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    Eat & Swig

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    This article originally appeared in the January 2016 issue of Louisville Magazine. 
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    Consider it a web. Like a family name is a web, a linkage. This name, W-E-B-B — namesake of Webb’s Market and Deli, the corner-store grocery near Muhammad Ali Boulevard’s eastern end — spins the store from 1957 to now. There’s Anthony Webb Sr., who opened an A&P-style shop back when there were no shelves or freezers; his son, Anthony Webb Jr. (aka Pete), who took over in ’62, adding the deli; and his son Tim Webb, now 56, who has worked here since 17 and who tried college but one Christmas announced a switch to meat-cutting school and the family business. More up his aisle. 

    Only three aisles at cozy Webb’s, stocked fresh to frozen — red potatoes, Lay’s, oven-waiting curly fries. It's lunchtime and busy. Folks line the far left aisle, waiting for the back-counter grub — a $5.99 (!!!) hot plate (meat, two sides, bread) or some deli. Far right, checkout line along soda expanse. Tim shoots out the back of the small shop down the middle row, a blur of ball cap, green plaid shirt, jeans, and hellos through shelf space, eyes over box tops.

    Wanda Barrow is up front. Been at the cash register since 7 a.m., when the late-shift hospital workers and egg-and-bacon cravers hatch. Her back aches from a recent fall, but she’s still upright, smiling. Slices of carrot cake for sale at the counter. Tim’s daughter, Megan, makes all the desserts here. His son, Michael, a junior at Trinity, helps on weekends — stocking, serving, cleaning. Now that Megan took the job at Macy’s — Tim knows her heart’s in design — Michael is the hoped-for inheritor. “My next project,” Tim says. When Tim sees the line grow, he steps to the register nearest the front door, says, “Next!” 

    The web grows, spindle knots strong — webs the bridge workers in hardhats and bright vests; the 20-something YouthBuild worker who’s here for a turkey sandwich; the man who needs a set of the plastic utensils behind Tim, for he will not dig in with his plaster-covered hands; the fancy lady in her white fur coat; the midday Natural Ice drinkers; the Cards-reppin’ cook who has worked here a wide-eyed “loooooong time” and whose kids visit the store (sometimes snagging grapes); the blondie behind the steam table who knows it’s “all good” — fried cod, fried chicken, smoked pork loin, green beans, mashed potatoes, chili, bean soup. And then me — always indecisive, especially with so many options — finally ordering the smoked brisket with sides of shepherd’s pie and mac and cheese.

    I spider past the deli counter and down the dark hall stacked with extra Red Bull to the lunch room in the very back. Not so crowded back here, most people in Webb’s and out. A couple of guys bend over their own brisket, one glad to only work a half-day today. Barrow is back here on break. The cook, too. They sit in one of the simple booths by the TV, which is on and loud and somebody wants to be a millionaire. There’s other scattered entertainment, all silent, lonely — the ball-less billiards table, dusty Euphoria piano Tim’s cousin left him, pinball machine. I choose a Kentucky-blue booth, the color matching Webb’s awning out front, still so vivid several streets away.

    My Styrofoam box squeals as I crack it open. Plastic fork up, then I’m in, smack, shiny mac. It’s classic creamy and a clean dip, no dangly cheese. Your standard cafeteria-style. The shepherd’s pie makes me want to have a food fight, the way everything is mushed up like it’s already been through one. This ain’t my usual, but it’s today’s special (tomorrow, spaghetti; next day, meatloaf), so I figured I’d give it a try. The corn adds a nice pop to the slop. My fork cannonballs into the brisket pool, no floaties on, rips a strip from the tender meat, avoiding the fatty edges. I smell the smoke before I taste the smoke. Chewing, I think of the cylindrical black smoker outside Webb’s, the way the smoke billows from the pipe like a steady train, choo-choo, and how standing there smelling it I wanted to climb inside that warm hazy belly and stay, the way I want campfire scent to stick. I think of Tim walking through Webb’s with a tray of slabs, rubbed with seasoned salt until they’re as orange as Fanta, ready to warm it to perfection and trying to dodge the rain. Maybe “perfection” is kind — I am no true brisket buff — but, man, am I uncontrollably approval-nodding and mmm-ing. The smoke lingers, rides my fingers as I drive back downtown. One day it’ll drive me back, for I am caught. 

     

    Photo by Mickie Winters

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