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Food and Drink Features

Not just a grocery store

Solve problems over supper at Midway, Norman’s neighborhood gathering spot.

Carol Cole-Frowe November 16th, 2011

When is a grocery store not a grocery store? When it’s part Mayberry diner, political center of Norman, classic-car gearhead clubhouse, mecca for emerging musicians, as well as a fine place to get a hearty bowl of homemade chili or soup and a wholesome sandwich.

Tiny, unassuming Midway Grocery & Market is owned by “Midway Bob” Thompson, a former Norman City Council member.

Drop in any morning or afternoon and you’ll find an eclectic group of diners ranging from neighborhood regulars to country superstar Toby Keith, casually noshing on Midway’s signature sandwich: the Arnie ($8.50), a grilled concoction of salami, ham and pepperoni named after Thompson’s best friend and golfing buddy, Kent “Arnie” von Bargen. Former Gov. Brad Henry is reportedly a fan of Midway’s renowned Reuben sandwich ($8.50), a tasty delight of tender corned beef piled on marble rye bread with sauerkraut and Swiss cheese. Barry “The King” Switzer often orders the Ranchero ($8.50),  a grilled, Santa Fe turkey sandwich kicked up with spicy ranch.

Over the years, it has morphed into more of a deli than a grocery, serving about 300 customers daily.

Thompson bought the grocery in 1985, and he prides himself on serving good, fresh, straightforward food.

right, Cori Wood at Midway Grocery & Market

“Everything is made in small batches,” he said.

One of the original employees in 1955, Bill Ashley, although retired in 1999, still comes in each Monday to make his renowned Bill’s chili ($4.25), which is served daily.

“It’s his recipe, and we don’t mess with that,” Thompson said of the well-liked menu item.

Ashley was instrumental in the continued success of Midway  Grocery after Thompson bought it.

“Bill had to teach me to butcher, to be a product manager,” Thompson said.

The daily soups are all homemade, including Thompson’s wife Maricha’s gumbo ($4.25), which is described on the menu as “a party in your mouth.”

Friday is vegetable beef and barley soup day ($3.25).

“It’s the most tender, most mellow soup,” Thompson said. “It’s just a great soup.”

Sandwiches are just about anything that can be concocted, with customers filling out a checklist selecting what kind of meats, cheeses, bread, condiments and spreads they want.

“The menu’s just the minimum we offer,” he said.

Thompson comes in at 6:45 a.m. to make cinnamon rolls, blueberry muffins, croissants, French bread and cookies.

“If I get an award for anything, it’s having a restaurant in Oklahoma where nothing is deep-fried,” Thompson joked, although he confessed he eats deep-fried foods occasionally. “All of our food has a blue-collar goodness. We don’t use a lot of fancy seasonings and rubs to ‘chef it up.’ You’re not going to taste any frickin’ thyme.”

Midway Grocery sells 3.2 beer, as well as a wide selection of sodas.

The grocery is not as well-known for its morning offerings, but they’ll start your day out right. Midway serves up breakfast croissants with bacon, ham or sausage ($5.25); a breakfast burrito with Bill’s chili ($4.99) or a breakfast quesadilla ($5.95), along with pastries, muffins and freshly brewed coffee.

Most days, you’ll find special people being treated like regular folks, and regular folks being treated like special people at Midway Grocery. And you might just recognize the person sitting next to you.

Midway Grocery is open seven days a week: from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays.

Photo by Mark Hancock

Oklahoma Gazette’s restaurant review policy is to highlight the positive aspects, and include constructive criticism regarding food, ambience or service when appropriate.

Check the 1:30 mark for a brief appearance by the grocery store in The Chainsaw Kitten's "High in High School" music video, which was directed by acclaimed filmmaker Spike Jonze.

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