TASTY TRAVELS: Blue plate heaven

One day last week, Martha’s Menu was bursting at the seams. Every table in the upstairs dining room – and it seats 140 – was full. A half-dozen customers waited near the cash register for carryout boxes. Others stood in a line by the front door, eyeing the next available table.
Owner Keith Wilkins stayed busy greeting lunch regulars by name, taking money at the register and answering the phone. Waitresses swirled among customers, dipping, swerving and placing heaping plates of meat and vegetables in front of hungry patrons.
“It’s often like this,” said Wilkins, who owns the restaurant with his mother, Martha Cherem. “Lunch is our busiest time of day, followed by breakfast. It kind of winds down in the afternoon.”
Martha’s Menu has been located at 702 Cruise St. in Corinth since 1995. Before that it was housed a couple of doors down and seated about 40. In the 1970s and ‘80s, Cherem operated a family restaurant on U.S. Highway 72 called Jetties.
“We’ve got the same cook we had when we were out there, Helene Holland,” Wilkins said. “But don’t ask for her recipes. She does not measure anything. If I go into the kitchen to help her prepare something and I say, ‘How much salt?’ she says, ‘Pour until I say stop.’”
The quality of Holland’s cooking and the inexpensive price tag are what drives customers to the restaurant, Wilkins said. A plate lunch – a meat, three vegetables and bread – costs $5 plus tax. This past Wednesday, the offerings included breaded pork chops, chicken and dumplings, chuckwagon steak, pinto beans, fried squash, broccoli and cheese, creamed potatoes, potato salad and coleslaw.
“We have fried chicken three days a week and turkey and dressing two days a week,” Wilkins said. “We haven’t made any major changes to the menu in years. You know, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”

Regulars a staple
Wilkins signed on to the business seven years ago to help out his mother. But soon afterward, Cherem’s husband became ill with Parkinson’s and Cherem gave up the restaurant life to stay at home and take care of him.
“When I took it, me and Mother were going to help each other,” he said. “Then my stepdad got sick and it didn’t work quite like we planned.”
The restaurant is open seven days a week, and Wilkins is there all seven.
“That’s the worst part – the seven days a week, but I skip out when I can,” he said. “The best part is meeting the people. We’ve had people in here from all over the world – the Philippines, Korea, Canada, Alaska.”
Regular customers, which make up about 70 percent of the eatery’s clientele, are another reason Martha’s Menu has been successful.
“We don’t get a lot of complaints,” he said. “But when we do, it can kindly stick with you and ruin your whole day.”
You won’t find Phyllis Barmer complaining. She eats at the restaurant at least once a week, sometimes more.
“The fried chicken livers are wonderful,” said Barmer of Corinth. “I don’t know what they season them with. They grill them first so they’re soft. And all their vegetables are seasoned like you cook them at home or like your grandmother did. I’ve been coming here for more than 10 years, or more like 20 to 25, if you count when his mother had the other restaurant.”
The restaurant also sells breakfast all day, burgers, sandwiches and beef, pork, chicken and fish dinners. But it’s the noon hour that really draws the crowd.
“Plate lunches,” Wilkins said. “That’s our staple.”

Martha’s Menu
Owners: Martha Cherem and Keith Wilkins
Where: 702 Cruise St., Corinth
When: Monday-Saturday, 5 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sunday 5 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Phone: (662) 287-2590
Must try: Breakfast any time, especially omelets and pancakes; banana pudding, turkey and dressing, chicken livers, baked ham.

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NEXT UP on the Tasty Travels trail it is catfish. See the story on June 14 in Sunday Business in the NEMS Daily Journal newspaper.

Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal