When I started driving to Cox Cafe, I didn't know what to expect. All I knew about the restaurant was from a phone call in which a woman told me it served "country" food.
Buried deep in the industrial district, Cox Cafe's unassuming building sits to the side of dusty Lower Poplar Street. Despite the fact neither I nor my companions had ever heard of the restaurant, it was evident upon arriving that it was a popular lunch spot.
We arrived around 1 p.m., and the area around the restaurant was packed with cars. There isn't really a parking lot, and customers seem to just park wherever there's room.
Once we walked inside, we were directed to a line resembling that of a school cafeteria. Also similar to school, certain foods are served only on certain days, and a menu that lists each day's options can be picked up near the cash register.
We picked up our trays and ordered food as we went down the line. Lemon pepper chicken, turnip greens, broccoli, a piece of fried corn bread and banana pudding was on my plate by the time I got through.
We went to seat ourselves and before finding a table, a waitress had already taken our drink orders and was on her way to fill them. The staff, who always met us with a smile and a pet name, continued to refill our drinks through lunch before they were empty. The room was packed, and the restaurant appeared to be a favorite among nearby workers.
The lemon pepper chicken was cooked just right. It was juicy and had the right mix of seasonings. My partners ordered fried chicken and cubed steak and found their picks to be good, but about on average with other Southern food joints.
My broccoli also was cooked well, and I learned something new about myself on the trip: I do not like turnip greens. I have never had any turnip greens before, so I'm not faulting the restaurant. I wished I had chosen the creamed corn instead, which one of my dining partners said was "pretty good" and "definitely better than the can."
He also noted that the potatoes were not only tasty but also real, which seems to be a rarity on serving lines. The corn bread was a little dry, and the biscuit I had on my next visit was much better.
The banana pudding was great - neither the bananas nor the vanilla cookies were soggy.
Overall, the food was good, but pretty much on par with the rest of the Southern food restaurants in the area.
On a second trip, the restaurant was just as crowded. The quality of food was about the same as well. I thought the ham and the broccoli casserole was too salty, but the whipped sweet potatoes were excellent. My partner said the pork chops, which were fried, were good and not dry.
The service, again, was exceptional. My partner asked if the restaurant had any Tabasco sauce (a hot sauce of a different variety, along with salt and pepper, was on the table), and in a nice gesture our waitress offered up her personal bottle.
Overall, the food is reasonably priced. A plate with one meat, two vegetables and bread is $5.95, and soft drinks are 95 cents.
Cox Cafe not only serves lunch but also breakfast. I did not have a chance to check it out, but items on the menu include eggs, bacon, sausage patties, salmon and steak, along with home-cut hash browns, grits and biscuits and gravy.
Although the food is about average, the service is what would make me choose Cox Cafe over other Southern food establishments in town.
694 Lower Poplar Street
two and a half stars
Phone: (478) 745-7171
Hours: Breakfast: 6:30 to 10 a.m. Monday-Friday; lunch: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday-Friday
Payment: Cash, check, major credit cards
Price: Breakfast: 75 cents to $4.95; lunch: $1.25 to $6.45 Reservations: No
Children's menu: No
Vegetarian selections: Yes
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Noise level: Moderate
Smoking policy: No
Latest health code rating: 96