2014 has been a banner year for Rhonda Fisher and her son, Matthew. First they purchased and revitalized the charming eatery on Market Street known as Wildwood Deli. They pooled their extensive food service, hotel and restaurant experience and education, and came up with a menu that was a wonderful blend of sophistication and “southern-ness.” They also changed their logo to something that looks more early 20th century. There is no better advertising than word of mouth, and soon lunch hour in particular was slammed. It became apparent that if the Deli was going to keep up with the demand, there was going to have to be some serious remodeling of the cozy, exposed brick bistro.
They purchased some top drawer stainless steel commercial equipment, and had to drill through 9 layers of brick to get the 4 ft hood properly vented out. The size of the new grill was considerably larger than the previous one, so more orders can be prepared at once, and production time has greatly reduced. I have watched Matthew in action, and he has “mad skills” when it comes to turning out a “cover” quickly. Rhonda’s forté is baking, and the new convection oven recently empowered her to turn out dozens of custom cookies from her bevy of family recipes for a wedding. She gave me one to sample on her way out the door to deliver them to the reception, and the use of the word “mouthwatering” is a most appropriate.
Speed, while necessary in a situation where you have many customers who are on their lunch break, is not the end all and be all here. The “vibe” of Wildwood Deli is to create an eating experience where the product is something genuinely designed to fill more than your tummy, and the surroundings, staff, seating, and décor all contribute. One of the changes that will be made soon will be the seating. There will be comfortable perimeter seating that includes benches that will double as storage units.
There will be a number of offerings in connection with Festival Season. Matthew has secret recipe items he is entering in the Grease Festival contest. The cooling weather is making people hungry for soup, and Rhonda has a new recipe for a southwest chicken chili that is made with sweet potatoes, limes and peppers. There will be hearty vegetable soup, and she is already getting requests for her potato soup.
Matthew maintains that the Philly Cheese Steak is “best sandwich in all the land.” But, he has been busy as a culinary creator and has come up with a sandwich that is called “The Wild Banana.” It is made with two slices of Rhonda’s homemade banana bread. On one side is peanut butter, on the other is hazelnut spread, and is finished with six slices of banana, two slices of crisp bacon, and then grilled. It could soon give the Philly Cheese Steak a run for its money for being “the best.”
Rhonda’s grandma’s authentic southern banana pudding is also a big seller, and soon there will be some other desserts that have more of a fall theme to go along with the pudding. Of course, Gigi’s cupcakes are still the first thing you see when you come into the deli, and Rhonda or Matthew will order custom cupcakes for you from Gigi’s. You can pick them up at Wildwood in Athens rather than have to go into Huntsville or Madison. Gigi’s will make football cupcakes that match the colors of your favorite team for your party, and a “house divided” is no problem for them! Fiddlers’ Convention is coming up soon, and on Saturday, October 4th, from 7-10 am, Wildwood Deli will be offering a home-style pancake breakfast. Matthew has his own recipe which is committed to memory, and there will be sausage, bacon, and maple syrup.
While maintaining one of the highest food safety scores in the area, Wildwood Deli has developed a growing catering business. They have done the food for two weddings this past summer. Recently they did a large box lunch for employees of TVA, and eventually are going to offer special private dinners that will be catered right there at the shop. They also love to have people call in their orders for the times when a person only has 30 minutes for lunch. “If they call in, it will be ready,” Rhonda said with confidence.
They have been approached in regard to purchasing a beer and wine license. What can happen as a result of that type of licensure is that the area can be designated as an official entertainment district, which can open the way for grants to revitalize the downtown core. There could me more outdoor festivals, and the local economy could be strengthened.
Rhonda and Matthew hope you will stop by soon and experience the fruit (and food) of their labors, and leave with a full heart.
113 Market Street Athens, AL 35611
256 206 9384
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner