Autumnal Ventures | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Autumnal Ventures

This fall, many new culinary ventures will pop up in Jackson, including the recent opening of Derek Emerson’s CAET wine bar.

This fall, many new culinary ventures will pop up in Jackson, including the recent opening of Derek Emerson’s CAET wine bar. Photo by Julie Skipper.

"Will you be in town this weekend?" It's a question I ask often during football season, as I try to find time to catch up with friends. This being SEC country, the response is usually, "no," and will remain that way until the season ends. The past few weeks, I've been on the road following Ole Miss at its away games in Atlanta and Nashville.

Road games are a great chance to get away, and those two cities are fun to visit. Extending the trip beyond game day for a little extra time means getting to enjoy some great dinners and brunches, shopping and sightseeing along with the main event. But after two weekends away, I was eager to stay put for a bit. While exploring another city is always a good time, this fall brought a number of new places to try in Jackson, and I was feeling the need to play catch-up and try out the ones that had opened while I was away.

First on my list was CAET (3100 N. State St., Suite 102, 601-321-9169), Jennifer and Derek Emerson's new wine bar and small-plates offering in Fondren. I'm a big fan of wine and small plates, and to have smaller portions of Emerson's great food, as well as a great selection of wines by the glass, is something I think has been missing in Jackson's culinary landscape. So, after work one day, I met a friend there.

Upon entering, my first reaction was, "It's so pretty!" The atmosphere is warm and welcoming, elegant without being stuffy—a mixture of wood, metal, glass and cool colors, with beautiful low flower arrangements. I also loved sitting beneath a painting the restaurant commissioned by local artist William Goodman. The staff was quite attentive, and our server brought over Dave Grenley, the wine specialist in the Emersons' restaurants, to answer questions and make recommendations.

CAET offers wines by the bottle, of course, but the big draw is that they also offer by the taste, half-glass and glass, so you can play around and try things you might not otherwise. I was happy to see a few wines that I love, but also to try some new things. I also appreciated the dessert-wine selection. And for those who are not oenophiles, there's a cocktail and beer menu as well. Emerson stopped by to chat and let us know that the small-plate offerings will change frequently, so there will always be something different and tasty to try.

I know I'll be back often.

While away, another familiar haunt, Hal & Mal's (200 S. Commerce St., 601-948-0888, halandmals.com) started something new: It now serves brunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays, which is good news for fans of the weekend mid-morning/early afternoon meal, and for those who perhaps need a little grease in their bellies after a Friday night on the town.

Chef Ryan Bell recommends the bacon and eggs, which includes pork belly, grits and two poached eggs, as well as a dish called The Hash—potatoes, red onion, bell peppers and pulled pork served with tortillas and topped with "Mal style" onion rings, barbecue sauce and cream gravy. Also, the Breakfast Po-Boy blends breakfast and lunch into one sandwich, with scrambled eggs, andouille sausage, bacon, ham and cheese on French bread.

Rounding out the new kids in town is Saltine Oyster Bar in Duling Hall (622 Duling Ave., Suite 201, 601-982-2899). I made it for the open house during August's Fondren After 5, but only experienced the decor and atmosphere on that stop. It's a very cool environment incorporating nods to the building's history as a school, as well as touches that reflect the seafood the restaurant now serves.

The curved oyster bar—with an inset of actual oyster shells above—invites you to settle in and watch the guys shuck. Alas, my schedule has not allowed me to do so, yet, but I will soon. If you follow Saltine on social media (@saltineoysters on Twitter and Instagram), you can find out what the oysters and catch of the day are, as well as the Randall (infused beer) of the day.

With all these new offerings, non-football weekends will have plenty to enjoy here in town. But whether you're on the road cheering for the team or watching from a perch in the city, enjoy the season.

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