Ms. NYC over here recently found herself in the quaint little city of Jackson, and since the state of Mississippi has just about as many jokes as New Jersey does (fattest and most uneducated state in the USA versus we pump our fists not our gas and just about every Sopranos line you can think of…), I was a little apprehensive about my visit. My initial thought upon landing in Jackson, Mississippi was, holy smokes, this place has one of the smallest airports I have ever seen. Then when I got off the plane I said to myself, that sign did say, Jackson, MS ‘International’ Airport, right? Interesting. With 4 gates, 1 store and 1 small place to eat, and no place for customs, I’m not sure a direct trip from Jackson to London or Beijing is in your immediate future (they do realize Chicago is part of the USA, don’t they?) Nonetheless, I was excited for my relaxing weekend trip and the possibility of tasting some crawfish and fried oysters. During my trip, I listened to blues music, and soaked in the southern charm! Here are my recommendations on places you should visit if you find yourself in the ‘City of Soul’. (How can you go wrong with a motto like that one?!)
Located in the lovely Fondren arts district of Jackson, Mississippi; Walker’s Drive-In showcases the culinary expertise and flavor explosions of Chef Derek Emerson. He is one of Jackson, Mississippi’s four best rated chefs. The menu includes lots of unique flavor combinations using high end ingredients. This includes top notch fresh tuna, 45-day old center cut Hereford filet and all-natural free-range veal. In addition to the food menu, Walker’s also offers a nice, inexpensive wine menu including half bottles. They also offer a variety of red and white wines by the glass. However from the outside, the 50s ‘diner style drive in’, may have you assume the food won’t be so exquisite. Upon arriving you will immediately notice the large florescent pink and green sign stating, ‘Walker’s Drive In’ with a bright red arrow pointing to the small white building, large driveway, and small patio for outdoor dining. This is ‘fine dining’, you will ask yourself. Alas, do not be fooled, it is clearly not a drive-in! The interior does however does make you want to put on a pink poodle skirt and order a chocolate milkshake while sitting at the circular seats by the bar. It’s fun and has a cool vintage feel, you will enjoy it. Be sure to make reservations, as this place can get packed! When we dined here, we went with the portabella fries with a spicy horseradish dressing, everything crusted #1 tuna over spicy cheese grits, chipotle glaze, and tomatoes and miso marinated seabass in a red curry coconut both with forbidden black rice. Everything was fantastic and you could taste the freshness in the fish! These pictures do not do it justice!
Babalou’s is a southern based chain serving tapas and small plates in nine locations (soon to be 12) throughout MS, TN, AL, NC and GA. According to their website, Babalu is the brainchild of two successful restaurateurs Bill Latham and Al Roberts. They decided on their first location in Jackson, MS in Duling Hall, which was a former elementary school built in 1927, converted into retail shops and an event venue. After some renovations and a confirmation on the menu concept, the restaurant opened in 2010 and the rest is history. Thankfully the owners kept some of the building’s unique architecture including the high ceiling, tall windows and cement walls which really gives the place character. The inside of the restaurant has a large horseshoe shaped bar, and high-top tables, as well as a separate restaurant dining area, and a lovely outdoor patio. Make sure to snag an adult beverage when you dine here as they have some spectacular options to choose from, including their extensive list of margaritas and southern style cocktails like their TC tea. I tried their Strawberry Martinez and was not disappointed! (It’s basically a strawberry margarita made as a delicious martini). Their menu includes some must have starters like their tableside guacamole and queso blanco dip. For tacos, you can’t go wrong with the three for $9 deal (must be three of the same). However, there are so many taco fillings to choose from, it’s hard to stick with one. (Give the tuna tacos a go!) Their tapas menu includes some delightful options such as their creole shrimp & grits and their braised beef short rib. (The menu has a nice southern twist to it). In addition to the starters listed, sandwiches, soups and salads are also options. The service here made a New York girl like me want to move to the South. Everyone was very friendly, upbeat and hospitable. It’s well worth a visit!
Also located in the historic Fondren District of Jackson is Caet (“Kate”) the sister restaurant to Walk’s Drive-In, also owned by Derek and Jennifer Emerson. The restaurant features an upscale yet casual dining experience along with a full bar featuring 30 different types of fine wine selections each night. Patrons are given the option of ordering tastes, half glasses, and full-glass portions. How amazing is that? You don’t even need to commit to a full glass! (In an age of online dating apps like Tinder and the like, who can commit to anything anymore, including an 8oz pour!) Cocktails include signature offerings, perennial favorites, and a full menu of whiskeys. Caet also offers Mississippi brewed craft beers on tap and a variety of beers by the bottle. If you’re looking to sit at the cozy bar and grab a snack while you sip on some wine, their snack menu offers a wide variety of options to choose from including a cheese boards, oysters, crawfish gnocchi, lobster rolls, lamb sliders, and crab cakes. If a full meal is more your style, Caet offers some amazing mouthwatering dishes and sides including Asian BBQ glazed duck breast, Redfish, and spicy NOLA shrimp and grits. Also a ‘throw that diet out of the window for tonight’, wagyu burger. (It sounds like it’s well worth whatever regret you’re bound to have afterward). Speaking of which, while you’re here, you might as well finish up your meal with some dessert like their goat cheese cheesecake and a glass or port or sherry. Go all the way or go home, right?
Half Shell Oyster House is an excellent chain based in the south. They have ten locations throughout FL, MS, and AL. The food is excellent as is the ambiance! Don’t believe me? It was awarded the Certificate of Excellence from 2014-2017 from TripAdvisor and given many other numerous awards, (according to their website). Anyway, immediately upon walking in, you will notice the restaurant has a French Quarter feel to it including murals, fixtures, and lighting from the French Quarter, wrought iron railings, and antique wooden doors from New Orleans. (If you’ve never been to NOLA, stop everything and immediately book your flight, you need to go, it’s such a fun city with amazing food!) I’m sorry, I digress! Once you are seated, you must immediately order some oysters, trust me! The oyster sampler platter is a great place to start. Three of each: Charbroiled (cooked over an open flame with white wine, butter, garlic and herb sauce), Bienville (baked oysters with herb, mushroom, crab, Gulf shrimp, bread crumb, and Parmesan cheese), Rockefeller (baked with fresh spinach, cream cheese, herbs and Parmesan cheese) and Orleans (Half Shell’s Award Willing oyster, charbroiled over an open flame and basted with our New Orleans style smoky Cajun sauce). Now that we’ve thoroughly reviewed the oyster menu, you must be wondering if they even serve anything else…don’t worry, they do. They have a great selection of soup, salad, fish, steak, chicken, pasta, and sides. My date and I both decided on the herb encrusted grouper, and were very happy with our selection. Great food, good portions. The dishes are solid portions without feeling like you want to curl over in the fetal position crying, “mommy I need you”, for the next five hours. If the main isn’t enough however, every dinner does come with two sides. I’m not a big dessert eater, but the sweet potato Crème Brulee was calling my name, so I committed, and holy smokes, it was the best sweet potato dish I have ever ordered that satisfied my sweet tooth craving. It was mashed sweet potatoes with piece of baked bread crusts with cinnamon dusted cream on top. I’m drooling as we speak. I wonder if they’ll deliver to NJ…
Underground 119 is a staple jazz and blues lounge located in the heart of Downtown Jackson. The venue, which is open every Thursday to Saturday evening (after 5pm on Thursday and Friday and after 8pm Saturday) is tucked underneath the historic, century-old Elks Club Building which makes you feel a bit nostalgic. From the backdrop mural behind the small front stage depicting blues players from the 1950s and 60s to the beautiful artistic pictures of blues players on the wall. The music makes you feel like you are in a basement club where patrons are sneaking alcohol and reliving the prohibition times. This club will have you jamming all night long. In addition to the live music, the venue also serves delightful Southern style food including spicy green beans, pickle chips, Catfish Po’ Boys, and fried catfish.
One last thing I had to add…if you find yourself in the middle of crawfish season (and especially if you’re a first-time crawfish eater), be sure to pop in Mudbugs in Brandon, MS (https://www.yelp.com/biz/mudbugs-brandon)…I mean just look at these crawfish!