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Get to Edwards Cash Saver for a meal

A lunch counter love letter

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OUTSTANDING DELI IN A GROCERY STORE: Edwards' cafeteria serves up food to satisfy soul and stomach.
  • OUTSTANDING DELI IN A GROCERY STORE: Edwards' cafeteria serves up food to satisfy soul and stomach.

The Edwards Cash Saver on the corner of 17th and Main streets in downtown Little Rock is probably the most underrated grocery store in Central Arkansas. On more than one occasion, we have chatted with fellow South Main denizens, friends in the Central High or Wright Avenue neighborhoods who outsource their sundry-runs to stores completely out of the way, despite living just blocks from a true wellspring of food and community.

Let us be the first to shout it from the rooftops: Edwards is dependable, welcoming and hands-down the cheapest place to buy beer in town. Best of all: Edwards is home to an outstanding hot deli counter on the right-hand side of the store.

We have been a weekday lunch regular at this cafeteria alcove for some years now, taking great pleasure in a midday walk from work to the call of a clamshell piled high with savory classics. Any establishment that proudly proffers "snack boxes" is speaking our language.

The offerings on any given day vary slightly but are reliably of the soul-food persuasion. Notable meats include a cornmeal breaded catfish fillet or catfish steak (bone-in), pork ribs doused in a sticky-sweet BBQ sauce, fried chicken, chicken tenders, baked chicken, chicken and dumplings, and meat loaf. A meat-and-two plate with bread and a drink will set you back $6.36, a fish plate $7.27.

On the lunch menu, the only other category aside from meat is vegetable. The mac and cheese (it counts as a vegetable) is top-shelf: big elbows smothered in a thick, creamy cheese sauce that likely includes some cousin of Velveeta.

The vegetable plate ($5.45 for three, plus bread and drink) is a personal favorite and can yield any number of combinations — crisp fried okra, sweet chunky yams, pinto beans, green beans, onion rings, potato wedges, mashed potatoes and gravy, hush puppies, collard greens that melt in your mouth and a wicked concoction called Dorito casserole (think pulled chicken, cream of mushroom soup, Doritos and cheese — yes!). Though the variety of vegetable sides is plentiful, the offerings are not exactly vegetarian friendly, as most everything is slow-cooked with turkey meat.

BREAKFAST, TOO: Sausages, hash browns, grits and more.
  • BREAKFAST, TOO: Sausages, hash browns, grits and more.

This week, we visited the deli counter for breakfast for the first time. Bright and early at 7 a.m., we found a glass case stocked with fluffy biscuits and gravy, sausage patties, sausage links, hash browns, rice and grits, eggs and buttered toast. We were especially pleased by the generous helping of silky, peppered gravy bathing our biscuits.

The food selection at the "Main Street Cafe," as the menu board would have it, is not trying to reinvent anything at all — in fact, quite the opposite. The dishes are simple and universally appealing. They are reasonably priced, and you can make it through the line and check out in under five minutes.

Next to the counter is a small seating area with old-school laminate contour booths — not particularly comfortable, but perfect vantage posts to people-watch and dig into your lunch box. The color scheme is fluorescent white and fire-engine red.

The lunch counter is a great equalizer at Edwards, where folks get in line together to list off the sides they'd like, ask for Texas Pete hot sauce, sweet or unsweet tea. We have stood next to police officers and firefighters, teenagers on a summer date, families coming straight from church, homeless people, skilled trades people and business people in suits. It is a place where you can be anonymous or talk to a stranger for an hour.

And may we suggest, for those who prefer to take their box to go: Carry that meal to a nearby spot — to Pettaway Park or Bernice Garden or MacArthur Park. Because Edwards is smack-dab in the middle of our urban landscape, and it's surrounded by great places to take a break, sit for a while and eat a healthy portion of comfort food.

Edwards Cash Saver
1701 Main St.
376-3473

Quick bite

A handful of prepacked salads, spreads and desserts are available at the deli. The banana pudding is delicious; pimento cheese is offered in classic and jalapeño varieties; look for the pistachio salad and Hawaiian salad.

Hours

Breakfast: 7 a.m. until 10:30 a.m. Monday through Saturday. Lunch: 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

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