Wildwood Deli has always been one of my favorite places to eat in Athens, and under the capable new ownership of mother/son team Rhonda and Matthew Fisher, I can attest this still is the case. The Fishers have been at the helm for a little over a month, and business is brisk. Years ago Rhonda owned a sandwich shop on 72, and Matthew worked there as a kid. “I cleaned windows and the drink machine, and took out the garbage,” he said. Rhonda had to close Southern Sandwich because her business partner had a family member who became ill and needed care, but she never lost her dream of having her own place again.
Matthew went on to get his Hotel and Restaurant degree from Auburn, and learned his trade there from people who had run the Ritz Carlton luxury hotels. As a native of Limestone County, he knows everything from “deep fried water” to haute cuisine, and is comfortable and skilled with all of it. His seven-year-old daughter, Taylor, who was helping that day, told me, “He’s good at it,” and her compliment was unsolicited. Rhonda and Matthew both know the business side of running a restaurant, which is crucial in an industry where the margins are so tight and failure is common.
Rhonda is known for her baking, which might seem like a far cry from having a degree from ASU and working in computer information systems. Her recipe for banana pudding is a family secret, and both she and Matthew grew up in the kitchen. Rhonda says, “We make a really good team. We work well together, and we learn from each other.”
So, do they make a good team? Boy, howdy, I’d say. The morning I did the interview they made me eggs, which were cooked to perfection. Rhonda had just taken the banana bread out of the oven, and it was marvelous. I went back at lunchtime to sample the Philly Cheese Steak, and had it as a salad. Again, it was wonderful. Their Philly is made from shaved rib eye, and was mouth watering.
Wildwood Deli is the local source for Gigi’s cupcakes, which are known in some circles as “milk’s BFF.” (Best Friend Forever.) Gigi’s offers gluten free products on Fridays, and the gluten free flavors from which one can choose are tantalizing: Wedding Cake, Turtle, (which has caramel, chocolate and pecans, just like the candy,) White Hot Chocolate, and Birthday Surprise.
Wildwood has reconfigured its seating to be what is known as “community seating.” That means that any open seat at a table is available to any customer. “You might meet someone for the first time who is your neighbor, and you didn’t even know that they lived close to you.” (That has actually happened.) “It encourages community building,” Rhonda continued.
Another of Rhonda’s signature pieces is her potato soup. In the few weeks they have been open, they have gone through more than one hundred pounds of red potatoes. The spud soup is the real deal, made from scratch, made with butter, and can come loaded with bacon and cheese, if you wish. (By the way, Matthew considers cheese to be its own food group, and will find any excuse to incorporate it into a dish. That’s my kind of guy.)
I always ask clients when I interview them, “Why should I come to you?” In part, I have already answered my own question, but here are some further reasons why Wildwood Deli deserves your patronage. “We want to be here,” said Rhonda. “We love food, and we do it right,” she added. Matthew mentioned, “Our food is fresh, and we have no freezer. We make things in small batches, and you’ll never find me making a 5 gallon bucket of chicken salad,” he said. That insistence on freshness is paying off.
They also have a vision for the future. By faith, they are planning on having several spinoff ventures, including other restaurants and a catering business. To show his faith, Matthew has the Wildwood phone number listed in his cell’s address book as “#1 Restaurant.” They are planning on hosting special, private “prix fixe” (fixed priced, pre-selected multi course dinners) served after hours a couple of times a month. They want to have Saturday Sidewalk Suppers with live music. “We want people to look forward to our up and coming seasonal items and events,” said Rhonda, “and we will be utilizing local markets and orchards. We will also be featuring products from Belle Chevre Creamery.”
These guys have imagination and panache. As Rhonda was working, I noticed that she was assembling a savory chocolate dipped treat. They were then going to be whisked away to the Home and Garden Show as part of Wildwood’s contribution to the event sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce. No doubt they were a big hit. And the place from which they originated? It is going to be one as well.
113 W. Market Street, Athens, AL 35611
Hours Mon-Fri, 11-6, Sat, 11-3
The WD Facebook page is updated daily, with notices of seasonal menu changes and extended hours
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner