Week in, week out, I gush or gripe on and on about restaurant after restaurant with a little ink going toward recipes, parties or food events. I can’t say that I ever remember doing a review of a grocery store deli. Why not? I guess it never crossed my mind. Weird how things like that go unchecked.

As a kid I’d have the Jitney Jungle deli once every week or two. One summer home from college I took a part-time gig at a Kroger and managed a streak of eating mashed potatoes once per shift for almost three months. Even now at the ripe old age of whatever it is I’m about to turn, I spend a good bit of my paycheck in grocery delis throughout Mobile and Baldwin counties.

I’d be hesitant to call myself an expert on the subject, but I would be comfortable assuming I am more knowledgeable about the matter than most. In the vacuum left by the disappearance of my favorite “meat and threes,” the grocery deli is a great place to get a hot meal even grandma would be proud of.

Here are a few of my favorites.

Winn-Dixie
There were many before her, but when Winn-Dixie metamorphosed from Crack-Dixie to Mac-Dixie some eight or so years ago, its deli caught our attention here at Lagniappe. Salad bar, olive bar, hot bar, chicken pot pie, barbecue and wings all sold by the pound was the official meal of Lagniappe editorial meetings.

Some of us salad lovers almost died of blue cheese overdoses while others savored the hot stuff. It was hard to pass up. We really flipped when they had the sushi guy rolling daily. I hold Winn-Dixie responsible for the renaissance of the supermarket lunch.

Publix
Publix coming to Mobile was really big news. The deli was different from those we were used to. Of course they had the daily special hot meals, salad bar and soups but they also had chicken.

You can get as much chicken as you can stand at Publix and it’s pretty good. Wings, tenders, bone-in, combos and family meals, rotisserie and anything fried, the chicken at Publix isn’t necessarily Southern, but I like it. You can often find a box of spicy that won’t melt your taste buds but will rev your motor.

Add to that sandwiches, subs and smokehouse items such as pulled pork, ribs and, you guessed it, more chicken, and you’ll know Publix really has its own thing going.

Rouses
Mobile is a town very much in love with New Orleans. Like a school crush, our city taunts them in playground fashion over the origin of Mardi Gras, but we all know we just want a little attention from her.

We prefer to live here, but we brag on knowing the best places to eat in the Big Easy. When Rouses announced they were coming, every wannabe who ever visited the Quarter was on pins and needles, and with good reason, too.

It’s about the only place you regularly find tasso. They smoke their own meats, age their own beef and always have Gulf seafood along with amazing produce from near and far. But this is a story about deli food.

Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, Rouses puts the Louisiana spin on just about everything. Where else are you going to get shrimp and mirlitons? I do love their hot bar’s consistency and the salad bar is well-stocked with fresh fruit and greens of many sorts. You can even get a wedge. I try my best to steer clear of the pastries but every once in a while the little devil on my shoulder makes me give in.

If I said, “gumbo,” which of these places would you most likely trust? I thought so.

Piggly Wiggly
Just after Spanish Fort was outfitted with a Rouses the Piggly Wiggly essentially across the street went through an upgrade. You can certainly get a decent lunch here with many fine products, but the gold is in its breakfast.

Without fail the Hoggly Woggly outperforms these places in the breakfast department. Biscuits wrapped and ready to go are good enough. The breakfast bar has fried steak, thick-cut bacon, cheese grits (as well as un-cheesed), sausage links and patties as well as corned beef hash.

I salute the pig and its mascot, cannibalistic as its breakfast bar may be.

Greers
My Greer’s is the one at Dauphin and Interstate 65. If I had to pick a favorite deli this would be it. I can’t quite put my finger on it other than to say the food is so good and incredibly cheap. Yes, the salad and chicken wings are sold by the pound, but at the hot bar you simply get what you pay for.

The baked chicken is better than the stuff I make at home, I concede, and mine is not too shabby. The boys love the fried fish and thick green beans with macaroni and cheese.

About a year or two ago I was reading the calendar of daily specials and noticed they have chicken livers on either Wednesday or Tuesday. “Gosh, I sure would love some chicken livers but I work across the bay on that day.”

“Well, what day do you work in Mobile?” asked the deli lady. “Mondays,” I replied. Since that fateful day, chicken livers have been on the Monday schedule — all because some jerk asked for them.

Part of it is that I like the small-town feel of it. But if I were a poor college student away from home I would turn my nose up to the school cafeteria and make my way to Greer’s whenever I craved a hot meal.

Like ripples in a pond, when one grocery store comes along and makes a splash the waves affect all the others. Each store in this timeline added its own thing and upped the ante, but each of these still has a place in my rotation. The next time you go hunting for a good restaurant you may want to reconsider. Try the deli.

(Photo | DepositPhotos) With fresh meats, hot vegetables, salad ingredients and more, your local supermarket deli can become your go-to place for ready-to-eat meals.