It’s like old home week every day at this Grove Hill restaurant

Alabama Living Magazine

By Lenore Vickery

The Courthouse Square Deli building was once home to the Clarke County Democrat newspaper. Photo by Lenore Vickrey

If you want to catch up on the latest news with your neighbors while getting a delicious meat and three lunch, or a plate of hand-breaded shrimp and onion rings, lunchtime at the Courthouse Square Deli and Bakery in Grove Hill is the place to be.

The restaurant, located (of course) on the square across from the Clarke County Courthouse, has been serving lunch to loyal customers since it opened in 2008. “On a typical day we probably see 80 to 100 people for lunch,” says Rita Phillips, co-owner with her sister, Janet Woodham. A third sister, Cathy Baker, helps out as well. The trio, who grew up in Clarke County, are known as the “Knight Sisters” or the Knight Girls, after their maiden name.

Many customers, like Catherine Gaddy, 81, and her husband, Lloyd, eat lunch every day at the deli, and have their own table right inside the front door. “We pretty much know everyone who comes in the door,” says Rita. “Pretty much everybody you see on that wall are regulars,” pointing to a lineup of booths filled with customers from the front door to the back.

Fried shrimp platter is a lunch favorite. Photos by Sarah Turner

“You doing alright?” a customer asks Rita as he heads to the front door with a takeout box.

“Yes, how are you?” she replies.

“Hanging in there like hair on a biscuit,” he responds with a big grin.

“That’s our police chief,” she chuckles.

Being situated within walking distance of the courthouse makes it convenient for lawyers, staff and residents buying car tags or taking care of other business with the county to pop in for lunch. The menu reflects that association, with items dubbed “Preliminary Hearing” (appetizers like fried dill pickles and mozzarella cheese sticks, and sides like onion rings), “Order in the Court” (sandwiches, subs and wraps including hamburgers, Reubens, fried or roasted chicken subs, or grilled pimento cheese), “Circumstantial Evidence” (house specialties like the popular fried shrimp platter), “Lighter Sentence” (salads), and “The Final Verdict” (desserts such as their famous “Gooey Bar,” similar to a chess square, along with cake slices and ice cream).

The clever category names were the brainchild of Janet, and Rita’s husband came up with the name, Courthouse Square Deli and Bakery, Rita says. The building was originally home of The Clarke County Democrat, the local newspaper, and then when it moved, it was home to the deli’s predecessor, the Democrat Deli.

Sixteen years ago, Janet had a beauty shop in nearby Fulton and Rita was working refinishing antique furniture when Janet decided she needed to change careers. “She said, ‘Call the Democrat Deli and see if she wants to sell,’” Rita recalls.

She called, the owner was interested, and even asked Rita, “When do you want it?” “And I said, ‘Right now!’

“We were so excited! We’d both kind of dreamed about it for a long time and everything just fell into place. It was God’s plan and it happened. Thank God my daddy wasn’t alive because he would have told us, ‘You’ll starve to death.’ But we haven’t yet!”

Slices of Dean’s cakes and other desserts make a mouth-watering display.

They painted the inside, brightening up the brown paneling, and installed new lights and eight much-needed security cameras. They remodeled the second floor, which is rented out as an apartment.

For the past 16 years, business has been good, although coping during the 2020 pandemic was challenging. “We did curbside service for what seemed like forever,” Rita says, and the restaurant had to shut down for a month. “We had people calling us asking what would it take for us to reopen.” Eventually, they did and customers were glad to come back.

Their signature item, she says, is Janet’s chicken salad, which she still makes fresh every day. Before the pandemic, they would sell up to 40 pounds a day, Rita says, but “the pandemic hit us hard.”

These days, “our calling card is our fried shrimp and our meat and three,” she adds. Some days there might be gumbo or chili. “Most days we have a meat and three, like meatloaf, mashed potatoes, cornbread, turnip greens. We always have a dessert except on fish and shrimp day. Every other Friday we do a $10.99 fish and shrimp meal. They come out of the woodwork for that!”

Many of the diners at the Courthouse Square Deli are regular customers. Photo by Sarah Turner

They hand-bread the chicken fingers, as well as their shrimp, fish and onion rings. “We cut our own fries for home fries. We try to do as much fresh as we can,” Rita adds. Besides, “frozen tenders are hard as a brickbat.” They also make a variety of sauces for dipping, including the house sauce (“kinda spicy”) and COB sauce, for chick o’ breast, with cajun mustard, mayo and jalapeno pepper juice.

Their customers like the dependability of the menu and the fact that it doesn’t change. “It’s hard to bring in new stuff,” Rita admits. “We used to have grilled peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but those got too messy. Kids would get it all over the place!”

So they stick with the tried and true. “People like what they like,” she says. “We have the same things every week. We’ve got more than 100 items.”

Sisters Cathy Baker, Janet Woodham and Rita Phillips.

In past years, the two sisters did a lot of cake baking. “Janet baked and I decorated,” Rita says. “We still have some (cakes) but not like we used to.” Health issues curtailed some of their baking, and they now stock cakes from Dean’s Cakes, a well-known bakery in Andalusia, by the slice in their cases. Janet still makes some desserts, such as her Gooey Bars and peanut butter pie.

Cathy has a special ministry, delivering lunches to in-town shut-ins without any compensation. “She loves doing this to give back to the community,” Rita says. “She usually has 8 to 10 deliveries per day.” 

The restaurant is a popular place for retirement lunches and group get-togethers. They don’t do events as such, but “we do reserve tables,” says Rita.

The three sisters are known and respected by the community, as evidenced by a recent award. “We got voted citizens of the year, all three of us, a few years ago, by the Grove Hill Study Club. They don’t do it anymore, so I guess we broke the mold,” she says with a laugh.

The trio would like to continue running the restaurant “as long as our health holds out,” she adds. “We’ve got a great business and a great location. We’ve really been blessed.”

Courthouse Square Deli & Bakery

132 Main Street

Grove Hill, AL


Follow them on Facebook at 

Courthouse Square Deli Bakery

Hours: Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.


Get The Latest Updates

Subscribe To Our Monthly Newsletter

Get a sneak preview of each month’s magazine when you sign up! 


While You're Here

Related Posts


Never Miss A Story

Get our Weekly recap with the latest news, articles and resources.
Cookie policy
We use our own and third party cookies to allow us to understand how the site is used and to support our marketing campaigns.

Sign up for our e-newsletter

for the latest articles, news, events, announcements and alerts from Alabama Living