Ya’ll Come Back, Now! The origins of Mississippi’s favorite condiment

eat.drink.MISSISSIPPI April / May 2013

eat.drink.MISSISSIPPI
April /May 2013
Article and photos

There are a few ways to tell when someone is not from Mississippi. If they don’t speak with a drawl, if they are in too much of a hurry, or when presented with a Mason jar of comeback sauce, they look at
you and ask, “What is it?” That last one is a dead giveaway.

Very few condiments are as versatile as comeback sauce. Mississippi-native, chef and food writer Robert St. John refers to the spicy sauce with an orange-pink hue as “ . . .the Queen Mother of all Mississippi condiments.” A combination of Thousand Island dressing and remoulade sauce, comeback sauce was named because it’s so good that you’ll “come back” for more. It’s more than just a way to dress up a bowl of salad greens – comeback sauce is slathered over po’ boy sandwiches, used as a dip for French fries, or spread over saltines for an afternoon snack.

Other Southern towns may try to lay their claim as being “The home of . . .” But the city of Jackson is the only town that can lay claim to the origins of comeback sauce. The exact details of how it got its start are a little sketchy, but most local food historians agree that comeback sauce originated in the 1920’s or 1930’s at The Rotisserie, Jackson’s first Greek restaurant. It began as the restaurant’s house salad dressing and quickly spread to other restaurants across the state.

Today local Jackson eateries such as the Mayflower, the Elite, the Cherokee, Crechale’s, Primos, C. S.’s, Hal & Mal’s, and Walker’s Drive-In all serve their own version. Across the state, you’ll find comeback sauce served in Robert St. John’s restaurants in Hattiesburg, Ajax Diner in Oxford, or Giardina’s in Greenwood. But truthfully, if you walk into just about any mom-and-pop establishment in Mississippi, chances are they’ll have their own version.

Several local food purveyors – such as Bullshed out of Pelahatchie, MS; Oxford Falls in Starkville; and
Thames Food in Oxford – now sell their own commercially bottled blend of comeback sauce. That’s
great news for homesick natives living elsewhere or non-natives who are curious as to what all the fuss
is about.

If you really want to make homemade, you can bet just about every family has their own version. The
basic ingredients are always the same, but some recipes include a dash of this or that to suit different
tastes. You may have a little trouble getting some people to share what makes their comeback sauce so
special. Many recipes have been passed down over the years and are considered a well-guarded family
secret. However, we were able to snag a copy of what the original Rotisserie restaurant served so many
years ago.

Rotisserie Come-Back Dressing

  • 1 clove garlic, grated
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 cup chili sauce or ketchup
  • 1 teaspoon yellow mustard
  • 1 cup Wesson oil
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 small onion, grated
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • Dash of Tabasco
  • Salt to taste

Measure out all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Whisk until everything is well-combined.

Store in an airtight container. Refrigerate any unused dressing.

Makes approximately 1 quart of sauce.

In the Bloglight: Angie’s Southern Kitchen

eat.drink.MISSISSIPPI April / May 2013

eat.drink.MISSISSIPPI
April / May 2013

Mississippi native Angie Sarris has amassed quite an impressive cookbook collection since she began cooking as a young girl. In fact, she estimates she has over 2,000. Her massive collection means she
isn’t likely to run out of ideas for her blog, “Angie’s Southern Kitchen.”

Angie comes from a long line of cooks. While growing up in Laurel, her grandparents loved to entertain
and she has fond memories of large crowds showing up for Sunday lunch after church, fish frys, or casual meals with family friends. Angie and her husband moved to Atlanta, Ga., shortly after getting married and once on her own, she started working on her own style of cooking.

The biggest challenge she faced as a newly married cook was combining her Southern roots with her husband’s Greek lineage. She began learning how to prepare some of the most popular Greek dishes, but soon learned that Greeks are very different from Southerners.

“Greeks are like Italians – they think their grandmother’s food is the best,” Angie explains. “Well, I did not have a Greek grandmother to be loyal too. I would try all the different family member’s dishes and I was free to like the one that TASTED the best.”

Angie began picking her favorite aspects from certain recipes and combining them to make her own unique Greek dishes. While she was met with resistance at first, she now gets rave reviews from her husband’s family.

“You know they liked it when they ask for the recipe,” she adds. “Success!”

In July 2011, Angie launched her blog as a way to organize her recipes and share them with family and
friends.

“I am always changing a recipe trying to get it just right. I needed a way to keep up with my recipes and journal what I wanted to keep. But when I would go back to it I could not remember which one we liked, did not like, or where I put it,” she says. “I was always having someone request a recipe from me all the time. It would be hard for me to go back and put my hands on it with all the recipes I have. Then I decided, hey I am going to do a blog and just journal what I cook, what I really like and want to repeat. Then my friends can follow along and visit when they want and it is there for them as well.”

Angie continues to see success with her blog and loves to receive phone calls, emails and packages from
her readers. In addition to cooking, she also enjoys traveling. However, she will admit that there is no place like the South.

“I have to say Southern is still the best the world has to offer. I am happy to say Southern food has a
new appreciation in the food world. I am proud to be from the South. I know how to shoot it, clean it,
cook it and put on a soiree you won’t soon forget. That is being a real Southerner to me.”

As for her library of cookbooks? Well, she’s still adding to her collection.

“How can you have too much of something you love?”

Angie’s Southern Kitchen
http://www.angiessouthernkitchen.com

Meal on Wheels: Jackson’s New Food Truck Ordinance Begins to Pick Up Steam

EDM February March 2013 covereat.drink.MISSISSIPPI
February / March 2013
Article and photos

Over the last few years, food trucks have seen an almost cult-like resurgence in popularity.  They have evolved from the old-fashioned pre-made hamburgers and sandwiches to gourmet fare often prepared right on sight in a mobile kitchen.  In major metropolitan areas all over the country, a seemingly normal street corner becomes a lunch hot spot as nearby patrons line up to grab a quick meal curbside.  A few hours later, the truck has rolled on and it’s business as usual.

Food trucks require less capital and overhead costs than traditional brick-and-mortar restaurants.  Therefore, they are a less costly way to break into the food industry and can provide a boost to local economies.  However, the question of whether or not to allow food trucks to operate within a metro area is one that is frequently debated.   That’s because without regulation, food trucks can pose an unfair advantage over restaurants.   In 2011, the City of Jackson passed its first food truck ordinance allowing vendors to sell food curbside.  The new ordinance does carry some restrictions to prevent unfair practices and holds food trucks accountable to the same food safety requirements that restaurants do.  A $500 annual permit allows vendors to set up shop at one predetermined location within the Jackson city limits.  The vendors must either have a kitchen subject to approval by the state Department of Health either inside the truck or at an offsite location.  Operators also cannot serve food within 150 feet of a brick-and-mortar food establishment.

Since the ordinance was established, a few mobile food vendors have begun to spring up in the area.  Earlier in 2012, Fred’s Franks began selling hot dogs and chips three days a week from a push cart in Smith Park in downtown Jackson.  Followers of the local farmer’s market and festival circuit have likely been introduced to Garden to Fire’s innovative mobile wood-burning brick oven used bake fresh, handmade gourmet pizzas.

This past November, Jackson saw the arrival of its first traditional food truck.  Lauren Davis, owner of Lurny D’s Grille, and his crew set up shop on the corner of West and Amite Streets in front of Smith Park in downtown Jackson.  A self-taught cook and grillmaster, Davis started to seriously consider starting his own food truck shortly after the ordinance passed.  Typically, every weekday from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m., Lurney D’s serves up freshly grilled gourmet hamburgers and hand cut French fries right from the sliding glass windows of their psychedelic, brightly colored blue and orange truck.  Occasionally, LurnyD’s will cater a private event, but fans can keep up with their whereabouts through social media.

The presence of food trucks brings more to a metropolitan area than delicious food.  Since they can set up shop virtually anywhere, they have the ability to bring more food choices to residents and workers in areas where traditional restaurants do not yet have a presence.   Food trucks allow those that live and work within an area to feel more engaged with each other and their city.  They can also bring life to places that are otherwise low-traffic.  Such is the case during one unseasonably warm day at Smith Park.  Rather than taking lunch back to the office, many patrons can be found sitting on benches throughout the park eating their lunches, enjoying the fresh air, and engaging in conversations with each other.

There are a few challenges to working in a mobile kitchen.  The obvious being cramped working conditions.  Combine that with a hot grill and a fryer and it can feel like working in a sauna despite the temperature outside.  Davis and his crew have also had to deal with a few minor unexpected issues that  a typical restaurants owner isn’t likely  to run into, like flat tires and food orders getting blown around on a windy day.

Overall, however, Davis days the response to his food truck has been very positive.  “We’ve had a lot of repeat customers,” he says.  “We are also getting a bunch of new followers on our social media sites.”  He hopes his success will pave the way for more local entrepreneurs who are considering taking the plunge into the food truck industry.

In the Bloglight: FatFree Vegan Kitchen

EDM February March 2013 cover

eat.drink.MISSISSIPPI
February / March 2013

Susan Voisin is no stranger to the food blog world.  In 2006, she launched her blog – FatFree Vegan Kitchen – as a supplement to her already popular website, FatFree Vegan Recipes.  Her website contains over 1400 member-contributed vegan recipes.  However, Susan was looking for a place where she could share her own ideas.  At the time, food blogs were just beginning to pick up steam and there were very few that focused on vegan eating.  Susan quickly attracted a loyal following and today her blog garners more traffic than the original website.

Always an animal lover, the Hammond, La., native experimented with vegetarianism throughout her college years.  After reading the book, Diet for a New America, which examines the inhumane conditions that many animals that are bred for human consumption live in, Susan finally decided to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle permanently.  After six years as a vegetarian, she made the transition to totally vegan.

“Vegetarians don’t eat the flesh of animals–cows, pigs, birds, or sea creatures. Vegans go further and eliminate not just meat but also anything that was produced by animals, so we don’t eat eggs or dairy products, such as milk and cheese,” Susan explains.  “And we avoid using animal products as much as we can in our daily lives, so we don’t wear leather, wool, silk, or fur and we avoid household products that contain animal ingredients or are tested on animals.”

FatFree Vegan Kitchen focuses on preparing whole foods that are low in both fat and sugar.  It also teaches people how to make delicious meals using simple, natural ingredients, rather than packaged and processed foods.  In addition to recipes, Susan also provides readers a glimpse into the kitchen of her Jackson home that she shares with her husband David and daughter Elena.

Seven years later, FatFree Vegan Kitchen has won several awards, including “Best Food Blog” from the preeminent vegan magazine, VegNews, in addition to being mentioned in the Vegetarian Times, a magazine that has been at the forefront of the healthy living movement for more than 30 years.  The success of her blog has also opened up job opportunities that Susan never expected, such as doing food photography for cookbooks and advertisements.   She has been approached about writing a cookbook, something that she is considering for the future.  However, for now she will continue to improve the recipes and photos featured on her blog so that her readers keep coming back.

For anyone considering adopting a vegan lifestyle, Susan offers this advice, “Find some cookbooks or blogs you like and start cooking. You don’t have to go vegan all at once.  You can start out by finding a few vegan recipes you like and incorporating them into your diet.”

She adds, “Going vegan all at once can be overwhelming so for most people, I recommend easing into it, learning how to replace animal products with vegan ingredients as you go. You will be amazed at how easy it is to replace ingredients that you previously thought were essential, such as eggs in cakes. And you’ll be impressed with how delicious vegan dishes can be.”

FatFree Vegan Kitchen
http://blog.fatfreevegan.com

Leaving His Mark: How this 7-ft. tall Masterchef contestant towered above the competition

eatdrinkmississippiDEC2012

eat. drink. MISSISSIPPI
December 2012 / January 2013

Mississippians are known for their abundant hospitality, soulful blues music, and most importantly – delicious home cooking.  Delta tamales, Gulf coast seafood, Cajun and creole influences, and even Grandma’s fried chicken have all played a role in cultivating the Southern food culture.

Mississippi has influenced several well-known celebrity chefs, including twenty-five-year-old Josh Marks.  Earlier this year, Marks became the second contestant from Mississippi to compete on Fox’s competitive cooking reality show Masterchef.  Poplarville-native Whitney Miller took home the winning title on the show’s first season in 2010.

Originally from Chicago’s South Side, Marks came to Mississippi to play basketball for Tougaloo College.  However, it was during his time off the court that he began to discover another talent – cooking.

His reason for taking up the skill is simple.

“You have to eat every day,” he said.  “College was my first time being out on my own.  I started cooking by trial and error and realized that I was good at it.”

Marks has had plenty of inspiration, from his Panamanian father that developed his love for curries, to his Southern roots that taught him an appreciation for comfort food and Creole and Cajun cuisines.

After graduating cum laude in 2009 with a degree in economics, Marks decided to make Mississippi his home and took a job as a contract specialist for the U.S. Army in Vicksburg.  While he still continued to cook for family and friends, it wasn’t until he took a trip home to celebrate his sister’s birthday that he considered making it a career.

“A friend called me up while I was in town and said, ‘Hey, there is a casting call for the show Masterchef.  Are you going?’” recalled Marks.  “I stayed up all night cooking and preparing my dish.”

The next day, Marks, who stands 7-feet tall, towered –both literally and figuratively – above 30,000 other hopeful competitors.  His shrimp etoufee impressed the judges enough to help him win a spot on the show.

Season three kicked off on June 11, 2012, in Los Angeles.  For the next three months, Marks would face several challenges, such as preparing a meal for over 200 Marines and cooking with offal, a term used to describe the internal organs and entrails of a butchered animal.  While he was initially eliminated in Episode 12, he would win a special challenge two episodes later, earning him a spot back in the competition and eventually becoming one of the top two finalists.

Since the show, Marks has made several public appearances at food-related events across the country and is working on a business plan to open a recreational cooking school in Chicago.  While he admits his time on the show was stressful, it was also a lot of fun.  Adds Marks, “It really inspired me to become a chef and pursue cooking as a career.”

In the Bloglight: Supermom Chef

eatdrinkmississippiDEC2012eat. drink. MISSISSIPPI
December 2012 / January 2013

Mandy Davis has been cooking since before she was old enough to see over the top of her grandmother’s kitchen counter.  As a young girl, Mandy helped her grandmother prepare meals for the children she kept in her home during the week.  Mandy’s task – making cornbread.  It was a staple at every meal and like most Southern dishes passed down from generation to generation, there was no recipe.  A little bit of this, a little bit of that, mix everything together and bake.  After being put in charge of such an important responsibility, Mandy knew she had her grandmother’s approval and the confidence to continue cooking.

Mandy launched her blog, “The Supermom Chef,” in 2010 so that she could combine her love of photography with her love of cooking.  She and her husband Matt live in Canton with their three children – an 8 year-old-boy and two girls ages 3 and 6.  Seven years ago, Mandy quit her full-time job to care for her son, who has been diagnosed with a rare disease that has required numerous surgeries and a lot of time in the hospital.  Despite the situation, Mandy still manages to keep an upbeat attitude while caring for her family, resulting in her being given the nickname “Supermom” by her close friends and family.  Since cooking is also a passion, the title “Supermom Chef” just seemed like the perfect fit.

However, Mandy is quick to point out, “I am, by no means, a trained chef. I have absolutely no formal culinary training. I’m simply a busy mom who enjoys preparing delicious food for my family and sharing my recipes with everyone else.”

Mandy hopes her blog will inspire more people to make dinner at home.   “This day in time, as busy as most families are the dinner table suffers,” she says.   “So many families think they don’t have time to make meals at home.”  Mandy tries to share recipes that are delicious, easy to prepare, and contain ingredients that are easy to find.  She also enjoys posting recipes from her past that her grandmother shared with her.

“When I prepare these recipes, it takes me back to her kitchen when she was right beside me,” she says.

So far, the response has been positive.  Mandy loves hearing from readers who have tried her recipes and come back to tell her how much their family enjoyed it.  She’s even gained a little notoriety.  “I had a friend tell me that a girl she was talking to saw me and said, ‘Oh my gosh! That was the Supermom Chef!’ Things like this blow me away because I never realized I’d be recognized like that.”

As for the future of this supermom, she hopes to one day turn her blog into a cookbook.  “I can’t imagine how it would feel to have all of my photos and recipes on paper and actually walk into a book store and see my book on a shelf,” she adds.  “Until then, I’ll continue making delicious recipes and sharing them with all of my faithful readers because that is what makes me the happiest!

One Man Show: Ro Chez

eat.drink.MISSISSIPPI
September / October 2012
Article and photos

If you have ever cut through the Jackson Street District in Ridgeland, you may have noticed the small, one-story, salmon-pink wooden storefront on the corner of West Jackson and North Wheatley Streets.  The 1930’s-era building, with its hand painted signs in the windows, tin roof, and wraparound porch stands out among the modern New Orleans-inspired brick and mortar buildings across the street.  While Ró Chez Dining may look a little unassuming compared to its surroundings, any die-hard foodie will tell you that when it comes to finding the best place to eat, never judge a book by its cover.

Cooking has always been in Chef James Roaché’s blood.  His very first job was as a bus boy at a Steak and Ale in his hometown of Carrollton, Ga.  However, his employer had a hard time keeping him out of the kitchen.  As soon as Roaché finished cleaning tables, he would slip into the kitchen whenever he could to help with the cooking.

For the last six years, Roaché – who has worked under such notable chefs as Emeril LaGasse — has been single-handedly changing the way Jacksonians experience eating out.  By single-handedly, we mean he is the chef, the bartender, the waiter, and the maître-d.  Three nights a week, he treats diners to a five course meal.  The menu changes weekly and usually has a theme related to a specific food or region.  He refers to himself as a “McGuyver” cook, taking ordinary ingredients that one might think would never go together and turning them in to something extraordinary.

When someone makes a reservation at Ró Chez, the goal is to make them feel like they are eating at someone’s home.  Guests get that vibe as soon as they walk in the door.  The atmosphere – from the music playing in the background, to the mismatched furniture, to the rustic wood floors and eclectic art on the wall – is laid back and relaxed.  Roaché warns that his restaurant is not for people who are looking to get in, eat, and get out in a hurry.  Taking the time to relax and enjoy the food and the company of other diners is part of the experience.  Every course is cooked right before it’s served and nothing is made beforehand.  While Ró Chez’s does not serve alcohol, he does encourage diners to BYOB.

Back in the kitchen, things are heating up – literally.  If you are lucky enough to be invited back into his kitchen, you may notice one thing is missing – the lack of conventional electric appliances.  No food processors, no microwaves, not even a modern range.  Roaché chops all of his ingredients by hand and does all the cooking over a 100-year old wood burning stove.  Before the first diners arrive, Roaché stokes the fire in his stove by adding logs that he cut himself behind the restaurant just a few minutes earlier.  On a warm evening, the wood burning stove can cause the temperature in the kitchen to get quite hot.   An array of cast iron skillets in every size are stacked near the stove with a few heating up over the flames.  Roaché stands at the counter and a rapid tap, tap, tap like machine gun fire sounds as he runs a knife through fresh vegetables he purchased from the farmer’s market earlier that day.

That’s something else he says you won’t see at his restaurant – a food services delivery truck.  That’s because Roaché only uses local ingredients.  All of his beef is sourced from a farmer in Crystal Springs.  All his vegetables are locally grown.  Even his butter, milk, and mushrooms come from a farmer he has formed a relationship with.

“Once a year, I spend a day at the farm of every farmer I do business with,” he explains.  “I work on their farm, I get to know their practices and I see how they handle their food.  I have a relationship with them.”

Diners with specific food requirements or allergies should not hesitate to make a reservation.  Roaché says he is glad to adjust his menu to meet a diner’s specific needs.  In addition to serving dinner, he also hosts a cooking class on the second Tuesday of every month.  Ró Chez’s also hosts special events around the holidays, such as Thanksgiving dinner and private Christmas parties.

When he looks back on his career from his humble beginnings as a bus boy to the chef of his own restaurant, Roaché admits he is pretty fortunate.  “I am very lucky,” he says.  “This kind of restaurant has always been my dream and I am living it.”

Ró Chez Dining
204 West Jackson Street
Ridgeland, MS 39157
(601) 503-8244
http://www.rochezdining.com
Reservations only
Thursday, Friday, and Saturday
6 p.m. and 8 p.m. seatings

Cooking All the Way to Washington: How one Mississippi middle schooler made it to the White House

eat.drink.MISSISSIPPI
September / October 2012

At twelve years old, you may not think Linda Martinez has a “bucket list.”  One thing is for sure, she can mark “meeting the President” off that list.

How did Linda get this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity?  This past summer, she entered the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge sponsored by Epicurious.com, an online food and recipe website owned by Condé Naste.  Kids from all over the country, ages 8-12 years old, were asked to submit a healthy, original recipe that covered all the food groups.  One entrant from each state, three U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia, was chosen to attend the Kids’ “State Dinner” at the White House hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama.  In addition, each winner would have their recipe included in a compilation cookbook.  Linda’s recipe – Mississippi Tacos – was selected out of 1,200 total entries as the winning recipe to represent Mississippi.

The seventh grader at St. Joseph Catholic School has been cooking for a little over a year.  Her parents, Eddie and Kim Martinez of Madison, have made a point to teach both Linda and her older brother Anthony, how to cook for themselves.

“Cooking is an important skill to learn,” said Kim.  “Once a young person gets out in the real world, knowing how to prepare a meal means you are more likely to eat healthy and do not have to spend money to go out to eat all the time.”

Eddie encouraged his daughter to enter the contest.  “We have tried to encourage our kids to participate new opportunities.  They may not win every time, but they should at least give it a try.”

Linda, like most kids, loves tacos.  She decided to lighten up her version by using ground turkey instead of beef and substituting higher calorie Monterey Jack cheese for low-fat feta and mozzarella.

“A lot of kids eat tacos,” she explained.  “It is healthier than a normal taco, but it doesn’t taste any different.  Kids are more likely to eat healthy food if it tastes good.”

Linda was accompanied by her mother to Washington, D.C., where they met up with the other of the 53 winners.  The group got an exclusive tour of the Julia Child exhibit at the Smithsonian, which opens to the public in November.  Later they were treated to a pizza party where each winner was asked to autograph a copy of the cookbook for Mrs. Obama.

The next day during the State Dinner, each child had the opportunity to meet and have their picture taken with the First Lady.

“She was very gracious,” recalled Kim.  “She welcomed us into her home and asked Linda questions about her recipe.”

The dinner began with a few opening remarks from Mrs. Obama.  Recipes from the cookbook were served.  Kim remembers all the press standing by to take pictures and shoot footage.  “It was very nerve-wracking to eat in front of all those cameras and I wondered why they were all still hanging around.”

Suddenly, Mrs. Obama stood up and announced the arrival of very special guest.  Much to everyone’s surprise, in walked the President.

“We were not expecting that,” Kim said.  “It was such a surprise!  He told us how proud he was of all the kids and then shook everybody’s hand.  I was a very proud mama that day.”

Obviously, all the excitement made Linda quite the celebrity among her classmates, who were watching the event live via satellite back home.

“They had lots of questions for me about it.  It was an awesome experience,” she said.  “It was pretty cool to meet the President and The First Lady, but really we were all just normal kids from different states.”

Copies of the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge Cookbook can be downloaded at http://www.epicurious.com/images/pdf/TheEpicuriousHealthyLunchtimeChallengeCookbook.pdf

Mississippi tacos
By: Linda Martinez

  • 1 pack of corn tortillas
  • 1 pound of ground turkey
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin
  • 1 teaspoon of oregano
  • 2 teaspoons of parsley
  • 1 package of feta cheese or mozzarella cheese
  • 1 pack of baby carrots
  • 1 cup of applesauce

With adult supervision, cook the turkey in a pan until it is well browned, or roughly 20 minutes. When cooked, turn off the heat on the stove, then have an adult drain the grease from the turkey if there is a lot. Season with cumin, oregano and parsley. Return the pan to the stove.

Put the tortilla on a microwaveable dish and heat up in the microwave for 20 seconds. Place the tortilla on the plate and put around two tablespoons of the turkey in the middle of it.

Place feta cheese on top of the turkey and fold the tortilla in half.

Grab as many carrots from the bag as you want and wash them down good with water.

Put carrots and applesauce on the plate with the taco. If desired, add low fat mozzarella cheese onto the turkey instead of feta cheese.

If desired, add hot sauce or barbecue sauce for taste.

Servings: 4

Tailgating: A Sport All its Own

eat.drink.MISSISSIPPI
August / September 2012

In the last few decades, the act of tailgating before a sporting event has become as popular, if not more popular, than attending the actual game.  Mississippi takes its tailgating pretty seriously.  Forget store-bought hot dogs grilled over charcoal in a stadium parking lot.  Tailgating in Mississippi is colorful tents, festive tablescapes, and elegant chandeliers under the shade of majestic trees.  Mississippi’s three largest universities – Mississippi State University in Starkville, The University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, and The University of Mississippi in Oxford – each have their own unique tailgating traditions.  If you’ve never had the opportunity to attend one of these social gatherings, you are not only in for a surprise, but a real treat in Southern hospitality and food.

 Mississippi State University
Mascot: Bulldog
Colors: Maroon and white
Tailgating spot: The Junction

Mississippi State University’s prime tailgating spot – The Junction – got its name from the Mobile and Ohio rail lines that ran through Starkville back when State was known as Mississippi A&M.  Later, the railroads gave way to congested streets, until 2005 when the university decided to turn the area into a campus gathering spot.  Tent cities begin popping up the evening before a home game and by game day, The Junction is a sea of maroon and white.  Visitors are greeted the bronze statue of Bully – the school’s mascot – and the smell of charcoal fills the air.  Prior to each game, the Maroon Band and Drum Line leads the football team through The Junction in a pre-game procession known as the Dawg Walk.

State graduate Bill Smith of Jackson has been tailgating for 30 years.  What began as six couples has now morphed into 45-50 couples and Smith estimates that around 250 people stop by their tent during the pregame festivities.  In the beginning, the spread was small, but over the years it has become more elaborate to include chandeliers, candelabras, and bartenders.

“Tailgating gives you the opportunity to see all the people you were friends with while you were in school,” Smith says.  “People from all different parts of the state come together to eat and meet with friends.  It is a great gathering spot.”

University of Southern Mississippi
Mascot: Golden eagle
Colors: Black and gold
Tailgating spot: The District

If you are looking for tailgating fun south of Interstate 20, look no further than the University of Southern Mississippi .  Touted by the University as “the biggest football party in South Mississippi,” tailgating festivities kick off the night before every home game with a pep rally at the fountain located in front of Southern’s most recognizable building, the Aubrey K. Lucas Administration Building.  Known as

Friday Night at the Fountain, the pep rally showcases the Pride of Mississippi Marching Band, the Dixie Darlings, the Southern Miss cheerleaders, the school’s mascot Seymour, and the Southern Misses, in addition to coaches and players.

Since the University was founded in 1910, the area in front of the university’s alumni house, referred to as The District, has served as a central gathering place for both alumni and students.  Here Southern Miss fans, donning their signature black and gold attire, can feast on yummy football fare while taking in views of the famous University rose garden.  Prior to the game, a cannon shot signals the start of the Eagle Walk, in which the marching band, the football team, and coaches, make their way from The District to the stadium, known as The Rock.

“Our tailgating has grown considerably over the years,” says Southern Miss graduate and Executive Director of the Southern Miss Alumni Association, Jerry DeFatta.  “Of course, it helps that we have had 18 straight winning seasons.  There is nothing like the smell of smoke from a barbecue and the sound of the band warming up in the background to get people excited to support their team.”

University of Mississippi
Mascot: Black bear
Colors: Navy blue and red
Tailgating spot: The Grove

The University of Mississippi has earned the reputation far and wide of being one of the most unique places to tailgate.  Ole Miss fans pack tent-to-tent in the grassy, shaded ten acres that make up The Grove.  The close proximity turns this tailgating experience into one big party.

“People who have only heard about The Grove but never experienced it are usually expecting a pasture,” says Ole Miss alumnus Jody Varner.  “They are always surprised when they see it firsthand.  It’s much more elegant than that.”

Game day attire is not your usual t-shirts and sneakers.  It’s tradition to tailgate in your Sunday best and Ole Miss is probably the only place where it is perfectly acceptable to tailgate in heels.  It’s not uncommon to see men in khakis, polos, or possibly a few seersucker suits with bow-ties.  As you walk through the rows and rows of tents, you’ll find elaborate set ups with chandeliers, floral centerpieces, and flat screen TV’s.  Some tailgaters even hire their own live bands to play during the festivities.   Food usually consists of sandwiches and finger foods, since grilling is not allowed in The Grove.  However, some fans get around that by setting their grills up curbside.  Periodically, someone will shout, “Are you ready?” and you know the crowd is about to start chanting the “Hotty Toddy” cheer.  A few hours before the game, the fans line up eight-to-ten deep along the Walk of Champions to welcome the Ole Miss football team and coaches.

“Newcomers are usually surprised by how friendly everyone is,” adds Varner.  “Ole Miss is probably one of the few places where opposing teams are treated with as much hospitality as the fans.”

Small Town America Meets American Idol: Beatty Street Grocery Doles out Burger, Fries, and a Little Taste of Fame

eat. drink. MISSISSIPPI
June / July 2012
Article and photos

Beatty Street Grocery has been known by long-time Jackson natives as place for burgers and fries.  The unimposing white building on the corner of Beatty and South West Streets has been in the same location since West Street dead-ended at East Rankin Street and the city limits of Jackson only extended as far as Highway 80.  It’s a time most Jacksonians don’t remember.  But where modern burger joints, restaurants, and large commercial franchises move in and then fizzle out, Beatty Street Grocery – like an old friend – has seen the city of Jackson through good times and bad.

Beatty Street Grocery didn’t begin as a restaurant.  When Carolyn Massey’s father bought the establishment in 1940, the surrounding area was lined with family homes and every neighborhood had its own corner grocery store.  Where long wooden dining tables and bar stools now stand used to sit store aisles selling canned goods and produce.  Patrons purchased their meat where diners now place drink orders.  The original deed – handwritten on a piece of tablet paper – hangs prominently in a display case near the back entrance.  Massey’s father paid $250.

“Back then you didn’t have a lawyer draw up the paperwork,” Massey recalls.  “All you needed was a signature and a gentleman’s handshake.”

For a short time, Massey’s mother ran the store while her father continued his job as a bread deliveryman.  However, the stress of running a store and caring for a toddler (Massey was only a year old at the time), proved to be too much.  Massey’s father eventually gave up his delivery job and took over running the store full-time.  In 1947, the store was enlarged to include its modern day location.

The grocery store began selling sandwiches almost immediately.  Several local industries were within walking distance; however many of the employees had nowhere to eat for lunch.  Seeing a need, the store began offering homemade sandwiches wrapped in butcher paper for 10 cents apiece.

Hamburgers wouldn’t make an appearance for another 17 years.  By then Massey was a new bride still helping out at her father’s store.  Not surprisingly, Massey’s mother had grown tired of sandwiches and Massey thought she had just the solution – a brand new electric skillet she and her husband Malcolm had received as a wedding gift.  Massey brought the skillet to work and began frying up hamburger patties when a customer asked if he could buy one.  By 1960, Beatty Street was selling more hamburgers than another up-and-coming restaurant franchise that had just moved into the area – McDonald’s.

The arrival of the first supermarket in Jackson marked the beginning of the end for the local mom-and-pop neighborhood grocery stores.  While many stores began shutting their doors for good, Beatty Street had its restaurant to fall back on.  It still maintains a convenience store, selling sodas, chips, and gigantic jars of dill pickles, but the former grocery store is now known more for their $5 combo meal –which includes an 8 oz. Beatty burger still wrapped in butcher paper, an order of fries, and a 32 oz. drink.  The menu has grown exponentially since they sold their first hamburger to include other popular items such as poboys and salads.  It is currently one of the few places in Jackson where you can still order a fried bologna sandwich.

Over the last 70 years, the neighborhood surrounding Beatty Street Grocery has changed.  The little white brick building has watched as families moved out and businesses moved in.  While many locals who grew up eating Beatty burgers still stop in for lunch, the little mom-and-pop eatery pretty much fell off the radar for much of the younger generation.  That is, until recently.

Earlier this year, Beatty Street Grocery became associated with something quiet unlikely – the popular Fox television show American Idol.  The Massey’s eighteen-year-old granddaughter, Skylar, auditioned for the show in Houston, Texas, during Season 11’s national talent search.  She is the second contestant from Mississippi to appear on the show and the first to make it all the way to the top five.  Suddenly the Massey’s family restaurant has been cast into the limelight as Skylar fans – known as Skoutlaws – have taken an interest in the restaurant where Skylar and older sister Blair both worked after school and mom Mary Harden is the manager.

Beatty Street has taken their new found fame in stride.  There are a few handmade posters of Skylar taped to the walls and the restaurant has seen their share of newcomers.  But other than that, it’s business as usual.  Blue collar workers still bump elbows with men in shirts and ties as they enjoy their sandwiches and fries.  The girls behind the lunch counter still hustle to keep up with the lunch crowd.    Mrs. Massey still sits quietly at the cash register, handing back change and taking the time to talk to a regular.  Occasionally someone will comment about her granddaughter’s success on American Idol.  Massey nods her head and points out that she’s just as proud of her other granddaughter Blair, who is at the top of her class in law school at Ole Miss.

“Every once in a while someone will come in and say, ‘I never knew you were here!’” adds Massey.  “I just have to laugh.  We’ve been right here for over 70 years.”

Beatty Street Grocery
101 Beatty Street
Jackson, MS 39201
(601) 355-0514

Hours:
Monday – Friday 6 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
Saturday 6:30 a.m.-2 p.m.