As you may know, to be a true Jackson Free Press foodie, you must require a few things of your restaurants: Located in Jackson? Check. Locally owned and operated? Of course. Local flavor? You got that right.
Lunch Lady's excited about some local finds this week. You may remember a rant here a few months ago about the city's lack of diner-style breakfast. As usual, Jackson had an answer. At a social function recently, some friends of Lunch Lady's mentioned the Lamar Restaurant (209 S. Lamar St., 601-354-9300), where they eat breakfast every Saturday morning. Intrigued, I confirmed: "You mean breakfast breakfast? Like pancakes and eggs?" They nodded enthusiastically. This, of course, demanded investigation.
Fingers crossed, and armed with Cheree Franco and a healthy appetite, Lunch Lady headed downtown during the Dixie National Parade for breakfast. Upon our entrance, a burly bearded man warned us that he had a big table and wouldn't be able to get to us for 20 minutes. While we appreciated the warning, it wasn't entirely clear why that would be a problem, as there didn't seem to be too many patrons aside from those at the big table.
We later realized that on Saturday mornings at least, the Lamar Restaurant is a one-man show: This guy was taking the orders, cooking the food, refilling coffee mugs, adjusting the temperature and delivering food to the tables, not to mention telling entertaining stories to all his diners.
The Lamar Restaurant has been a Jackson staple for 54 years. Family owned since its opening, the Lamar serves breakfast and lunch on weekdays from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and brunch on Saturdays from 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
The breakfast menu has traditional favorites like pancakes, eggs, grits, toast and various combinations thereof, in addition to Greek-influenced dishes like the Gyro omelet. The coffee flows like water, and it looks like you can even go up and get the pot yourself if owner Christos Grillis is busy entertaining another table, and you need a refill. (That is to say, a couple of people did this, and no one seemed to mind.)
The Grillis family's Greek heritage is more prevalent on the lunch menu, where gyros and Greek salads and platters reign. With a menu like this (and, once again, breakfast!), one can only assume that it was the Saturday morning factor that kept the crowd small.
As a general rule, Lunch Lady takes it to be a bad sign if there are fewer than five people in a restaurant—particularly on a weekend night. But you know what? Sometimes it's just a sign that people don't know what they're missing. Ruchi India (5105 I-55 N., 601-366-9680) seems full enough at lunch; they serve a daily buffet. But at night, when the whole menu of goodness opens up, you can hear crickets in there. Do people not know what they're missing?
Lunch Lady's standard order is vegetable samosas—piping hot and always spicier than she expects—shared with whoever else is around; chicken tikka, colored orange from spices and fresh from the tandoori oven; and an order of plain naan (Indian flatbread). Because those three dishes please her to no end, she never orders anything else, though she's tried various dishes ordered by others. The masala sauce is great here (and as a result, so is every dish it's put on)—flavorful without being too spicy, and therefore easy on beginners.
If you're a little more adventurous, you might want to pick one of the menu items that doesn't include an English description of what you'll be eating. You might just uncover a new favorite.
A lot of Jacksonians rave about the newer Spice Avenue (4711 I-55 N., 601-982-0890), but surely there are enough diners in this city to keep two Indian restaurants busy. Spice Avenue's butter chicken and lunch specials garner rave reviews. A meat entrée with rice and naan will run you $6.99, and the vegetarian plate is only $5.99. They also have a grocery store, where you can take the ingredients home and try making your own Indian food.
Now that you've had your lecture, have a little fun. Bravo! (4500 I-55 N., 601-982-8111) is doing one of their famous wine tastings on Sunday, Feb. 24. This time around it's premium cabernet sauvignon, "long hailed as the king of red grape varietals," as they put it. Sommelier Kelly Boutwell and Norm Rush will guide participants through some of the Napa Valley's best cabernets. The tasting is at 4 p.m. and costs $75 per person. Make your reservations in advance.
You read a lot in the JFP about thinking globally and buying locally, and this extends to every last detail—from your Saturday night date to where you go on your lunch break. Get good food at local businesses, and support the restaurants that have made Jackson great for decades and the ones that will make it great in decades to come.
Send your adventures in local eating to [e-mail missing].