Deli, hosted a “wildly” successful “tune up dinner” in anticipation of something he and his mom Rhonda, (Wildwood’s other co-owner), are calling “Secret Suppers.” I will tell you all about the upcoming suppers in a moment, but first, we must celebrate Wildwood Deli’s one year anniversary!

Wildwood Deli has undergone quite a metamorphosis in the 5 years it has been open. It has changed hands several times, but blessedly has remained open and able to nourish the people of Athens as well as folks passing through. It has served delicious food cooked by people who care, and in my view now the Deli has indeed come into its stride. The restaurant business is known to be a tough one, and the shops that succeed have to find just the right balance of menu, staff, style, overhead, locale, service, what to charge the customer, as well as other factors in order to stay afloat. Matthew and Rhonda have beat the odds, with the proof being that it is not at all unusual for them to end the day having sold out of daily specials as well as Gigi’s cupcakes, (which can be custom ordered and picked up right there at the Deli.)

A year ago Rhonda and Matthew pooled their extensive food service, hotel and restaurant experience as well as formal education, and came up with a menu that was a wonderful blend of sophistication and “southern-ness.” The Deli itself has undergone extensive renovations, including the purchase of new state of the art kitchen equipment, more comfortable seating, a re-arranging of storage and traffic flow, and all of it goes to support their trade logo, “Wildwood Deli, where love is the main ingredient.” They have won contests, awards, and the “sweet tooths” of Athens have been satisfied by the offerings of Gigi’s cupcakes, which are nearly an art form in and of themselves. The charming, old feel of the exposed brick walls and black and white tiled floor, blended with modern equipment such as a commercial convection oven are some of what makes Wildwood Deli simultaneously a throwback to the past and thoroughly up to the minute.

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So, you may ask, just what are these “Secret Suppers?” They are the result of the “Tune up Dinner.” Matthew crafted a prime rib dinner that would please any person with a discriminating palate, then prepared and served it to 6 people. The menu was as follows:
• Appetizer: 3 cheese stuffed mushrooms-Matthew says he tried one, and they were delicious!
• Garden Salad- He used a number of greens and tossed it with a balsamic vinaigrette
• Garlic goat cheese biscuits, with the goat cheese from Belle Chevre
• Peppercorn Dijon mustard rubbed prime rib, with accompanying au jus made from the rub and drippings
• Sauteed asparagus
• Sage potatoes au gratin
• Rhonda’s legendary cheesecake made from scratch, which she baked right there in the Deli’s convection oven

Matthew said, “The cheesecake was absolutely perfect. Because of the convection oven, it was light, fluffy, as good as any I have ever had.” His guests were thrilled, and tipped him handsomely.

2-6-2015 9-39-06 AMHe told me that their plan is to offer “Secret Suppers” twice a month on Saturday nights, and the all inclusive tab would be $55 tops per person. For those of you who are “foodies,” you’ll no doubt agree that this is a steal. For each Secret Supper, the Deli will be transformed into an intimate bistro with table linens, cloth napkins, special lighting, window treatments, screens and more to complete the effect. Until the beer and wine license goes through, guests will bring in their own wine, and Matthew will charge a corkage fee.

What is his purpose in going to all this trouble? First of all, he is doing what he loves, and there is little in life that is more blessed than making a living doing so. He and his mom have a vision for what an impact this can have on Athens. “We want to get the State of Alabama to designate our place as part of the Downtown Arts District, and in doing so help bring in business and build revenue for our city.” He then added with a smile, “We want to be the only place in town where you can get your favorite dish, custom made, where YOU can “be” the menu.”
Wildwood Deli
113 Market Street Athens, AL 35611
256 206 9384
Hours: M-F 11-5, Sat 11-3
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner