By Doug Deal
Macon Community News
When we do a restaurant review at Macon Community News, we usually focus on full-service establishments. Occasionally, however, we like to share our experiences at quick-service comfort food restaurants. This month, we visited just such a place: Cox Cafe, a cafeteria-style restaurant located at 694 Lower Poplar Street near downtown.
Since my kids are homeschooled, we will frequently eat lunch together as a family, with my wife, Lauren, joining us. On this trip, we were craving Southern comfort food. We had recently heard wonderful things about Cox Cafe, so we made the trek through the winding path of Lower Poplar Street. Having lived in Macon for 15 years, I have to wonder how it had been kept a secret from me for so long.
The place was packed, with parking lined up and down the crossroads near the building. Patrons were streaming in and out for take-out and eat-in orders. As we came in, we were lucky to grab a recently-vacated table near the back, but every other seating was taken. As our kids sat, my wife and I went through the cafeteria line.
The selection was what you’d expect from a locally-owned, Southern cafeteria-style restaurant. The menu rotates daily. On our trip, there was fried chicken, which is a family favorite, as well as fish, catfish, baked tilapia, chicken and dumplings, and hamburger steak.
Sides included mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, stewed squash, and English peas. Regulars will instantly recognize that we were there on a Friday.
For our order, we all had a shared craving, so we all got white meat portions of fried chicken with mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese on the side.
The fried chicken was lightly breaded, well-seasoned, and still moist. So many times, I have been tempted with a plate of fried chicken only to be disappointed with dry, chalk-like texture. There was none of that here, and I would put it up against Dab’s Cafe as some of the best fried chicken in town. The pieces were also generous. It’s what you dream about in this signature Southern classic.
They augmented their mashed potatoes with the brown sauce from the hamburger steak. The flavorful gravy was a perfect accompaniment to the in-house made tuber mash that reminds one of family dinners as a child. Unfortunately, the rest of my family does not like gravy, so I have been starved for this combination. It hit the spot.
Cox’s mac and cheese played no second fiddle in its own right. The gooey and cheesy noodles were only a brown crusty topping away from being perfect. If you, like my wife, were raised on subpar boxed macaroni and cheese, and you don’t like a crusty top layer, you will find Cox’s mac and cheese to be perfect. She loved it.
For bread, we had hoecake, which is a thin fried cornbread. The hoecakes were crispy but not dry, with a moist, buttery, and flavorful center. They complemented our selections nicely and loaded the bases of our meal. The grand slam was the desert.
Our last item was their banana pudding. Any restaurant that has it on the menu will likely get me to order it more times than not, and the version at Cox is on-point, to steal a term from those fancy cable cooking shows. They have plenty of other desserts to choose from, including layered cakes and peach cobbler.
Lastly, the service was friendly, with polite and patient order taking and quick drink refills. We got a greeting on entering and a thankyou upon leaving. In short, it was a pleasurable experience of a filling and relaxing meal at a reasonable price.
Cox Cafe is open for breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday from 6 AM to 10 AM and from 11 AM to 2 PM.
If you are looking for a different option in a meat and two (or three) restaurant, give Cox a try. We can’t wait to try breakfast.