Jackson, Mississippi typically dodges the spotlight, but its growing food and drink scene is increasingly difficult to ignore.
Mississippi's capital city is one of those places keeps an astonishingly low profile, so low that you almost forget it's there, let alone to keep up to speed on what's been happening since you last stopped by. Known best (as is so much of the Magnolia State) for the things it once did, for its place in American history, for its outsized donations to our cultural heritage, it's not like you mean to, but somehow, Jackson just feels like one of those places that you're always going to find just as you left it.
There was at time, let's be honest, that might have been true, at least somewhat, but these days, that's the wrong way to come at the city. Jackson may very much be a work in progress (downtown, for example, has yet to really achieve liftoff) but the city is at the heart of a busy metropolitan region of nearly 600,000 people, its cultural life is on the upswing, there are a couple of terrific neighborhoods to check out, and the food/drink situation is coming along nicely. Just three hours from both New Orleans and Memphis, pairing a Jackson stop-off with either city (or both—it's right in the middle) is a fine idea. However you get here, here are just a few top spots to try right now.
Saltine Ranked by Southern Living as one of the best new restaurants in the South last year, Jesse Houston's thoroughly modern restaurant occupies part of a converted school in the busy Fondren neighborhood; the menu whisks diners down to Mississippi's Gulf Coast, serving up oysters-all-ways, from raw ($1 each, at happy hour) to wood-grilled to fried—there are even Nashville Hot Oysters.
Parlor Market Downtown Jackson's most talked-about restaurant in recent years has undergone a series of challenges in its short life—this summer, respected local restaurateurs Derek and Jennifer Emerson (Walker's Drive-In, CAET Wine Bar) have taken the reins, putting an Italian spin on a menu that was known for its deep-rooted Southern-ness. There are still blue plate specials, the famous fried oyster salad remains, but are also housemade pastas, too.
Cathead Distillery The first legal distillery in the state since Prohibition—it's Mississippi, so that ended last year, joking, it was 1966—is tucked in right behind the Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson's still relatively sleepy downtown; the weekend scene here is anything but sleepy, with tours and tastings of Cathead's vodkas (pecan vodka, anyone) and their Bristow gins.
Lucky Town Brewing Co. Mississippi's oldest craft brewery was founded in 2005, which gives you an idea of where things are at on the scene—in Jackson, Lucky Town and its lively tap room (Thurs-Sat) are a port in a storm for local beer lovers; it's just about to celebrate its fifth year in business with the release of a new beer. Called Lucky Fifth, it's a bourbon barrel-aged, Belgian Style Quad.
Deep South Pops Just across the street from the historic campus of Millsaps College, this smart spot serving up great café au laits and cold brew made with locally roasted beans doubles up as one of the more inventive popsicle vendors in the South, no small feat considering just how popular the trend has been in the region where it's nearly always warm enough for something iced and sweet. Inventive flavors like Creole Cream Cheesecake and Pineapple Jalapeno are hard to turn down.