2004] Food | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

2004] Food

Best Gumbo, Red Beans & Rice, Outdoor Dining and Brunch: Que Sera Sera (2801 North State St., 981-2520)
The main elements of success when it comes to a business might be location, location and location, but when it comes to the restaurant business, a consistently high quality of food and service must be taken into consideration. Que Sera Sera has held to a very high quality of dining since Boo Nobles and his bunch opened doors in the summer of 1989, resulting in Que Sera's current position as one of the leading dining establishments in the city, and the winner of four categories in this year's Best of Jackson poll.

Jackson really doesn't have a distinct culinary identity of its own; I once asked a lady at the Old Capitol what she considered the signature dish of the city might be, and she suggested fried catfish and hushpuppies. While that very well might be an apt designate for the Paris of the Pearl, the dish doesn't really resonate as a Jackson specialty the way barbecue does for Memphis or red rice does for Charleston. As a result of our culinary anonymity, Jackson has more or less come to adopt New Orleans as a model, with both red beans and rice and gumbo being especially favored.

Que Sera beat out every restaurant in both of these categories, and justly so. Their prize-winning red beans and rice is especially savory. The recipe at Que Sera contains just the right blend of aromatics; they know that if you use too much bell pepper, you're going to cut the taste of the beans themselves, so they're light on the peppers and heavier on onions and celery, which tend to compliment the beans rather than compete with them. Purists might sniff at their offerings of toppings—cheese and jalapenos especially—but I have a suspicion that these options came about as a result of continual requests from customers rather from the kitchen itself. Their gumbo is likewise superior, chock-full of oysters and crab, shrimp and fish, perhaps a little less robust than its Crescent City counterpart, but with an ineffable smoky quality that's not to be found anywhere else.

Que Sera's brunches are also conducted along the New Orleans model, featuring eggs Benedict and a selection of omelettes. Muffins, fruit and restaurant potatoes are also in the offing. It's a simple, effective menu that adheres to a winning formula and concentrates on the best of what the kitchen can do rather than try to please all the people all the time with a buckshot approach.

As to outside dining, the courtyard at Que Sera provides a diner with an opportunity to take advantage of a setting that is both safe and pleasing. The central brazier is an especially attractive feature, and the gas flues placed around the outside dining area take the chill off many an evening some might find too uncomfortable for an al fresco experience. Unobtrusive blues cushion the sounds of traffic, and there's plenty of shade for summer days.

Hats off and congratulations to Boo and the gang; we hope you're here for a long, long time.
— Jesse Yancy

BEST GUMBO:
Second place: Hal & Mal's (200 S. Commerce St., 948-0888)
Third place: Fat Tuesdays (5719 Old Canton Road, 956-2971)
Good showing: Broad Street (Banner Hall, 362-2900)

BEST RED BEANS & RICE:
Second place: Hal & Mal's (200 S. Commerce St., 948-0888)
Third place: Fat Tuesdays (5719 Old Canton Road, 956-2971)
Good showing: Mama's Eats & Sweets (2017 Boling St., 713-0550)

BEST OUTDOOR DINING:
Second place: Keifer's (705 Poplar Blvd., 355-6825)
Third place: Walker's Drive-In (3016 North State St., 982-2633)
Good showing: Déjà Vu (810 Lake Harbour Drive, 899-8690) and La Cazuela (1401 E. Fortification St., 353-3014)

BEST WEEKEND BRUNCH:
Second place: Déjà Vu (810 Lake Harbour Drive, 899-8690)
Third place: Julep (Highland Village, 362-1411)
Good showing: Bravo! (Highland Village, 982-8111), Broad Street (Banner Hall, 362-2900), Char (Highland Village, 362-5313) and Copeland's (6390 Ridgewood Road, 899-0100)

Best Plate Lunch/Best Hangover Food/Best Bar Food/Best Jukebox: Cherokee Drive Inn
(1410 Old Square Road, 362-6388)

Plate Lunch. Hangover Food. Bar Food. Jukebox. Even with the move across I-55, these four statements still describe that cherished and enduring Jackson icon, the Cherokee Drive Inn. And, of course, you've got Sean, Lance and Nancy, as well as the Boss—Chip Angelo, Miss Delores, Miss Annie, Miss Linda and Miss Clara in the kitchen—how valuable is that!—plus a myriad of those who have come and gone in the folklore of Cherokee's stalwart employees whose one purpose is to serve you—the legions of the loyal and the numerous new, lining up early as toddlers accompanying their parents on Saturdays, what Nancy calls "Chucky Cherokee." More on that later.

Plate Lunch—meat, three vegetables, bread and tea. Those words cannot convey the delights awaiting you, especially on Thursday, known far and wide as Roast Beef Day at the Cherokee. People eat in, take out, in numbers you can't stir with a stick. The parking lot is a mess but worth it.

Hangover Food conjures up all sorts of images, some not too pleasant. Here's where Chucky Cherokee fits in according to Nancy. Parents, who might have imbibed a bit too much the night before, come in loaded with quarters and needing sustenance. They parse out the coins to their children and partake of the red beans with rice and sausage. Doesn't that just kick liquor in the butt? Plus, the kids are running around inside a safe haven.

Bar Food has to be several things: tasty, inexpensive, quick and served with a smile. That's the Cherokee. And the drinks range from sweet tea to soda to beer in a constantly re-stocked cooler. Plus the décor just hollers "Bar" at you, from the moment you walk into the dimly lit interior.

Jukebox. So what if Cherokee's plays CDs—Wide Spread Panic rulz! And I well remember the first time I went in to see my sons Lamont and Leland when they worked there years ago and discovered the myriad musical choices—from the Beatles to Steppenwolf. I was in oldies heaven! The guys shelled out funds, and Big Mama punched buttons before settling in for a few hours of nostalgia, watching my guys work hard, the Cherokee way.
— Lynette Hanson

PLATE LUNCH:
Second place: Peaches (327 North Farish St., 354-9267)
Third place: Hamil's Barbeque (751 Hwy. 51, Madison, 856-4407)
Good showing: Two Sisters (707 North Congress St., 353-1180), C.S.'s (1359 1/2 N. West St., 969-9482)

HANGOVER FOOD:
Second place: Krystal (various locations) • Third place: Waffle House (various locations)
Good showing: Keifer's (705 Poplar Blvd., 355-6825)

BAR FOOD:
Second place: Fenian's (901 East Fortification St., 948-0055)
Third place: Hal & Mal's (200 S. Commerce St., 948-0888)

JUKEBOX:
Second place: Peaches (327 North Farish St., 354-9267)
Third place: Time Out Sports Café (6270 Old Canton Road, 978-1839)

Best Chef: Luis Bruno
Luis Bruno, Derek Emerson, Chef Godfrey Morgan. Jacksonians do appreciate the chance to have someone else cook good food for them. Bruno's skills have landed him in first place despite having closed his restaurant at the end of 2003. Cherished memories of Bruno's Eclectic Cuisine nurture the hope that Bruno will be back someday. In fact, there's no telling how many Thai Spring Rolls I could eat right about now. What a spectacular combination of flavors and textures, and, as the menu stated, "Too good to share!" Bruno has just begun his second tour of duty in the Governor's Mansion as executive chef to the Barbours. We wish him the best of luck and envy all who toil in the Mansion their daily meals. In the meantime, go online at http://www.eatatbrunos.com and feed your mind.

Walker's Drive-In chef Derek Emerson cooks from the taste, touch and feel of the food. Kate McNeel, who took a cooking course from Emerson at the Everyday Gourmet, told me that he is one of the most energetic people she knows and that he absolutely loves food. Among her favorites are the tamales, fried green tomatoes and the Blue Plate Special at lunch. Emerson, she said, is "one of the people in Jackson committed to fresh ingredients and as much local as possible, particularly the fish."

Fresh ingredients are a necessity for Chef Godfrey Morgan, our third-place chef. Through both chef jobs and his own catering, he's brought Jamaican food to Jackson in a delicious abundance of quality, taste and beauty, if you're lucky enough to attend an event he's catered. His sauces are absolutely divine. What I really want is a restaurant right downtown where I could get a regular hit of caramelized pineapple stoked with scotch bonnet pepper.
— Lynette Hanson

Second place: Derek Emerson
Third place: Chef Godfrey Morgan

Best New Restaurant: Julep, Highland Village, 362-1411
After the St. Paddy's Parade last year, I took my old roommate, who was visiting from California, to Julep for an original Southern-style mint julep. Julep novices, we both agreed that two princesses such as ourselves deserved to be served from a silver cup. We ordered; the bartender paused for a moment and asked "really?" His eyes danced like Dolly Parton's in "Steel Magnolias" when Shelby and her mother request a full manicure along with their usual hair styling. "Why I'm going to paint my door red and change my name to Elizabeth Arden," Parton replies.

The bartender began to mix 'em up. Meanwhile, my friend and I bragged about catching beads from Queen Delta Burke and relished in the flavors of fried green tomatoes with lump crabmeat. Our drinks arrived, shiny and swaggering. "What a beautiful presentation," I said. The bartender nodded. For him, I think it was a masterpiece—and a story to tell his buddies that evening. After giggling hysterically, while catching up on each other's lives, my friend stopped and stared blankly for a moment at me, then saying, "Damn, that's straight-up whiskey, isn't it?" There was a brief moment of silence followed by boisterous laughter—just a couple of old girlfriends catching up, Southern style.

Southern style is a good descriptor for Julep. Besides the jazzy decor and chic colors, they've managed to take all the Southern favorites we grew up on and turn them into scrumptious grown-up delights. From honey-glazed fried chicken to fried green tomatoes and egg rolls stuffed with black-eyed peas—BLACK-EYED PEAS—the menu is loaded with various other concoctions sure to tempt your taste buds. And if you are just in the mood for a Friday night cocktail, I hear the mint julep is mighty fine.
— Beth Smith

Second place: Saigon Noodle (2640 Lakeland Drive, 420-4848)
Third place: Elixir (4800 I-55 North/LeFleur's Gallery, 981-7896)
Good Showing: Roosters in Fondren (Fondren Corner, 982-2001)

Best Chinese/Best Take-out: Best Wok (225 Meadowbrook Road, 368-9555)
"Was the old guy there?" It may not be fair (I don't really know how old he is), but it's a standard question around our office when someone comes back with carryout from Best Wok. If the Best Wok kitchen has a patriarchal presence, then the food tends to taste slightly sweeter, with a little less vinegar and a lot less grease.

When he's not there, it's merely adequate. (And hot and fast and convenient for us townsfolk.) I'm not sure how he makes it so much better with his mere presence, but it probably has something to do with keeping a wise and watchful eye over the guys handling the woks and fryers. At least, that's what I'll keep telling myself.

There's no question that Best Wok is the best Chinese takeout in town—in fact, it's the best Chinese I've had is Mississippi. I stick to the veggies, including the fried rice, veggie lo mein and broccoli in garlic sauce—which, when well done, is close to brilliant. (When it's not well done, it's soggy, soupy, and requires doctoring with brown sugar and red pepper flakes.) But others around here swear by the General Tsao's chicken, and we have it on good authority that the beef and pork dishes are crowd-pleasers.

Friendly service, cheap prices, small sizes available. But no fortune cookie, which would be nice. Particularly if you could read the fortune before you made the call—and could find out if the old guy is there or not.
— Todd Stauffer

CHINESE:
Second place: The Empress (6720 Old Canton Road, 977-6279)
Third place: Five Happiness (2931 McDowell Road Ext., 371-8765) and
Sun Koon (5105 I-55 North, 366-4940) (tie)

TAKE-OUT:
Second place: Moe's (1405 Old Square Road, 713-3767) and
Room Service (607 Fondren Place, 362-4617) (tie)
Third place: Yang's China Buffet (1006 Top St., Flowood, 939-3868)

Best Asian: Thai House (2665 I-55 South, 373-8154)
Yes, Thai House is still in a converted Big Boy (or something like that), but they upgraded their dining room last year, making everything a bit more comfortable and regal at the same time. The kitchen seemed to stick with what was working on the menu and in the family-operated service department, which is always friendly and usually on top of things. This is a wonderful place to sit around for some loud conversation and pick off each other's plates as you sample the dishes—I'm a fan of the spring rolls and usually eagerly anticipate the piles of noodles and veggies we order up as entrees. Truth be told, I liked second-place Bruno's Pad Thai a bit more for its gourmet sensibility and artistic presentation—Thai House's Pad Thai is serviceable, but not nearly the mingling of fresh tastes and spices that Bruno's often was. Of course, the Thai House version is cheaper, it tastes good, and Bruno's has closed its doors, making Thai House hands-down the best Thai in town.
— Todd Stauffer

Second place: Little Tokyo (4800 I-55 North, Suite 12, 982-3035)
Third place: Nagoya (6351 I-55 North, Suite 131, 977-8881)
Good showing: Bruno's Eclectic Cuisine (closed)

Best Indian: Ruchi (5101 I-55 North, 366-9680)
Of the two major Indian restaurants Jackson boasted last year, the one with the better food (Ruchi) ended up merged with the one with the better location and beer selection (India Palace/Taste of India) in what I thought was a win-win merger. Today, little pleases me more than mixing the Northern and Southern Indian cuisines with a couple healthy swigs of Samuel Smith Lager and some sparkling conversation.

Standouts on the menu include the Masala Dosa, which mixes boiled and spiced potatoes with pan-fried onion slices and green chilies and wraps it in a large crepe. The result, once sliced, is a warm, fragrant layered potato pancake—with a crispy, paper-thin outer shell of rice pastry—that goes well with the garlicky-sweet chutney spread. The rest of the menu is competently prepared, with the occasional standout, like the Aloo Gobi. We're also partial to the wait staff, which is friendly and adventurous, in our experience, if you're willing to ask them to suggest something a little different.

Second place goes to the other Indian restaurant in town, Delhi Palace. But don't let the relative dearth of Indian food in Jackson fool you—Delhi Palace is really good. Sticking to curries, vindaloo styles and some of the Tandoor-baked options, Delhi Palace offers food with good texture, enough spice to tickle your nose and a relatively spotless serving bowl when you're done with a dish—a sure sign that they're relying more on spices and a little less on fatty oils.

Of course, both offer lunch menus and buffets—Ruchi wins on atmosphere and is my choice for a long dinner with guests; Delhi Palace works for a dining twosome or a more casual outing with friends before a movie or play. Both are worth watching this year—particularly to see if the competition gets even tighter.
— Todd Stauffer

Second place: Delhi Palace (3716 I-55 North, 713-2700)

Best Seafood: A.J.'s Seafood Grille (900 E. County Line Road, Ridgeland, 956-2588)
When it comes to seafood, A.J.'s Seafood Grille sets just the right tone with a menu that's ambitious, but not over the top. Seafood restaurants in general are getting away from the deep-fried disasters of the old days with their bland, tired tartar sauces and soggy batters, but once they get out of the hot oil, a lot of restaurants don't seem to know their way around. Their menus end up with a lack of direction, often offering a mélange of disparate dishes. A.J.'s adroitly avoids the confusion resulting from such an option by anchoring their menu in a delightfully light and novel Latin American-style approach. Take for example, their seviche, which is explained on the menu as a shrimp cocktail of sorts, but nothing like the traditional variety. Instead, the seviche at A.J.'s is served in a rich, piquant salsa, infinitely lighter and more flavorful than a traditional cocktail sauce. The restaurant offers a variety of salsas—including mango and avocado—to go with their appetizers and entrees, and the menu is also stocked with such other South American favorites such as plantains or yucca, flans and a three-milk cake.

The restaurant offers steaks and chicken dishes as well, but seafood is their forte, and they execute the dishes with a stylish simplicity. Their crab-covered fish is a classic, and their fried oysters are justly famous. The menu includes pastas featuring a variety of seafood as well as a selection of lush salads with homemade dressings.

Our personal favorites are the blackened redfish, the fried oysters (with their wonderful homemade tartar sauce) and the snapper special. Their bread pudding with whiskey sauce is outstanding.
— Jesse Yancy

Second place: The Mayflower (123 West Capitol St., 355-4122)
Third place: Bruno's (closed)
Good showing: The Steam Room (5402 I-55 North, 899-8588), Walker's Drive-In (3016 North State St., 982-2633) and Nick's (1501 Lakeland Drive, Suite 101, 981-8017)

Best Italian: Amerigo (6592 Old Canton Road, Ridgeland, 977-0563)
Restaurants tend to have life cycles. A new restaurant opens, becomes the place to be for a while and then its popularity fades. A few, very few, of the better restaurants maintain their popularity year in and year out. Amerigo is one of those places. Their Italian food is about as authentic as it gets here, and I know good Italian food when I have it. My first wife was Sicilian and, despite her many shortcomings in other areas, she was an excellent Italian cook. Amerigo combines culinary art with a warm atmosphere and the best trained wait staff in the area.
— Andrew Scott

Second place: Bravo (Highland Village, 982-8111)
Third place: Mario's (2887 McDowell Road Ext., 371-2437) and Fratesi's (910 Lake Harbour Drive, 956-2929) (tie)

Best Meal Under $10: Moe's Grill (1405 Old Square Road, 713-3767)
I'm not a huge fan of cheap drug-related metaphors because I think they're often in bad taste. That having been said … Moe's is crack. At least you'd think so judging by the jones I get for the stuff at least twice a week and the moaning that ensues from at least part of our office when someone suggests it as a break when we're getting ready to pull an all-nighter.

I don't want my MTV—I just want my burrito. Or nachos. Or my new favorite find—they let you just buy the cheese and a big ol' basket of chips for a few bucks. Cheeeeese. Mmmm. And, yes, I've even ordered the Pinky Tuscadero.
— Todd Stauffer

Second place:: Keifer's (705 Poplar Blvd., 355-6825)
Third place: Saigon Noodle (2640 Lakeland Drive, 420-4848)

Best Mexican: Cozumel (400 East South St., 973-3455)
My Texas upbringing makes me a little brutal about the local Mexican scene—this town tends to get what I like to call "DixieMex."

Cozumel deserves the praise that they get, though, particularly for lunch and happy hour, both of which their downtown location does a great job with (Other locations: near Northpark and in Clinton on 80). A plate of bean and cheese nachos, piled with jalapenos, or their salsa—I've enjoyed washing them down at two-fer prices. And the atmosphere is good for loosening your tie and giving someone a piece of your mind about the state of…whatever.

The best Mexican in town, however, is El Portrillo on the Interstate—and I know I'll get slammed because they're an advertiser and they were voted fourth, but it's true. They're the best DixieMex that Jackson had to offer this past year.
— Todd Stauffer

Second place: Las Margaritas (1625 E. County Line Road, Suite 120, 957-7672) and La Cazuela (1401 E. Fortification St., 353-3014) (tie)
Third place: Fernando's (412 Hwy. 80 East, Clinton, 925-5505) Good showing: El Potrillo
(6036 I-55 North, 899-8819)

Best Guacamole: La Cazuela (1401 E. Fortification St., 353-3014)
I pretty much gave up ordering guacamole in a bowl with chips a while back because I think I make the best guacamole ever conceived (the secret: a pinch of Cajun salt, which is acutally the secret to cooking anything that isn't a dessert), so I can't sit here and tell you the La Cazuela is the best. But I did go there, we did order cervezas and margaritas, and I can tell you with authority that it isn't the worst. It got tons of votes. Amen and pass the salsa.
— Todd Stauffer

Second place: Cozumel (400 East South St., 973-3455) Third place: Las Margarita's (1625 E. County Line Road, Suite 120, 957-7672)

Best Eat When Someone Else Pays: Nick's (1501 Lakeland Dr., 981-8017)
Nick's is one of those places that I love going to with people from out of town. I love the look on their faces as we approach; you can tell they're thinking, "we're going to dinner in a bank!? What the…" But of course, looks are deceiving, and once you're inside, menu in hand, it's clear that all will be well—gastronomically speaking, of course. What's not to love about Nick's (especially when someone else is paying)?

One of our favorite things about Nick's is the ambiance, plus the service is outstanding, always friendly and attentive. Nick (Apostle) himself often wanders the floor, making sure all the patrons are happy. Nick's is always full, at lunch and dinner, and reservations are recommended.
— Kate McNeel

Second place: Shapley's (868 Centre St., Ridgeland, 957-3753 Third place: Char (Highland Village, 362-5313)

Best Soul Food: Peaches (327 North Farish St., 354-9267)
Alas, for many Mississippians, soul food was the kind of stuff we got to savor only when we went to visit a friend, because our own mothers couldn't cook it worth a dang. I, for one, remember envying my elementary-school buddy, Marcus, with his spankin' supper table, his sweet, buttery voiced mom and his cool, undivorced dad with his Afro. Come to think of it, I think I might've spitefully begrudged ol' Marcus and his grinning, eternally happy face. Well, anyway, the great food, at least, can still be mine, because Peaches is sitting right down there on Farish Street, in the newly remodeled downtown Jackson area.

Peaches has been there for decades. You can see it in the walls. The barstools ring with decades of faithful patronage. Perhaps even a civil rights march or two had been organized on one of the tables back in the 1960s. The restaurant is laden with history—and calories. In the days before the marches and desegregation, Peaches was the place to get your food, and the food hasn't changed. On the menu you'll find collard, turnip and cabbage greens, and mainstream favorites such as smothered chicken and hamburger steak. You'll also find some of the more ethnic meals that few whites have indulged in, such as pig ears and chitterlings—the mainstay of most any pork-centered society.

And even though the street outside Peaches is getting a new face with brick-laid streets and classy streetlights, Peaches itself hasn't changed. You'll still find the same old jukebox cranking out Stan Mosley, Tyrone Davis and Luther Allis, among many others. And don't bother looking for a CD anywhere in it. Peaches don't have no truck with modern nonsense like that. Heck, a CD would oxidize after the third decade anyhow. Menu meals average $5, and Peaches features a great breakfast.
— Joe Jackson

Second place: Hamil's Barbeque (751 Hwy. 51, Madison, 856-4407)
Third place: Collins Dream Kitchen (1439 Terry Road, 353-3845)
Good showing: Two Sisters Kitchen (707 North Congress St., 353-1180)

Best Vegetarian: High Noon/Rainbow (2807 Old Canton Road, 366-1602)
The closing of High Noon (particularly if it remains closed forever) is a travesty. A crime. A shame. Sure, the atmosphere was a touch staid, but I love a place that proudly serves un-iced filtered water in the summer in Jackson, Mississip'. Not to mention a once-vegan, and later octo-lavo, vegetarian menu. Good people, great eats. I was a sucker for the warm tempeh Reuben and the teriyaki rice bowls.

With its (hopefully temporary) passing we're left with the new and expanding salad/soup bar and lunch cooler in the main digs of the Rainbow Co-Op, a far cry from the three wrapped sandwiches that used to be the deli counter's tour-de-force—partly because the High Noon talent has come home to roost. It's decent grub, and you've got the added benefit of being able to take it home with you if the plaza doesn't beckon that day.
— Todd Stauffer

Second place: Bruno's (closed)
Third place: Thai House (2665 I-55 South, 373-8154)
Good showing: Bravo! (Highland Village, 982-8111) and Ruchi (5101 I-55 North, 366-9680)

Best Sushi: Little Tokyo (4800 I-55 North, Suite 12, 982-3035)
"Little Tokyo is always good," is what I was told by our resident raw-fish aficionado. He used words like "consistency" and "creativity" to point out why he likes to return to Little Tokyo frequently—they change their menu on a regular basis, they've often got something new and interesting to try, and you rarely leave thinking you've had it better any other time you've gone.

I like the intimate atmosphere of Little Tokyo I, which reminds me a little of a hole-in-the-wall sushi place you'd find in New York's East Village. (Except, you know, for the sea of SUVs outside the front door. But go with me here.) There's something about sitting on top of one another a little bit and having a lively discussion over Kirin, Sapporo and chopsticks. In fact, when I visited for this write-up, I took a good look around for the first time and realized how small that place really is—about, what, 10 tables and a small counter?—which adds to the energy and intimacy.

I stick to soups, tempura and the vegetable rolls (one advantage of being a vegetarian is I'll never have to go through that first moment of trying to swallow raw fish), which include an asparagus roll that's almost comfort food to me and a nice fresh cucumber roll. The standout, however, is the Special Vegetable Roll with shitake mushrooms, roasted red pepper and a neat trick—a little green lettuce—rolled up and topped with a little dallop of tangy Japanese mayo and as much wasabi as you're comfortable with.

Another of our intrepid (art) staff said, "If Godzilla came to attack Jackson, he'd take out Little Tokyo first," presumably because it would remind the big guy of home.

I'm pretty sure it's a compliment.
— Todd Stauffer

Second place: Nagoya (6351 I-55 North, Suite 131, 977-8881) • Third place: Haru (5834 Ridgewood Road, 899-8518)

Best Barbecue: E&L's Bar-B-Q (1111 Bailey Ave., 355-5035)
Is it the enticing smells wafting across Bailey Avenue or the tall black smokestack slightly tilted into the sky that draws people from near and far to E&L Bar-B-Que? It's gotta be the smells, right?

Mr. Washington, my personal food guru and fellow employee at Morrison Academic Advancement Center, recommended the combo ribs and links. I opted for the small rib tips without sauce on the fries and sweet tea. Sweet tea that can double as dessert carries a lot of weight with me, even if I am trying to shrink myself these days.

Seated at one of the deep red leatherette booths by 5:15 p.m., I chowed down on meat slathered in tangy sauce, tender in some spots, cooked crispy yet still tasty in others, and enjoyed the show—customer after customer coming through the door, getting in line, some flipping through a copy of the JFP picked up from a stack on the counter, ordering, greeting each other and standing back to wait patiently as the competent staff, including owner Hilliard's daughter Gladys, called out orders for rib plates, large and small tips, combo ribs and links, baked beans and pan trout. Accompanying their voices was the chop-chop-chop of a really big meat cleaver, wielded by a young man, separating tips from ribs, and the occasional sound of a garden hose spraying forcefully into the bottom of the cooker through a low doorway, dousing flames flaring up almost three feet. There was something symphonic about it. Best of all, no one seemed one bit surprised to see a 56-year-old white woman, all alone, licking her fingers as she enjoyed a front-row seat. Yes, Virginia, there's hope for my hometown, there really is.
— Lynette Hanson

Second place: Hickory Pit (1491 Canton Mart Road, 956-7079)
Third place: Red Hot & Blue (1625 E. County Line Road, Suite 250, 956-3313) and Homer's (1215 High St., 355-4020 (tie)
Good showing: Sonny's (2603 Hwy. 80 West, 355-7434)

Best Po-Boy: Good Time Deli (870 Avery Blvd., Ridgeland, 957-7055)
You'll know a good po-boy when you got one. It's the kind of sandwich that actually makes your mouth have to do some work, the kind that's so messy you have to run go get a bath after finishing one. It's the sandwich that sits on your plate like a garish, land-going giant clam, silently intimidating your girlfriend and daring you to make any sudden moves.

These are the kinds of monstrosities you have to choke down at Good Time. If you should brave the crowded madness of County Line Road to get to the Good Time location in the Promenade Shopping Center, you'll find menu items such as chicken fried steak, spaghetti, roast beef, veal parmesan and many other main courses, along with side items such as red beans and rice, jambalaya, onion rings and cole slaw. Not to knock the rest of their food, of course, but po-boys are what the place serves best. The turkey breast sandwich is to die for, and the pastrami sandwich is worth killing somebody else over. And don't underestimate their meatball sandwich, either. It's plenty to shout about. Heck, I'm dripping grease on my keyboard from the meatball sandwich even as I type. I can't think of a more worthy cause to go and destroy a laptop over.

The soft-shell crab po-boy sounds intriguing, though I personally haven't had a chance to go at that one, yet. Maybe it's worth a second trip, come to think of it. Hey, if I leave now at noon, I might make it past the County Line Crush by their closing time at 9 p.m. I best get started. Take-out is available.
— Joe Jackson

Second place: Que Sera Sera (2801 North State St., 981-2520)
Third place: Sal & Phil's (6600 Old Canton Road, Suite B, Ridgeland, 957-1188)
Good showing: Hal & Mal's (200 S. Commerce St., 948-0888)

Best Casino Restaurant: Phillip M's/Silver Star, Choctaw
For those of you who have read or will read every single Best of Category, no, I don't just eat and gamble. I do have a job, and I spend a lot of time at the paper, too. Anyway, Best Casino Restaurant goes to Phillip M's at the Silver Star, a part of the Pearl River Resort in Choctaw. Steaks, seafood and fine wines top the selections on the menu, which is an aberration in the "dry" county of Neshoba. In fact, the restaurant was awarded a Wine Spectator's Award of Excellence in 2002. — Lynette Hanson

Second place: Waterfront Grille/Ameristar (Vicksburg)
Third place: Farradday's/Isle of Capri (Vicksburg)

Best Burger: Stamps Superburger (1801 Dalton St., 352-4555; 4654 McWillie Drive, 713-3020)
I wish we could have sound with this newspaper because a deep, resonant male voice saying, "Stamps Superburgers!" keeps running through my head now that I've just finished eating—all but four bites of my first Superburger. My, oh, my—that freshly ground beef, "slow cooked to juicy perfection," just like the menu says. It did take some time, but wow. Mine was dressed with fresh, crisp lettuce, juicy slices of tomato, and thickly shredded cheddar cheese—just like I like it.

Since I had heard that the burgers were huge, all I intended to order was the small one—7 and 1/2 ounces. It didn't take much for a lady waiting on her take-out order to convince me to get the fries; she softly said, "You oughta get the fries," like someone passing a political secret in the midst of a crowded convention floor. "OK," I said, "do you have a small order?" Those fries, cut from fresh potatoes still wearing their jackets, smelled divine and tasted glorious. They cried out for a sprinkling of salt, saying, "Eat me right up while I'm still hot!" And I did, leaving, however, in honor of my shrinking efforts, about one third of them in the red plastic basket.

Above the order counter there's a folk art sign: "Big Al says be nice or leave." Jessica, a gracious and informative Stamps' employee, told me it's reversible. The other side says, "Big Al says be nice or leave in an ambulance." We laughed together on a rainy Saturday around noon.

Just remember that if you come at lunch on a weekday, you might be waiting an hour for Jackson's best burger. Take advantage of the time and meet someone new who's waiting with you. Or you could phone or fax in your order for pick up. Either way, you'll soon be hearing that same man saying, "Stamps Superburgers!"
— Lynette Hanson

Second place: Rooster's (Fondren Corner, 982-2001)
Third place: C.S.'s (1359 1/2 N. West Street, 969-9482))
Good showing: Cherokee Inn (1410 Old Square Road, 362-6388)

Best Veggie Burger: Stamps Superburger (1801 Dalton St., 352-4555; 4654 McWillie Drive, 713-3020)
Believe it or not, I had never had a veggie burger at Stamps until this award came along. My mistake. In fact, as I peered over mine, my companion was finishing off hers—she nodded approval, winked and said—"mits dur beorft." I braved this garbled transmission from Houston and, after a moment's reflection, was able to concur. It is the best.

It's particularly the best if your problem with veggie burgers is that you like real burgers so damn much. The veggie burger arrives half buried under your choice of curly fries, home fries, tater tots and at least two other options I couldn't hear over the cash register—and those fries can come Cajun style, salted, with vinegar, with lemon juice, with horseradish. (Maybe not horseradish?)

This is the way a burger is supposed to be and—under the onions and ketchup and mustard and tomato—this is also a damn good way to have a veggie burger. Plus, the price is right—about $6 for a Coke, fries and burger. On a whole-wheat bun, no less.

I like Fenian's (portion sizes), and I'll even stop through Back Yard Burger every so often when I need something fast. Stamps does neither—it ain't fast, and it ain't diet food. But, if you're swearing off meat, this burger's for you.
— Todd Stauffer

Second place: High Noon/Rainbow (2807 Old Canton Road, 366-1602)
Third place: Fenian's (901 East Fortification St., 948-0055) and Backyard Burger
(various locations) (tie)

Best Chicken Wings: Buffalo Wild Wings (808 Lake Harbour, Ridgeland, 856-0789)
At Buffalo Wild Wings Grill and Bar, the wings are the thing, so forget about all that other stuff on the menu. Doctor S doesn't know why those other items are sold. Perhaps they're for the chicken-intolerant. Somebody call Andrew Scott. The wings come covered in 12 sauces ranging in spiciness from mild to semi-nuclear. Remember to get the ranch dressing, celery and something cold to drink.

Wings are only one leg of BWW's marketing tripod. The others are beer and sports. There's a family section (complete with video games), and the staff remains fully clothed most of the time, so it's OK to bring the kids. But after dark the action moves into overdrive in the section with a bar. The sports can be found on the numerous television screens (including several big screens) lining the walls.

When people aren't cheering their favorite team or booing a rival over a cold beverage, some like to complain about Doctor S. Like Doctor S has ever done anything but try to improve the lives of others. OK, there was that unfortunate incident in Fulton, but otherwise it's been uninterrupted humanitarianism for Doctor S. You should support sports, chicken, cold beverages and Doctor S. That's what made America great.
— Doctor S

Second place: Hooter's (4565 I-55 North, 981-0480)
Third place: Red Hot & Blue ((1625 E. County Line Road, Suite 250,
956-3313) and Yang's China Buffet (1006 Top St., Flowood, 939-3868) (tie)

Best Chain Restaurant: Romano's Macaroni Grill (6376 Ridgewood Court Dr., 957-3999)
Second place: Moe's Grill (1405 Old Square Road, 713-3767)
Third place: Backyard Burger(various locations)

Best Doughnuts: Krispy Kreme (1100 East County Line Road, Ridgeland, 956-2468)
Confession is supposed to be good for the soul. Of course, this isn't true. Confession is a ruse to get you to disclose your weaknesses. I have no weaknesses, thus, I need not confess. OK. Maybe just one little weakness—Krispy Kreme, but, hey, I can quit anytime I want.
Some, with a weaker moral fiber than I, are addicted to these hot, soft, sugar-drenched doughnuts served fresh. Some are filled with a crème filling, others covered with chocolate. All are good. I go to KK for the coffee, always hot and fresh. By pure chance, I often arrive when the sign is lighted indicating hot, fresh doughnuts. Thus, I have had first-hand experience observing those poor souls who cannot resist KK's sweeter offerings.

Recently, I indulged and bought a doughnut. Why not? I can control this. I ate half and decided to take the other half to a local park and scatter it for the birds and our other animal friends. The uneaten half doughnut sat on the seat beside me. It called my name, "Andrew, Andrew." To hell with the birds and any other free-loading park pest, I decided. Gulp, and it was gone.
— Andrew Scott

Second place: Shipley Do-Nuts (103 Hwy 80 E., Clinton, 925-0020)
Third Place: Monroe's Donuts & Bakery (6310 Medgar Evers Blvd., 981-3208)

Staff Choice: Monroe's Quite Simply: Donuts to die for. And a local recipe.

Best Fried Chicken: Two Sisters (707 North Congress St., 353-1180)
There comes a time in all our lives when the veggie burger ceases to entertain. We're intended to be omnivorous. Where am I going with this? Fried chicken. And the best place to get it, according to our readers, is from Two Sisters Kitchen.

They got yer rice and gravy, fried squash, mashed potatoes, biscuits and cornbread, black-eyed peas, assorted greens (if you just gotta have veggies) and, of course, chicken and catfish. Two Sisters features upstairs and downstairs seating and some of the best banana and bread pudding ever. The only fault you'll find with their peach cobbler is how soon you get to the bottom of the dad-blasted bowl.

For about $10 you can get a main-course buffet meal—that means all you can pile onto your plate, you swine—a side salad, your choice of drink (the tea is delicious), and your pick of dessert. (Editor's note: It costs even less for vegetarians.)

But be forewarned, health nuts. Two Sisters does prepare their food in healthier versions than many home-cookin' joints, using lots of turkey broth and lighter oils. Take-out available. — Joe Jackson

Second place: Julep (Highland Village, 362-1411)
Third place: Hamil's Barbeque (751 Hwy. 51, Madison, 856-4407)

Best Place to Eat and Buy Gas: Sweet Daddy's BBQ at Exxon Filling Station (McWillie at Northside Drive)
Sweet Daddy's, where the ribs come with the sauce conveniently cooked in, sparing motorists who can't hold out for home. Recently I was able, with some assistance from my passenger, to polish off a tender, tasty half-rack ($6.50) without committing a single sideswipe. If you're about to hit the I-55 on-ramp for a longer, more leisurely drive, get the full rib-slab ($13), a whole chicken ($7) or—my favorite—one of the mammoth glistening turkey legs ($4). Go ahead, rip the cellophane off that all-day sucker … with your teeth, that is; keep those knees, I mean hands, on the wheel. — James Hughes

Second place: Penn's Express at Shell on High Street
Third place: Chevron Deli in downtown Brandon

Best Breakfast/Best Bakery: Broad Street Bakery Broad Street (Banner Hall, 362-2900)
Have you hugged your baker today?" That's what the Broad Street Baking Company & Café to-go menu asks on its cover. One taste of Broad Street's freshly baked focaccia, New York rye, and even Sugar Busters bread for lunch or croissants, scones, and Danishes for breakfast, and you will probably want to do just that! The exciting menu continues throughout the day, right down to those delicious desserts—slices and whole versions of New York Cheesecake, Chocolate Torte, Red Velvet and Italian Cream cakes and their specialties like a Mississippi Mud Tart, Pear-Almond Tart or Chocolate Mousse.

From the Western-Style Breakfast Quiche to the three-cheese omelet to chocolate-chip scones and apricot crumble bars, it's easy to taste why Broad Street was voted Best Breakfast in Jackson. Fresh-squeezed orange juice and specialty coffees (a different flavored coffee each day, iced latte and iced cappuccino and café au lait) are also available go along with the hot breakfast and pastries that Broad Street offers every morning beginning at 7 a.m.

Catering a breakfast? Baker's dozen breakfast pastry trays of muffins, scones, and Danishes or the breakfast sandwiches are available. Broad Street offers great lunches of various salads, soups and sandwiches (the classics, originals or po-boys on your choice of bread). After four o'clock, the menu expands to offer pizzas with an Italian ciabatta or Sugar Busters whole wheat crust (for those looking for a low-carb option), pastas, and chef's specials each night.
— Shannon L. Buckley

BREAKFAST:
Second place: Mikhail's (4330 North State St., 982-3838))
Third place: Julep (Highland Village, 362-1411)
Good showing: Primos Café (2323 Lakeland Drive, Flowood, 936-3398)

BAKERY:
Second place: Great Harvest Broad Co. (5006 Parkway Drive, 956-4406)
Third place: Campbell's Bakery (3013 North State St., 362-4628) and Believers' Bakery (5417 W. Hwy 25, Brandon, 992-9166) (tie)

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