In the Local Palate’s 2022 Restaurants Issue, our state-by-state guide highlights the new restaurants that have emerged since 2020. Here, contributor Boyce Upholt gives an overview of new restaurants in Mississippi.
Bar Muse | Oxford
As the head bartender at Saint Leo, an acclaimed Italian restaurant on Oxford’s central square, Joseph Stinchcomb helped bring in big accolades: The restaurant’s bar program was a semifinalist for a James Beard award in 2019. He also brought controversy. When Stinchcomb crafted a Black History Month-themed menu a year earlier, diners weren’t quite sure what to make of its drinks—like Blood on the Leaves, which was named for a lyric in Billie Holiday’s searing anti-lynching song “Strange Fruit.”
After complaints poured in, the menu was pulled. “That kind of shaped my drive and inspiration to own a space,” Stinchcomb says. Part of the problem, really, was how few conversations were happening about race in Oxford, which made the topic feel more forbidding than it should. It didn’t help that there were only two Black-owned businesses on the Square.
So when the owners of the Lyric, Oxford’s marquee music venue, inquired whether Stinchcomb might open a cocktail bar in the theater’s old ticket office, he jumped at the chance. Partnering with Saint Leo’s former operations manager, Ross Hester, Stinchcomb opened Bar Muse in October 2021, adding a third Black-owned business to the mix.
As the duo developed the bar, Stinchcomb was pursuing other efforts to build a better Oxford. Last year, he won a grant for a proposal to use good food to start deeper conversations, especially between Black entrepreneurs and potential investors. Bar Muse itself has hosted minority happy hours as a part of the program. “It’s been cool to have Black people come in here and enjoy themselves, and just be able to be themselves,” Stinchcomb says.
The Bar Muse menu, which rotates every few weeks to showcase a new theme, maintains Stinchcomb’s penchant for pop-cultural references; one recent menu was built around cocktails named for characters from HBO’s The Wire. (“By far and away the best television show ever,” Stinchcomb says.)
It’s a small space—264 square feet, with twenty-five seats—which in a bar like this is an asset: It allows for a focus on drinks that Stinchcomb truly loves. “That’s the beauty of owning the space,” he says. “To be able to push boundaries with your guests and get them a little bit out of their comfort zone, and get them to really enjoy something that wouldn’t necessarily venture out to try.”
Omar Comin’, made with coriander-infused scotch, mango, ginger, lime, and cardamom
More New Restaurants Open in Mississippi
The Bread & Butter Shoppe | Greenwood
Valour Taylor Cobbins got her start in food by making wine and keeping bees. By December 2020, she moved from Little Rock to launch the Bread and Butter Shoppe. She showcases her products via a deli-style menu, which features house-smoked meats and (rare in this part of the world) plenty of plant-based options. “Other than maybe a can of tomatoes, we don’t open any cans,” she says. In spring 2022, Cobbins introduced her first bottles of natural wine, made from Mississippi-grown strawberries, blueberries, and muscadines.
Downunder | Tupelo
Thanks to the footloose nature of many Australians, the nation’s bar menus tend to feature an international smögåsbord of food: Aussie classics, like meat pies, alongside butter chicken, fish and chips, and Thai noodles. Aussie Kris Del Grande found a home for himself in the States about twenty years ago. Through Downunder, he’s introducing his nation’s bar staples to Tupelo in a homey basement gastropub. Even more palatable, almost everything on the menu, despite its deliciousness, runs 15 dollars or less.
Elvie’s | Jackson
Growing up, walks through New Orleans’ fabled French Quarter exposed chef Hunter Evans to establishments like Arnaud’s and Galatoire’s, where he had to imagine the grand dining rooms and servers bedecked in tuxedos inside. His grandmother Elvaretta May Good (or Elvie), however, figured that she could buy the same shrimp at the market and make great food herself.
Those intimate meals inspired his life-long love of cooking, and he opened his all-day spot in Jackson’s Belhaven neighborhood. Inspired by his grandmother’s New Orleans, he developed a place to meet friends for drinks during happy hour, kindle romance over date-night steak frites, and show off French-inflected cooking with a touch of Mississippi soul.
The Little Easy | Natchez
Director Tate Taylor (of The Help) decided to awaken Natchez’s small-town potential. He launched the Little Easy—a cafe named for this small-town cousin to New Orleans. Housed in a historic cabin just feet from the bluff atop the Mississippi River, the restaurant serves “boozy brunch, sun up to sun down,” with elegant takes on breakfast classics. The neighboring Smoot’s Grocery Lounge, a longtime juke joint, features live music on weekends and fish fries every Sunday.
The Flaming Skillet | Greenville
For years, when Romello Welton traveled from his home in Houston to his native Mississippi, he struggled to find the restaurant he wanted. So Welton—an entrepreneur who sings under the name Richboy Romello—decided to partner with his wife Tai to create the place himself. The Flaming Skillet features Tai’s decadent riffs on scratch-made soul food—grilled lobster tails laid atop creamy grits, seafood-stuffed potatoes, and, on certain weekends, jerk oxtail—all in a clean and laid-back dining room built into an old storefront.
Home Place Farm Store | Como
Since Home Place Pastures opened in 2014, it’s become known for producing some of the South’s premier pork and beef. Farm founder and CEO Marshall Bartlett decided to add a welcoming space for farm visitors. And, he figured, it might as well serve lunch, too. The hearty sandwiches served at the Home Place Farm Store are some of the best in the state. Built into an old farmhouse that’s been reclad in reclaimed nineteenth century cypress wood, the store overlooks the farm’s pastures, making this it an immediate farm-to-table lunch.
Southern Soigné | Jackson
When chef Zacchaeus Golden, a Mississippi native, used the pandemic as a chance to cook his style of food—refined cuisine that draws on classic Southern recipes—through his own pop-up dinner series. The concept grew into a unique restaurant, tucked into a historic home in the Farish Street District, long a center of Jackson’s Black cultural scene. “Soigné is French for clean cut and well dressed,” says Golden, who has cooked in multiple Michelin-star restaurants. “We use the term in kitchens to say something is exceptional.” There are just twelve seats—including a nightly chef-led tasting menu for six diners—which means Golden himself will preside over everything you’ll eat.
Thorny Oyster | Bay St. Louis
Built on the ground floor of a new boutique hotel, just across the street from the Bay St. Louis Harbor, the Thorny Oyster is the sort of place where you can walk in wearing shorts and flip-flops and nonetheless enjoy fresh-from-the-Gulf redfish almondine or hamachi crudo. Chef Jeff Hansell, who made his name as one of the best chefs in the region at Oxlot 9, a fine-dining bistro in Covington, Louisiana, has also opened a barbecue joint next door—so no matter the size of your appetite after a day on the water, you’ll find a way to eat well.
Tacos y Tequila Antojitos Mexicanos | Laurel
As the setting of hit HGTV show Home Town, Laurel has become a weekend destination. Some of the town’s best food, though, is found in an unassuming strip mall just beyond the downtown hubbub. As the name of the restaurant suggests, the go-to dishes here are antojitos, or “little cravings.” These are quick bites—think lengua tacos or elote or tostadas dipped in pozole—that can be eaten as a snack or assembled to constitute a more-than-satisfying meal. 601-335-1197
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