Manna Grocery has been Tuscaloosa’s nontraditional grocer since 1980. Originally located on 15th street, this natural food store introduced Tuscaloosans to a variety of alternative foods and nutrition products. Though the term “natural” has yet to be defined by the FDA, many consumers perceive the claim to identify healthier options. Simply speaking, these products are minimally processed excluding added colors, artificial sweeteners, and synthetic substances.
From the very beginning, owners Francis Self Drennen and Earle Drennen set out to educate the community and provide access to natural food products and nutritional supplements. Health-foods like gluten-free and organic have continuously increased in popularity creating a national trend. Francis expressed that being a part of a trend was never a goal. For these owners, it is more important to retain integrity and remain committed to the well-being of the community.
In the back of this quaint store lives the “Deliciously Different” Manna Deli. The menu shares the same wholesome food philosophy focusing on fresh and unique entrees, sides, beverages, and desserts.
“We just wanted to keep it simple and offer real food that tastes good,” Co-owner Francis Self Drennen explained.
Yes, the menu lacks several southern staples. And yes, kale salads and garden burgers have probably never appeared on a southerner’s dinner table. But, the beauty of menu development is that the consumer is ultimately in charge. Along the side of the kale salad and garden burger is burritos, pizza, and paninis.
My trips to Manna are frequent, though they are never during lunch hours. The day finally came when I was tired of hearing a coworker rave about the delicious, healthy meals. I had to try it out for myself.
Going in, I knew I had to have a plan or I would never reach the deli. The dietitian in me can take over at any moment. Before I realize it, I am reading and comparing food labels. Determined, I reached the deli without distraction and was politely greeted by the worker behind the counter.
The everyday menu and daily specials are displayed above the register. Orders are placed at the counter and then delivered to the table. The small dining area was surprisingly full. A nice mix of businessmen and college students occupied the area. While waiting for my food, I conversed with the man indulging in the Blueberry Goat Cheese Pound Cake. He admitted to treating himself to this intoxicating cake every time it is on the menu.
Lunch was delivered moments after our conversation ended. In the bottom of a simple brown bag was a to-go box filled with three cheese and roasted vegetable lasagna. A mouth-watering aroma escaped from the bag and trailed behind me as I hurried back to work. At my desk I unpacked the little brown box and prepared to eat. The office staff nearly drooled with envy. My fork slid through it like butter releasing more of that sweet and savory fragrance. Layer after layer revealed more cheese, spinach, and artichokes smothered in creamy tomato sauce. Each bite had a slight kick of heat, perhaps some added red pepper? Nonetheless, the salty cheese overwhelmed taste buds, calming the heat. The lasagna was so divine that I selfishly consumed it until my tummy objected.
Manna Grocery is located at 2300 McFarland Blvd. in Tuscaloosa, next to Plato’s Closet. The Manna Deli is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Normal grocery hours are 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Cindy Huggins, RDN, LD is a registered dietitian nutritionist and local “foodie” Follow her on twitter @DietitianCindy for more foodie news.

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