To tell it true, ground meat makes Lunch Lady nervous. Ever since a friend told her that the beef at a certain delicious fast-food place is designated Grade D by the United States Department of Agriculture—which means it can legally consist of up to 4 percent rat meat—she just hasn't felt the same about her tacos and burgers.
But leave it to Jackson restaurants to offer too many ground-meat delights for Lunch Lady to resist for long. (Bear with me, vegetarian friends; there's stuff in here for you, too.) Fried, grilled, stuffed in a corn husk, wrapped around an egg—there's no limit to the ways you'll find ground meat served in this town.
Opening day at Ro Sanchez's new restaurant, Koi (in the Plaza Building, 120 N. Congress St., 601-944-1187) was hectic. Jacktoberfest was kicking in the beautiful weather outside, and it looked as though half of downtown was either seated, or waiting to be seated, at one of the dozen tables in the black and red deco dining room. Between Lunch Lady and her friends, we managed to order all the appetizers on the menu, except the edamame.
The duck-pot dumplings and spring rolls featured—you guessed it—ground meat, duck and pork, respectively. The dumplings were delicious, with just the right amount of dough to set off but not overpower the meat. The ginger soy sauce added an extra complementary kick. Lunch Lady found the spring rolls a little greasy and filled with too much meat and not enough of the other ingredients (cabbage, red onions, dried mushrooms and shredded carrots, according to the menu), but the shell was crispy at least.
Vegetarian-wise, the sweet potato cakes with roasted red peppers aioli were surprisingly delicious—especially considering how indifferent Lunch Lady is toward sweet potatoes. The heartiness of the tubers (a great meat substitute) and the mix of vegetable flavors, accented by the cilantro and the aioli, made for a delicious dish.
One accent you might not expect is ground beef bringing out the flavor of … ground beef. But head over to Tony's Tamales (2325 Livingston Rd., 601-366-9591), try the chili tamales dinner, and you'll have just that. In this dish, Tony's takes six of their delicious beef tamales, peels them out of their husks, puts them on a plate and smothers them in beef chili, cheese and diced onion. Possibly not the best mid-day decision if you want to feel peppy for an afternoon at your desk, but you can swing by the drive-thru after work and take them home for dinner. The tamales also come plain—hot or mild—by the dozen or half dozen.
Unless you like a dinner of fries and lemonade, vegetarians will have a hard time at Tony's, but they can hop down to Hal & Mal's (200 S. Commerce St., 601-948-0888) instead for a meat-substitute black-bean tamale.
Another black-bean substitute is the Jamaican vegetarian burger at Cool Al's (4654 McWillie Dr., 601-713-3020). It's ground black beans, rice and an outrageously good blend of spices, making it the best veggie burger Lunch Lady has ever had. Try it dressed with cheese, tomato, and lettuce only; condiments can interfere with the tangy flavor. Of course, Cool Al's is also rightly famous for their traditional ground-beef burgers. Cheeseburgers, chili burgers and chili cheeseburgers; Cool Al's does them all and does them well. Portions are generous and worth every bite.
Less traditional—at least to American palates—is the fare built around ground meat at Fenian's (901 E. Fortification St., 601-948-0055). You won't find a boxty at any other neighborhood restaurant, and Lunch Lady still isn't entirely sure what one is—something about a potato pancake—but it's tasty. The shepherd's boxty is inspired by shepherd's pie, and is filled with ground beef, potatoes, peas and other comfort ingredients. You could also go with the standard shepherd's pie.
Regardless of where you're from, one thing that isn't standard on the Fenian's menu is the Scotch egg. This one sounds gross: a hardboiled egg, wrapped in ground sausage, breaded and fried. It doesn't really strike a diner glancing at a menu as the best choice, but it is. Served with spicy mustard, this dish is just small enough to counteract how heavy its ingredients are, and makes for a perfect snack. Trust me.
For another fried ground meat treat, go Mediterranean at Aladdin (730 Lakeland Dr., 601-366-3613). The fried kibby features ground lamb and pine nuts wrapped in dough and fried. Try them with the lebna (a thick creamy dip), or with everything when you order the Aladdin's Special appetizer sampler.
Whatever you do, steer clear of the mystery meat at the local fast-food joint. It's easy not to settle when you think it could be rat meat. (Sorry—just telling it like it is.) Make the most of your city and all the real meat it has to offer.
That's all for this week, kids—get out there and eat something. Then tell Lunch Lady about it at [e-mail missing].
Dear Ms. Cahoon,
Thank you for your entertaining article “The Meat Mystery” published in the recent issue (Vol. 6, No. 7). I’ve been to a few of the places you mentioned and concur with your judgment. I certainly intend to try the Scotch egg at Fenian’s soon.
I take issue with the references to “Grade D meat” and “mystery meat” in your first and next to last paragraphs. (Forgive me if you were joking -- I’m too old to understand subtle humor.)
It’s simply not true that “Grade D” meat can legally consist of up to 4 percent rat meat.
The story seems improbable on its face. A Google search of “grade d meat rat” (without the quotes) returned a link to www.all-lies.com/legends/academia/gradedmeat The story is an urban legend. In fact, USDA does not classify beef as Grades A, B, C, or D. Official grades are at:
Poultry is graded on a letter scale, but even it does not have a Grade D category.
Many thousands of Mississippi citizens earn their livelihood in part or in whole in the cattle business. You do them a disservice to publish information that is not true.
Thank you for considering my comments. I enjoy your prose, it has a nice touch and I look forward to reading you again.