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There are a lot of reasons to leave your house for food, but one of the most common and universal is comfort. We seek the relaxation and familiarity of our favorite places more often than we do novelty and stimulation.

Our preferred set and setting when it comes to comfort food tripping says much about our background and proclivities. Fried chicken, burgers, pizza, Tex-mex — they tie into our childhoods or poor-as-dirt college years, bringing us back to times when such food was all we knew, or the best we could afford.

I’m lucky enough to reside within driving distance of the very building that birthed my intense love of cheap, Americanized Chinese food — A&B Discount Grocery. A&B is a low, cinder-block building on a little-used avenue on Hattiesburg’s Automotive Row. The “discount grocery” segment of their business is incidental. What we’re here for is sizzling in their woks and crisping to a golden brown in their deep fryers.

You can probably guess the entirety of A&B’s menu. Egg rolls and crab rangoon; General Tso’s chicken and broccoli beef. They also adhere to the curious and uniquely Southern custom of serving po’ boys and gumbo. I’m sure their sandwiches and stews are serviceable, but once again, that’s not what we’re here for.

If you really want to soak in A&B’s idiosyncratic atmosphere, feel free to dine in. My priorities usually lie closer to my couch, sweatpants, and multiple beers, so I’m calling in a to-go plate. I’ve noticed there are only two units of time in the A&B Grocery universe: five minutes, which means your food will be ready instantaneously; and fifteen minutes, which means your food will be ready never.

If you get stuck in the latter situation, don’t fret — there’s plenty on A&B’s shelves to keep you entertained. Peruse the beverage coolers overflowing with affordable and unusual sodas, juices and malt liquors. Wander the dusty aisles, wondering who last purchased a pack of off-brand feminine hygiene pads from a Chinese restaurant. Hang out by the register and read all the delightful signage, including very realistic pictures of menu items. Appetizing!

When the food comes out, all that charm takes a backseat. One golden, crispy egg roll should be eaten immediately upon entering your vehicle, mouth-scalding temperatures be damned. Their vegetable fried rice was my sole form of sustenance during a four-month “vegetarian” phase in college. Whether your preferred poison is lemon chicken, Kung Pao beef or sweet and sour pork, A&B will happily hook you up with a stupid amount of food for a stupidly low price.

I don’t love A&B Grocery ironically. I don’t love it in spite of its greasiness, but because of it. You can’t, shouldn’t, don’t want to eat sous-vide pork belly and farro in a benne seed reduction every day. Sometimes you need to relax, reconnect and remember the foods that first got you excited about eating. I find this is best done with a Styrofoam container of fried rice, a couple of crunchy egg rolls and a minimum of pretense.

 

A&B Grocery | 700 Emerald Ln. | Hattiesburg | 601.584.6811

Written by

Troy Coll is a New Orleans-born, Mississippi-raised investigator of all things gustatory. A 2007 graduate of The University of Southern Mississippi, Troy has written for a number of now-deceased Hattiesburg publications, along with hubcitylife.com and Signature Magazine. He also assisted in the efforts of Raise Your Pints, a grassroots organization dedicated to modernizing Mississippi’s draconian beer laws. By day, he runs Mr. Sippi Beverages, Hattiesburg-area bottled water provider. Otherwise you can find him roaming the South, with a glass in his hand and food in his mouth. His non-edible interests include meeting new dogs, making mix CD’s and tweeting a lot. Follow him across social media @TacoHole.

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