That’s right, I’m taking this show on the road! Earlier this week, I spent 4 days visiting some dear friends back in my old stomping grounds of Jackson, MS. Sadly for me, Jackson is not exactly teeming with great restaurants. It is overrun with those crappy chain restaurants that we all know and occasionally tolerate, but that none of us exactly enjoy going to. Once we’ve narrowed it down to just the local establishments, then we have to weed through those lumbering warhorses that have somehow survived despite putting out bland, often prepackaged food. So much of downtown’s dining is out of the question, as is any place on County Line, Lakeland (save for Saigon Noodle House), or east of the city—Pearl, Brandon, etc. Then there are these new, misguided ventures to contend with--those with menus rooted in 90s cuisine at the latest; or those who attempt to be cutting edge, but fail in concept or execution. So I offer my apologies to Nick’s, Schimmel’s, Shapley’s, Pan-Asia, Julep, Char, and Amerigo’s; but restaurant evolution has passed you by. Fortunately, once you get past all of this, there are a few fantastic dining establishments worth raving about.
For those in the mood for BBQ, do yourselves a favor and check out the Pig Out Inn. Started in my former home of Natchez, MS, the POI now operates a second location on Old Canton Rd, just a few yards north of the County Line/Old Canton intersection. For those of you in college and eating on a budget—and for those of us braving the recession and eating on a budget—this place is quite easy on the wallet. Their house special of any sandwich, 2 sides, and a drink will only set you back about $8 and change. Unlike many of these chain bbq joints that litter the state of Georgia, you can actually taste the smoke in the food at the POI. The chopped brisket, chopped pork, and smoked hot sausage are all fantastic; and I believe that some of the random trimmings of these find their way into the mustard seed-studded baked beans. But somewhat surprisingly, the most exquisite item at POI has to be the smoked turkey. Turkey is one of my favorite sandwich meats, but once it takes on a heavy amount of smoke, it becomes a completely different animal. Any of their meats are well-complemented by their sweet and smoky bbq sauce that evokes the experience of good Kansas City bbq.
And no weekday trip to Jackson would be complete for me without paying a visit to one of the greatest lunch dives in the history of mankind: CS's. This was perhaps my favorite place to eat when in college, and a Friday afternoon jaunt was Jackson's magical answer to a hangover. Ideally located for me back then, CS's is on West Street, behind Millsaps College--and more importantly, directly behind the Kappa Alpha Mansion. The dining room is split into two sections, and over time, the seating appeared to me as something of a caste system. The more well-to-do businessmen and elder citizens would dine in the front section, while the college miscreants and the like would congregate in the rear of the restaurant. Two servers, including the venerable Miss Inez, plus Joe the food runner took care of the entire restaurant. The decor of the place is something to behold, as there are antique beer cans of every variety on the shelves; and pictures of various phrases using the word "ass" in lieu of donkey. Somehow, this doesn't come off as either fake or ironic, as it just seems to suit owner Pat McDaniel's personality. CS's offers plate lunches, but I've never ordered one. They offer classic cheeseburgers and sandwiches, but I've never ordered one. They apparently have good desserts, like cobbler and peanut butter pie, but I've never ordered one. In fact, I ate at CS's almost weekly for two years before I even knew that they had menus. No, dear readers, the primary reason to go to CS's is for the Inez Burger. A typical order would go like this--Miss Inez: "Whatchoo gon' have, baby?" Me: "Medium Inez, cheese fries, sweet tea." This delicious concoction comes in sizes small (4 oz), medium (8 oz), and large (too goddamn big for anyone under 250 lbs), but I've found that medium seems to be the perfect size that will fill you up, but not leave you wanting a nap for the next 3 hours. The Inez is a regular hamburger topped with chili, cheese, pickles, and jalapenos; and comes alongside a pile of steak fries covered in nacho cheese. Because tea provides the opportunity for free refills--unlike soft drinks--it is the preferred option. You pay your bill on the honor system by going up to Mr. Pat behind the register and telling him what you ate. It's such a friendly place, that I don't know of anyone who hasn't been completely honest with him. I am frequently asked about my favorite burgers, and CS's always finds its way into the top 3.
Since we're in Mississippi, we've got to have some southern food, right? Well again, we're limited to weekday lunch, as the best place to go is Two Sisters Kitchen on Congress Street. Inside this old two-story house is comfort food at its finest, as Two Sisters is just a buffet brimming with southern lovin'. There are no frills to the food--just OUTSTANDING fried chicken, baked chicken, some form of chopped steak, grits, rice and gravy, a whole mess o' vegetables, plus yeast rolls and cornbread. Not a damn thing to sneer at. And for some reason, I find the critical part of me blessedly absent every time I eat here. The food speaks to the soul, and there is always enough to fill up said soul. Just save room for the banana pudding or bread pudding.
And for a place that offers an upscale dining option, but feels comfortable enough for a casual lunch or a quick pizza, you've got to hit up BRAVO! Judging on overall quality of food and technique, I firmly believe that BRAVO! is the best restaurant in the city. And I am not just saying that because I spent the first year of my career working there; I thought it was the best before I applied there--in fact, that IS why I applied to work there. BRAVO! specializes in California-inspired Italian cuisine with a good bit of local flair thrown in there. Unlike many of the ubiquitous Italian-American restaurants, you can actually pinpoint regions here. A glazed duck breast with balsamic, pine nuts, and golden raisins recall a saor from Sicily. A grilled veal chop over pesto risotto embodies the homey rusticity of Tuscany. A capellini with shrimp, asparagus, and lots of fresh herbs is Rome's version of a scampi. The whole experience is just great, as the servers are incredibly knowledgeable and the wine list offers some gems at great value.
Finally, I can't leave without giving a brief mention of the nightlife. While the hotspots come and go, Fenian's Pub still remains a favorite for people of all ages and backgrounds. Outside of the Clermont Lounge in Atlanta, there is no bar I would rather be drunk in than Fenian's. No cover charge is necessary, and they offer live entertainment Monday-Saturday. Now let me clarify--Wednesday-Saturday offers hired entertainment. Monday is karaoke night, and Tuesday is open mic night. And with Harp on draft and Irish whiskey aplenty, what's not to love?
See y'all back in Atlanta