Toccopola- Sandra Carwyle’s late mother, after whom she’s named, never liked to eat alone, and you never have to—unless you just want to—at Toccopola Grocery.
Carwyle hustled from behind the counter, carrying a Cajun turkey hoagie, toppling with thinly-shaved meat and cheese, and pitcher of sweet tea.
“This is a family atmosphere, a good place to meet up and talk—maybe even eat,” said regular diner Chris “Snuffy” Smith, smiling. Smith, a Lafayette County sheriff’s deputy, sat at the professors’ table, amid his fellow preachers, prognosticators, and pontificators, all cleverly clad in work-boots and Carhart, downplaying their intellectual prowess.
“Days of Our Lives ain’t got nothing on this place,” Smith added, returning to his turkey hoagie and fries.
“This is the Cracker Barrel of Toccopola,” mused Billy Fortner, who was heavily involved with a generously portioned ham-and-cheese sandwich.
Michael Pickens pondered the profundity of the inch-and-a-half-thick hamburger steak, drizzled in brown gravy, that sat before him, artfully positioned alongside a mound of buttery, black-eyed peas. Nearby, Matco Tools man Scott Beasley, whose weekly run brought him in for his usual chicken-strip sandwich, was as generous as the portion on his plate with compliments.
“These are good, friendly people, hardworking, local folks,” said Beasley.
Carwyle, a former nurse, and her husband, Jeremy, who, like most mechanics, naturally got into the food business, have run Toccopola Grocery for three years. They wanted to preserve a piece of Americana, Carwyle said, and run the kind of hometown eating joint where fishermen and factory-workers could come in at 5 a.m., get a hot breakfast, and fill-up their lunchboxes with heaping sandwiches, coffee, and sweets, to fuel the rest of their day.
“We saw that mom-and-pop stores were dying out, and we wanted our place to be like gathering around the table at grandma’s house,” said Carwyle. “You never feel left-out. There’s always somebody to talk to. The food is good, and there’s plenty of it. If we don’t see somebody for a few days, we check on them.”
A tin box of dominoes and a couple decks of cards give the professors something to do with their hands, while they philosophize, when it rains them out of the soybean field, or the worksite.
Common sense, Southern wisdom determines the changing menu.
“It depends a lot on the weather,” said Carwyle. “You don’t want a heavy meal when its blazing hot out, so we try to make good things that make good sense.”
Thick, hand-patted hamburgers, heaping cold-cut sandwiches, and milk-and-egg-battered chicken strips, from an old Southern recipe, are daily staples. Fat, scored, whole, crispy-fried Mississippi, farm-raised catfish and fixings appear on weekend nights, with richly marbled, grill-seared ribeyes. Friday is meatloaf day.
“Even Mawmaw’s grandchildren gladly come and pay to enjoy it,” said Carwyle, laughing.
Jeremy’s mother, Jane, makes chocolate and coconut meringue pies, and a friend from the Carwyles’ church, Donna Kay, makes lemon icebox pies.
A fried hotdog sandwich, and a glass of sweet tea was what Mel Chrestman had in mind when he walked through the door, and Jennifer Sims had it on his table almost before he sat down.
Jackie Sanders got his usual.
“A Jackie Burger,” said Sanders, laughing. “No cheese, no ketchup. I do like dill pickles, though.”
As the philosophizing and prognosticating continued, Carwyle said she and Jeremy, as well as the family and friends that help them run the place, love being a working person’s place.
“We know people often have to save-up to eat-out, and it should be treat when they do—the food, the service, the environment, everything,” said Carwyle. “We’ve always wanted to run a place that makes a difference in our community. If you don’t have family, around here, in our place, you do.”
Toccopola Grocery is open Monday and Tuesday, 5 a.m. – 7 p.m., Wednesday 5 a.m. – 6 p.m., Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, 5 a.m. until, and Sunday (just sandwiches) 1-5 p.m. Call (662) 236-2139.