What’s Cooking in JXN MS?
A culinary guide curated in partnership with The Local Palate and writer Chris Chamberlain
Jackson, MS prides itself on the diversity of its population, something that is reflected in the city’s deliciously varied restaurant scene. From down-home soul food to fine dining, Jackson offers excellent opportunities to discover a bite of Southern culture presented in vibrant restaurants springing up in some of the city’s burgeoning neighborhoods.
The city’s culinary community also demonstrates a laudable diversity of restaurant ownership and clientele. The welcoming atmosphere in these eateries befits the attitude of Southern hospitality that makes Jackson restaurants so special.
In a crowded and growing restaurant market like Jackson, it takes something special to stand out after years in operation. These restaurants have stood the test of time and still manage to stay front-of-mind for the city’s diners.
Derek Emerson is one of the deans of Jackson chefs, and his flagship restaurant in Fondren presents sophisticated food in a casual environment. While the food is certainly elevated, the diner vibe is maintained by black and white tile floors and photos hanging on the walls depicting the history of Jackson and the restaurant.
Parlor Market burst onto the Jackson dining scene in 2010, serving seasonal Italian-inspired meals made using locally-sourced ingredients. Housed in a building constructed as a grocery in 1898, the restaurant maintains a connection to the history and culture of the region that still resonates with its happy customers.
Hal & Mal’s
One of Jackson’s premier live entertainment venues for blues, jazz and roots music, Hal & Mal’s is known as a family-friendly destination for diners seeking soulful comfort food served in an unfussy environment. The restaurant is particularly acclaimed for their soups and for hosting a weekly “Blue Monday” party with the Central Mississippi Blues Society. The kitchen is closed on Mondays, but the bar is definitely open.
Revered as “Fondren’s original neighborhood soda fountain since 1946,” Brent’s Drugs has expanded their menu to include more than just sodas and shakes. You can still order those treats (and you should,) but don’t miss out on the rest of the classic diner cuisine served for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The fountain vibe is still intact with a long counter lined with stools and vibrant turquoise color scheme; it’s just been updated for the Instagram era.
As the oldest continuously-operating restaurant in the city, this downtown landmark has been serving Greek-inspired seafood and steak dishes since the FDR Administration. From their famous Comeback Sauce house salad dressing to fresh seafood served broiled, blackened or fried, Mayflower Cafe offers memorable food that is a large part of Jackson’s history. Don’t let the humble environs fool you; there is definitely some sophisticated food coming out of the kitchen.
The massive and modern dining room at BRAVO! is a popular gathering spot for friends and families looking to celebrate special occasions over platters of delicious Italian food. The open kitchen offers a view of the bustle of the staff as they prepare wood-fired pizzas, steaks and pasta plus some excellent seafood dishes as well. The wine list has been recognized as one of the finest in the city.
Every great dining city needs at least one classic steakhouse, and Char has that base covered for Jackson. The stylish decor fits nicely with its menu of old school classic cuts such as a filet with maître d’ butter or a massive cowboy ribeye which can be prepared with quintessential steakhouse variations like Oscar-style, au poivre or topped with béarnaise sauce. The kitchen also offers seafood dishes ranging from redfish to scallops to a perfectly seared slice of ahi tuna. Delicious home-style vegetable dishes are appropriately sized for sharing with the table.
For generations, the Crechale family has operated one of Jackson’s go-to spots for steak and seafood, and the current family members have been intelligent enough not to mess with a good thing. The jukebox still plays hits from years gone by, the broiled flounder is still deboned with a flourish tableside, and the onion rings are still impossible to stop eating until the basket is empty. All entrees include a crisp garden salad with Crechale’s iconic Greek-inspired Comeback dressing plus rolls and a huge potato, so you shouldn’t leave hungry.
The main design elements at this hole-in-the-wall burger joint are the hundreds of bumper stickers plastered on the walls by fans from all over the country. They flock to this nondescript cinderblock building on the edge of Midtown for bargain specialty burgers, the daily plate lunch specials and for a slice of CS’s extraordinary peanut butter pie.
Bully’s Soul Food
Bully’s is definitely a family affair, to the point that family members actually built the humble brick building that houses one of the finest soul food restaurants in Jackson. Employees treat their customers like kin, filling up plates with classic dishes like oxtails, neck- bones, smoked turkey wings and all the soulful sides you could want from mashed potatoes to rice and gravy to a rotating selection of slow-cooked greens. Daily specials are always worth checking out before you order.
The Iron Horse Grill
The historic building occupied by The Iron Horse Grill was originally constructed as a smokehouse early in the 20th century. This probably explains why the edifice has burned down twice over the years and definitely inspires the restaurant’s menu of charcoal-grilled meats, seafood, fajitas and burgers. In addition to all that smoky goodness, The Iron Horse Grill also hosts live music performances featuring regional acts playing on the stage in their lounge area. The music can get pretty smokin’, too!
City with Soul Standouts
A restaurant doesn’t necessarily have to be one of the latest to be one of the greatest in Jackson, and there are plenty more mature and or less flashy dining options worth your consideration.
Broad Street Baking Company
A Jackson stalwart, Broad Street has been baking artisan breads and pastries since 1998. They also serve full menus for all three daily meals with egg dishes and varieties of avocado toast at breakfast, burgers and sandwiches for lunch and rich pasta dishes for the evening repast. A beverage menu of coffee drinks plus beer and wine completes the dining experience.
Focusing on wood-fired meats, seafood and pizzas and boasting the largest whiskey collection in town, The Manship sounds like it would be named after a decidedly masculine sailing vessel. In truth, the name comes from the historic gothic revival mansion located not too far from the restaurant in Belhaven. The Manship strives to utilize whole animal cookery whenever possible out of respect for the farmers and their livestock that provide the proteins. This philosophy shows up throughout the Mediterranean-leaning menu from charcuterie boards of cured meats to pasta sauces to pizza toppings.
This tiny wing shack in the historic Farish St. district serves basic breakfast foods along with exemplary fried chicken. There’s no printed menu at Sugar’s, but if you’re looking for wings or chicken and waffles in the morning accompanied by a funky soundtrack, this is your place!
This family-owned pie shop is located in a lovely restored Craftsman-style bungalow divided into many distinct spaces where you can find people working quietly on their laptops or sharing a flight of sweet and savory scones. They take their coffee very seriously at Urban Foxes, and that care is evident in each deliciously complex cup that they brew. Evenings feature occasional live music and trivia nights, so there’s always something going on in the Foxes’ den.
Campbell’s Craft Donuts
This bright and airy new build in Belhaven feels like taking a trip to an airy beach cafe along the Florida coast. The crisp and clean interior of the restaurant is accented by shiny subway tile behind the long counter that offers a view into the kitchen and by fun accents like rolling pins hanging from the walls. While the menu of massive topped and filled donuts are certainly the showpiece, Campbell’s also offers specialty coffee drinks and innovative street tacos served at breakfast or lunch.
The Pig & Pint
The “Pint” in the name of this affable barbecue bar refers to the taproom in the back which features one of the most impressive selection of craft beers in Jackson. The bar is lined with trophies from competitive BBQ events, and that’s where the “Pig” comes in. The pitmasters moved from contests to serving their delectable smoked meats to the public instead of just lucky judges. From super smoky cola-glazed ribs to peppery beef brisket to their popular smoked bologna, Pig & Pint is a winner. Try their cheesy Bacon Melt sandwich with pork belly, brisket and collard greens for a taste of Mississippi on toast.
Lou’s Full Serv
This Belhaven refuge combines a sort of woodsy feel with a novel almost steampunk industrial vibe to create an eminently comfortable neighborhood hang. The bar and lounge area are great places to enjoy a craft cocktail or beer while you wait for a table to open up, which is a common occurrence at this popular eatery. Patience is rewarded with a seasonal menu of dishes inspired by Southern, French and Creole influences. Even with so many excellent choices on the menu, the No.7 Burger with candied bacon and tomato-bacon aioli is always a power move.
Johnny T’s Bistro & Blues
Johnny T’s occupies a beloved spot on historic Farish St., the former home of the iconic Crystal Palace which was the hub of entertainment in the middle of the 20th century. Murals of some of the entertainers who performed there like Lena Horne, Muddy Waters and Redd Foxx show up in murals that decorate the interior and exterior of this stylish cafe. The bar offers premium spirits, and the food menu takes inspiration from classic Southern dishes with a real focus on seafood. A hip lounge upstairs showcases diverse musical acts in a classy showroom with floor-to-ceiling mirrors to make it easier to see and be seen.
As Jackson grows and matures as a city, new dining establishments continue to make splashes as exciting additions to the restaurant community. It’s hard to keep up with all of them sometimes, but it sure is a delicious task to try.
Fire and food come together at this modern Mediterranean eatery where the kitchen revolves around an Italian pizza oven and an eight-spit rotisserie where meats turn and cook slowly to lock in flavors. These meats are the centerpiece of the menu which features salads, wraps and rice bowls made using shawarma-style chicken or beef, souvlaki pork or lamb or falafel for a vegetarian option. The rest of the menu is like a tour of the Mediterranean with pizzas, Middle Eastern mezze small plates and Greek-inspired side dishes.
Crazy Cat Eat Up
Crazy Cat Eat Up started out as just a bakery, but soon customers began clamoring for them to expand into a full-service restaurant offering lunch throughout the week and dinner on Thursday through Saturday night. Serving elegantly plated inventive dishes that range from salads to sandwiches to seafood, Crazy Cat focuses on seasonal food presented in an unfussy Southern ambiance, like dining in your favorite grandma’s tearoom. (Providing she was a very good cook, of course.) True to their baking heritage, the desserts at Crazy Cat are insanely delicious.
Take a virtual trip to a cozy European bistro at this all-day café in Belhaven. The former residential home has been converted into an attractive oasis with gleaming brass accents and a sparkling white marble bar where they serve specialty coffee drinks during the day and inventive cocktails at night. The menu also skews European with seasonal fare made using fresh ingredients and a thoughtful attitude toward sourcing. From fresh breads and egg dishes at breakfast and lunch to classic French dishes like Duck Confit Cassoulet and Steak Frites at the evening meal, Elvie’s knows exactly what sort of restaurant they want to be and maintains a laser focus on their food.
Cultivation Food Hall
Cultivation is Jackson’s first food hall, and in fact it’s the first in the entire state. It has quickly become a favorite dining destination for locals seeking a little variation in their restaurant choices. The attractive dining area features shared seating for multiple food and drink concepts, each of which maintains a separate space to prepare and vend their food. Serving as an incubator for new restaurants, the concepts may change over time, but there are always some spectacular options ranging from Greek, Italian and Asian cuisine to craft cocktails and specialty coffee drinks.
Fine & Dandy
This playful modern diner in the courtyard of The District at Eastover exhibits some of the most striking restaurant design in the city, from stenciled wallpaper featuring local landmarks to colorful milkshakes just begging to be put on social media to intentionally mismatched china that looks like it was inherited from a hundred different grandmothers. The food that goes on those plates is another subject of extreme focus, with re-invented versions of classic comfort food dragged creatively into this century.
Sophomore Spanish Club
Fine & Dandy’s sister restaurant just across the lawn at The District is another project by talented young chef, Jesse Houston. It’s his ode to the 90’s with its bright “Miami Vice” color scheme and shrines to favorite television shows of the era like “Saved by the Bell.” Walls of live plants serve as space dividers between booths and an expansive indoor/outdoor patio is the place to enjoy creative cocktails along with creative Tex/Mex cuisine. The kitchen makes their own tortillas in-house every day, and the menu features raw bar options, ceviches, tacos and tortas.
Capital City Cocktails
They say a man cannot live by bread alone, so it’s fortunate that Jackson also offers some fabulous spots to grab a craft cocktail or a glass of beer or wine.
The Apothecary at Brent’s Drugs
Hidden away in the back of the iconic Brent’s Drugs diner is this little speakeasy-inspired lounge that has just the prescription for your maladies. Utilizing fresh juices and house-made ingredients in their updated versions of classic cocktails, the talented bartenders at The Apothecary enjoy educating their guests about the history of mixology. The same kitchen that puts out the great diner food at Brent’s also offers elevated small plate late night bites to accompany your cocktails.
This large taproom aims to be Jackson’s favorite spot to enjoy craft beers, and they’ve come pretty close to hitting the bulls-eye. A large outdoor patio area is a gathering spot for bocce or cornhole enthusiasts or for anyone who enjoys an al fresco beverage. The walls behind the long interior bars are lined with beer taps offering a wide array of draft beers, plus they’ll be happy to mix you up a cocktail if you’d like. The food menu revolves around classic bar snacks like boiled peanuts, chips, dips and sliders, all excellent pairings with beer.
4th Avenue Lounge
This upscale downtown cocktail lounge and nightclub projects a cosmopolitan vibe, especially on weekends where there’s more of a club scene. Whether you sit at the bar or in one of the more private plush booths, you’ll enjoy creative cocktails with the nice addition of occasional live musical acts.
An experience at the intimate lounge at the Fairview Inn really does feel like being served a fine cocktail in the clubby library of a family friend. The bookshelf-lined walls of the library of the former Fairview Mansion are still filled with historic tomes, many written by Mississippi authors. The personal service from the talented bartenders is exemplary, and the Library offers one of the best happy hours in town from 4:00 until 6:00 Monday through Friday.
Mississippi’s first distillery since the lifting of Prohibition, Cathead is best known for their vodka, but they also produce gin and bourbon whiskey. Tours and tastings are offered Thursday through Saturday for an entertaining and educational view into the distilling process. A taproom offers beer and cider for sale before or after your tour, and the large green space outside is a popular family-friendly destination for festivals and food trucks. Please note, Cathead will not be able to offer tours again until 2021 due to COVID-19.