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Meals in the Magnolia State: What to Eat in Mississippi

Dig into the best flavors of Mississippi, including soul food, biscuits, layer cakes and crawfish.

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More than Mud Pies

Travelers come to Mississippi to soak up history and bask in the blues. Mostly, though, they come to eat. From the Tennessee border to the Gulf Coast’s edge, cooks and award-winning chefs are eager to share a taste of their heritage, with an ample helping of hospitality. Authentic examples of all the Southern classics abound – often in unexpected settings, with at least a few memorable twists. Steak dinners begin with hot tamale appetizers inside a tumbledown grocery store. Kibbe, the national dish of Lebanon, appears on lunch plates alongside black-eyed peas and turnip greens in a small-town cafe. A beloved baker’s pound cake inspires a new flavor of artisanal gelato. More filling than fancy, with bold influences from Cajun country and the diverse cultures that have entered by way of the Mighty Mississippi, the Magnolia State’s iconic dishes — like the people who make them — have some stories to tell.

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Abe’s Bar-B-Q

There’s plenty of barbecue in Mississippi, and most borrows from the styles that traveled downriver from Memphis and St. Louis. But Abe’s Bar-B-Q in Clarksdale has a style all its own. The pork butt isn’t pulled or shredded after smoking. It’s chilled overnight to congeal the fat, then sliced paper-thin and reheated on a griddle. The slices are chopped into slivers and doused with a tangy house barbecue sauce, then tucked into a grilled bun with a peppery oil-and-vinegar-dressed slaw rather than the mayonnaise-laden kind that typically prevails in smokehouses. Lebanese immigrant Abraham Davis learned to barbecue and roll tamales from his new neighbors before opening a tiny restaurant in 1924. Abe’s has remained a community favorite throughout its existence, and a landmark stop for travelers on the Blues Highway.

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Photo: Ben Fink

Biscuits

Natchez is famous for its antebellum mansions and riverboats. It’s also the Biscuit Capital of the World. Regina Charboneau, a seventh-generation native daughter, helped her hometown earn the official designation in 2008 and launch a biscuit festival, with a cook-off, demos and a crowning of a biscuit queen. A Paris-trained chef, Charboneau prepares extra-buttery, flaky biscuits that have become legend. She refined the homespun recipe with puff-pastry skills and built a nightclub in San Francisco, Biscuits & Blues, around their reputation. Now she has one by the same name in Natchez. Guests at her bed and breakfast at the Twin Oaks plantation house get to sample her biscuits, as do passengers aboard the cruise steamboat The American Queen. Her thyme-flecked biscuit dough tops the pot pies on the menu at the historic King’s Tavern, which also serves a few cocktails made with the rum from her husband’s distillery next door. Her biscuit recipe is no secret. She’s shared the method in cookbooks and cooking classes, and with national press.

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Photo: Rory Doyle

Soul Food

Soul food restaurants abound in Mississippi, and one of the best representations is the Senator’s Place in Cleveland. Its sign reads “Delicious Food for the Soul” and the offerings on the steam table buffet live up to the reputation. Farmers with muddy boots and lawyers in suits pile their plates with fried chicken, neck bones, candied sweet potatoes, turnip greens, macaroni and cheese, stewed okra and tomatoes and a litany of vegetables and meats that changes daily depending on season and availability. State Senator Willie Simmons opened the restaurant in 2003 and presides over the kitchen when the legislature’s out of session. He personally fries the catfish, and takes special pride in in his pecan-smoked chicken. The buttery corn muffins and hush puppies are mixed from scratch, like everything else on the menu.

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