SEATTLE — Jackson Mississippi; home of the blues, was on the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement in the 60s and is now a culinary destination. Perhaps the best word to come up with that describes its rise in the culinary world is, diversity. Over the course of the last decade or so, Jackson has seen an infusion of people from all walks of life, moving into the area and a direct result of that has been a cornucopia of amazing food. While there are still die-hard places, such as Bully’s, the diversity that’s now available will satisfy any palate.
Even though farm-to-table may be a buzz word for many, it takes form in so many great eating establishments in and around Jackson. With the diverse local produce, fresh seafood from the Gulf of Mexico and animal proteins from local farms, the chefs in Jackson have it made. On a recent trip to the area, we were able to experience the action in Jackson, first-hand.
The inaugural food and wine festival:
Jackson played host to the inaugural Mississippi Food and Wine Festival two months ago, providing a great snapshot to show-goers the many great eats and drinks of the area.
It wasn’t simply a grand tasting event, either. The city used it as a great way to showcase the talented chefs of the area as well via four private dinners. Each dinner was hosted by several chefs – one chef assigned to each course – and a winery for perfect pairings.
A few highlights from those dinners include a lame porterhouse, Mississippi red fish over dirty grits, a seared scallop with kohlrobi and pea shoots, to one of the most amazing deserts, ever — a petit gateau (dark chocolate, raspberry, vanilla with a berry crunch). The preparations were beautifully executed and you could taste their passion on a plate.
These meals, using mostly regional ingredients, really highlight the tremendously bright outlook for Jackson. The wines we had were from LaZarre winery out of Paso Robles and Cristom Vineyards, based out of Salem, Oregon.
Its outdoor Grand Tasting event showcased a number of top selections of wines from all over the world, locally-prepared food and live music to boot. While it’d be better to have this in an indoor environment that’s temperature-controlled (think humidity’s impact on wine tasting), the festive vibe of having it outdoors is fun.
Great food all around:
No matter what time of the year you visit, you’ll need to try a few local favorite places to dine as well. These include the James Beard award-winning Bully’s, the soul-food epicenter of the south. Classic southern specialties include all of the staples one would expect, prepared with love.
Smothered (in gravy) chicken, fried pork chops, barbecue ribs, chitterlings, pigs feet, ham hocks, smothered oxtails, collard greens, green beans, cornbread and even smothered liver with onions. While the food here will stick to your ribs, it’s the ambiance of the old that is equally a part of why you should stop here.
If you’re looking for an option that provides varying styles of food all under one roof, then you must check out the Cultivation Food Hall. There is nearly a bit of everything here. Amazing, Neapolitan-style pizzas from Bocca Pizzeria, world-class coffee from Il Lupo Roasters, healthy, light options from Local Honey, the Gold Coast cocktail bar, Whisk Creperie (must try their savory crepes) and Fête au Fête StrEATery which specializes in upscale southern comfort foods.
A few favorites here are the Pizzas from Bocca – about as close to a Naples pizza as you’ll find in the south. The Italian owner insists on sourcing top-shelf ingredients with a dough that makes for an amazing experience in the final product. Also, make sure to try anything from Whiske Creperie – especially their savory crepes! Other delights include shrimp and grits from Fête au Fête and the avocado toast from Local Honey.
If barbecue is your thing, then there’s only one place to consider and that is Pig & Pint. Slow-smoked goodness is the name of the game for the best barbecue and that’s exactly what Pig & Pint does in spades. Couple that with an exhaustive array of beers to enjoy and you have the makings for a sublime experience. They easily have some of the best brisket anywhere – even better than much of what’s served in Texas. No matter what you choose on the menu, your taste buds will thank you.
Finally, if you’re looking for something close to downtown and feeling a bit more upscale, check out Estelle Wine Bar and Bistro, located in the Jackson Westin Hotel. Chef Matthew Kajdan, who was born and raised in Mississippi, has a divine menu that is a feast for the senses and your palate. While he does have a very diverse menu, he does have some southern-classics as well. Check out his grilled red fish, shrimp and grits, chicken livers, duck sausage and smoked catfish deviled eggs.
Other things to check out:
Cathead Distillery: This locally owned distillery churns out top-shelf spirits and has a full-service bar wrapped up in a very laid-back and fun atmosphere.
Johnny T’s Bistro and Blues: This upscale bistro is in the heart of the Farish Street area and features outdoor music, an upstairs dance/performance area and amazing food, all prepared with love and southern charm.
Drago’s Restaurant: A bit out of downtown and next door to Hilton Jackson, is Drago’s. A family-friendly restaurant with a full service bar has really built its reputation for its famous char-grilled oysters that it gets fresh, daily from the Gulf waters.
Come for the amazing food, amazing selections of wine, beer, spirits. Stick around for its history, southern charm and hospitality. Jackson has come a long way and things are only getting better. It truly is evolving into a melting pot of culture and that brings along with it an elevation in many things, not the least of which is better food and drink.