Famous for its catfish, shrimp and grits, and lots of sticky barbecue pork and beef, Mississippi cuisine has been influenced by waves of European immigration and the proximity to the Gulf Coast. From food festivals and fine-dining establishments to classic BBQ shacks and spots, here are the top places to sample the best of American cuisine in Mississippi.
Abe’s Bar-B-Q in Clarksdale lies at the crossroads of Highways 61 and 49. For fans of blues music, its also the place where the great bluesman, Robert Johnson, is said to have sold his soul to the devil in return for his skill as a guitar player. Abe’s has been serving up the spiciest BBQ cuisine since 1924 and has welcomed famous names like Paul Simon and ZZ Top. On the menu are a number of classic Mississippi BBQ dishes like hot tamales with cheese or chili, BBQ ribs, pork or beef plates plus sandwiches, chili dogs, and grilled cheese sandwiches, which can all washed down with bottled root beer.
The Delta Bistropub in Greenwood serves up a contemporary take on classic Southern cuisine and has earned rave reviews from customers and the press. The award-winning chef and owner, Taylor Bowen Ricketts, is a native of Jackson and has been featured in the New York Times, Southern Living and has been a semi-finalist in the James Beard Awards in the ‘Best Chef in the South’ category. In 2014, Southern Living magazine named the Delta Bistropub as one of the top three restaurants in Mississippi. On the menu are curious dishes like alligator sausages, black-eyed pea cakes, Creole catfish, fried rabbit tenderloin, and smoked elk brisket.
The Shed BBQ and Blues Joint in Ocean Springs is a family affair, run by the Orrison clan led by Brad Orrison. What began as a straight-up BBQ shack has now turned into a stage and restaurant playing host to live music every Friday and Saturday night. The Shed has won countless awards and has been featured on the Food Network TV channel. On the menu are classics like nachos, chicken wings, spare ribs, pulled pork and brisket.
The Biloxi Seafood Festival is a Mississippi institution and has been running for over 35 years in the city on the Gulf Coast. Held at Point Cadet Plaza, the festival is a celebration of the seafood industry that was historically an integral part of Biloxi. There are gumbo contests held with both professional and amateur divisions and big money prizes for the best tasting entrants. The whole event is run and administered by the Biloxi Chamber of Commerce and is connected to the Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum in the city.
Weidmann’s has been in Meridian since 1870 and at its present site, in the downtown area, since 1923. Back in 1870, the Swiss chef, Felix Weidmann, who has been a long-term chef on transatlantic steamships, set up in Meridian. The restaurant today is not far from local landmarks like the Meridian Museum of Art and the Temple Theater for Performing Arts. Serving up Southern-style cuisine in a historic setting, the dinner menu has options like bruschetta, smoked salmon, quesadillas, pork chops, redfish or filet mignon with a trademark 1870 sauce made up of shrimp, mushrooms and tomatoes.
Vestige opened in 2013 as a spot for modern American cuisine in the downtown area of Ocean Springs. Vestige has gained plaudits for the food and chef Alex Perry has several times been named as one of the top chefs in Mississippi by Best Chefs America. The seasonal menu changes to keep up with the best produce available and features small plates, including foie gras and compressed peaches and crab croquettes, and main courses like fish of the day with citrus vinaigrette. There’s also an excellent selection of whiskey, including Kentucky bourbons, and malts from Japan and the Highlands of Scotland.
Giardina’s is the place to head to if you’re looking for sophistication, elegance, and a refined dining experience. Opened in Greenwood in 1936 by Joseph Giardina, the restaurant is part of The Alluvian Hotel, home also to the Viking Cooking School where you can book in for a weekend of culinary tuition. The dining room at Giardina’s boasts an open area or private booths if you’re looking for that extra bit of privacy. On the menu are dishes like oysters prepared three ways, Gulf shrimps, sea bass, catfish cakes, and 18oz ribeye steaks or the Giardina stuffed chicken.
The Purple Parrot Cafe in Hattiesburg opened its doors in 1987 and has been one of the top-rated spots for gourmets ever since. The café has won Wine Spectator Awards several times.It’s also the site of the Purple Parrot Wine Festival, the biggest in the state of Mississippi. On the menu are contemporary interpretations of Southern classics like crawfish carbonara, gnocchi and veal cheeks, brazed short ribs and a seafood option that changes each day to keep up with the available ingredients.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 2012, the original Doe’s Eat Place in Greenville is a Mississippi institution, serving up an authentic taste of the South with lots of hot tamales, ribeye and filet mignon, and fried shrimp on the menu. The restaurant was opened by Domenick ‘Big Doe’ Signa in 1941 after picking up a tamale recipe from a friend on a local army base. Before then, the site had been owned by Big Doe’s father who opened up a grocery store in 1903 and used the store for bootlegging during Prohibition.
The World Catfish Festival is held every year in Belzoni, the county seat of Humphreys County. It’s hard to overestimate the importance of the catfish in Mississippi cuisine, and Belzoni is known as the catfish capital of the world, producing more farm-raised catfish than anywhere else in the USA. Over 40,000 acres of land are used around Belzoni for the farming of catfish and there’s even a catfish museum. The festival takes place every year with much of downtown Belzoni given over to the festival, and usually attracting over 10,000 visitors.