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A Complete Christmas Dinner for Under $25 (Courtesy of Whittaker’s)

5:00 AM EST on December 22, 2016

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Look out, decrepit remains of Buy for Less at N.W. 23rd and Penn…there’s a new grocery store in town to get assaulted at—either outside in the parking lot or inside by the low, low prices—and its name is Whittaker’s!

While not “new” in the Biblical sense—pretty sure this place has been around for at least 50 years, maybe more—but since the untimely demise of the aforementioned B4L, I have been shopping aimlessly all across this dark city, hopping from the metaphorical bed of one grocery pimp to the next, looking for not only those great bargains I was used to, but the flavorful surroundings that guaranteed every trip would be more than just a quick stop to grab some necessities.

A friend of mine from church, Marcus, has been shopping at Whittaker’s, 2941 NW 10th, for years now, mostly due to the fact that he eats only meat and can more often than not find large quantities of it there for pennies on the dollar. Knowing my fondness for cheap eats and obscure foodstuffs, he offered to be my guide on this near-impossible quest to purchase a whole Christmas dinner for under $25.

Now, to be fair, I had been to Whittaker’s once or twice back in the early 90s for reasons long forgotten, and a girl I dated once told me that a man exposed himself to her in a badly lit corner where the wall of Shasta sodas reside. And, of course, driving by there on a regular basis, being directly across from the fairgrounds and a notorious 7-11, it wasn’t unusual to see cop cars and ambulances there at all hours of the store’s impressive 24-hour cycle.

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As a matter of fact, on their Facebook page, the first review for the beloved market reads something like this:

“Yall stink and yall ghetto and your customer service stinks i got cussed out by a cashier and was told get your own receipt bitch I see why the police is always up there I wont go back after I got cussed out and complained and they played me off as a joke i wont go back there nor will my whole family we go to Terris and I live around the corner from whittakers”

 And, even better, the third comment is:

“I was punched in the face by one of their male workers. Spread the word.”

 In other words…I was home.

Marcus and I rolled up to joint around 6 p.m. and the place was hopping. The taco truck had a line out into the street and the car next to us had its window busted in earlier that day, shattered glass crinkling underfoot. Carts littered the parking lot and as soon as we entered through those mildly-working automatic doors, with its boxes of long-forgotten product laid everywhere, dingy fluorescent lighting and bright orange stickers proudly signifying their comically low sale prices, this was the dystopia of grocery stores and I was Dr. Robert Laing clutching his can of paint.

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Immediately I found that old stand-by, mashed potatoes—parmesan peppercorn mashed potatoes, mind you—for about a $1.66 each. Two tubs of this oughta do, right? It’s about the same price as either a bag of raw potatoes or a box of flakes, but with half the time and energy. Even better, when lay-people hear the words “peppercorn,” they tend to think you went to a lot of trouble.

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Stuffing is just seasoned breadcrumbs, right? I promise you no one will be able to tell the difference between a $1.00 box of Best Choice turkey-flavored stuffing mix and say, Stove Top, right? Right?

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Speaking of Best Choice, did you know they’re making their own “gourmet” frozen pizzas now? Forget those old-school 79¢ personal cheese abominations they pumped into us poor kids whose parents couldn’t even afford a simple Totino’s had to endure— this is the next generation of poverty pizza, one to rival that of Red Baron or Tombstone, street-rules, son. It’s not delivery…it’s SNAP-approved!

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Many grocery stores are sadistically wasteful, throwing out their meat-products once the sell-by dates hit, frozen or not. Oh no, not Whitaker’s: these marketing geniuses proudly have freezer bin after freezer bin of perfectly fine (though perfectly expired) frozen meats, loaded up and ready for belated consumption. Marcus filled his cart with many pounds of ground beef, all priced to move at a buck or so. My jaw hit the floor: here I’ve been paying full-price for fresh meat like a sucker all these years. Never again!

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Now without a doubt, the most important part of any holiday dinner is the turkey. I was fully expecting to pay upwards of $20 for a frozen bird, and that was me being hopeful, especially so close to Christmas. But, like that bright star of Bethlehem that led the three wise men to Jesus, the shining star that is Whitaker’s led my own chintzy wisdom to my wallet: in their freezer section, they were selling various frozen turkey parts ranging from 75 cents to a dollar. I got to thinking: why pay $20 for a whole turkey when I can pay about five or six and piece my own Frankenbird together?

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Doing away with the meaty middle man that is the carcass, I can form my own equally tasty but decidedly unholy abomination of roasted poultry, featuring six wings, six legs and four breasts. And maybe even a bucket of giblets for my dog, Hoogie. It’s all the parts people like with none of the carving and none of the disappointment when their favorite cut has already been taken. I’ve probably never been prouder of anything I’ve done in my life and I once saved a child who accidentally locked himself in a refrigerator using CPR skills learned on Punky Brewster, so that’s saying something.

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Turning the corner—both literally and metaphorically—I found the yams (what’s the yams?), with one large can that had no label mingling among them. I bought that wordless mystery can, but just in case it’s not yams, they marked it off 25%, so, either way, win-win.

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One of the costliest expenditures during the holiday season is the sheer amount of money wasted on expensive cheeses for your family to snack on as they wait for dinner to be served. Once again—in a bold, clutch move—Whittaker’s makes the pre-party possible by offering this fancy-looking “double crème” brie priced to move. I haven’t even seen the fancy cheeses at Big Lots this cheap! C'est Magnifique!

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On my way to find a proper Christmas dessert to cap off this grand feast, I came across a pile of brawn meat-jellies, a.k.a. headcheese, sliced and ready for consumption. One of the hardest delicacies to find locally outside of random Southside carnicerias, for under one lousy dollar they stacked four thick cuts and packed it in Styrofoam; much like how my dad used to make, I pan-fried a couple of choice slivers with some scrambled eggs and a handful of heart medication.

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(Despair not, seafood lovers: here’s this big bag of calamari, squid, shrimp and so on, all for two bits. Whether it’s for some homemade ceviche or to sneak them into the movie theater for a deep-sea snack treat, you can’t beat a $2.00 price tag for a huge bag of questionable seafood.)

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Here we are, the pièce de résistance, the highly sought-after dessert pie. Now the right kind of pie can make your Christmas dinner legendary, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Whitaker’s own homemade—which is really weird, because I don’t think they have a bakery there—pecan pie is the real deal, ya’ll. I’ll put this $2.50 confection up against any hipster bakery boondoggle; featuring an unexpectedly flaky crust, a crispy-yet-chewy topping and a thick middle absolutely stuffed with that uber-rich filling that makes your teeth hurt, this is the everything that a legit pecan pie should be and, at the price, you can afford to buy three-to-five more and freeze them for a later, more pressing need.

Final tally…a little over $20. Can you believe that? A full Christmas dinner for about 4 to 6 people for not only less than I had planned, but add to that a warm, almost-religious feeling of spiritual love for this place and the money it can save me every week—barring any future parking lot altercations, of course—Whitaker’s is officially the best grocery store in Oklahoma City and my new home for everyday savings. And that, my friends, is the greatest holiday present of all. Besides the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, of course. A thrifty Christmas to all and to all, cómpralo ya!

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Time to sit back and let the seasonal affective disorder take over. Follow Louis on Twitter at @LouisFowler.

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