Well, we just returned last night from a week and a half of traveling all over the great state of Mississippi. I didn’t do any blogging from the road simply because I forgot the cable to upload pictures, and as we all know, a food blog is nothing without its pictures. When we arrived in Jackson my mom told me that she’d bought a smoked Boston Butt from a co-worker raising money for charity. For $20 she bought an entire pork shoulder that’d been slow smoked for many many hours. It was a delicious welcoming meal and the beginning of a week-long effort to clog all of my arteries. While there were many interesting Southern cultural moments I could write about, I will of course, focus only on the “eating” part of the trip.

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It didn’t take long for me to remember that Mississippi is a state whose food is without pretenses. This is a place where a gas station might serve some of the best food around, or maybe homemade cakes and pies are offered alongside bottled water right next to a fried burrito or pizza stick. It’s not about the presentation so much as the taste.

dsc02626It is an unfortunate fact that Southern food is not typically healthy fare. You can walk into a restaurant and see a buffet composed entirely of fried things and a salad bar that is only iceberg lettuce, pink tomatoes, cucumbers, and ranch. I’m not joking. While I do appreciate fried food, this is not the kind of restaurant I was looking for. If I’m going to eat fried food I don’t want everything else in the kitchen to share the grease. No, I wanted something more satisfying and, dare I say wholesome?

dsc02628Something like a meat and two veggies. Fortunately there are plenty of “plate lunch” places to choose from. The day after we arrived my folks took us to Binke’s, a restaurant in a metal building hidden in a neighborhood near downtown. Three people ate enough to last a week for something like $20; a meal comes with a meat, two sides, bread (or cornbread), tea, and dessert. I opted for the fried pork chop with gravy, collard greens, and black eyed peas. I finished it off with chocolate pie and washed all of it down with sweet tea. While the atmosphere left something to be desired, people don’t come here for the atmosphere; they come for the food, and I don’t blame them. It’s delicious. My dad got the oxtails, which I’d never had before. They were very tender and flavorful, and I’d definitely order them next time, although it’s hard to beat gravy on a pork chop

dsc02646Believe it or not, that same night we went to the fish camp. Although there are some chains that claim to be fish camps, the real deal is not much different from a clam shack in New England, only instead of clams, the main attraction is the catfish. It’s locally owned, and usually in a very small town.

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Long’s Fish Camp is in Enterprise, MS and is only open a few nights a week. The restaurant, in a cinder block building, is pristine and brightly lit. Deer heads, stuffed birds, and other animals line the walls as families sit at benches and enjoy fried catfish (although they do offer non-fried food it’s hardly worth mentioning).

After you order your drinks (the sweet tea is very good; sweet but not overly so), the waitress brings a bowl of cole slaw, a sliced onion, lemons, and some crackers to your table. This is what passes for vegetables, and is a tradition at fish camps in East Mississippi, and maybe other places as well (the cole slaw was actually really good on saltines). The drinks arrived, and so did three pitchers for each of us to fill our own drinks. I ordered the whole catfish platter, as opposed to the fillets I usually order. Although the menu didn’t specify, I ended up with four fish on my plate. They weren’t huge, but let me tell you, that’s a lot of fish. I could only eat one and a half, on top of all that cole slaw and onion. As you might expect, everyone was very nice, and the owner let me take his picture, even when he found out I live in New England.

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Next installment: The best cakes in Calhoun City, and tailgating in the Grove…

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