By Marsha Mack Goberish
You’re about to taste some of the best shrimp and grits, tamales, barbecued pork and fried chicken in the South.
Visitors will find great local cuisine in cities and towns throughout the state of Mississippi that serve traditional and contemporary favorites. We’ve eaten in places all over the state and found some of the best spots for groups to have an authentic culinary experience.
It should be no surprise that these revered venues typically do not offer white tablecloths and dapper waiters. Leave your fancy duds at home and put on those favorite jeans, as the menus usually offer finger-licking-good times with a side of honky-tonk blues.
The Viking Cooking School in Greenwood encourages groups to do more than just enjoy delectable dining.
“Spending an afternoon at Viking is more than a meal; it’s an experience,” said Paige Hunt, executive director of the Greenwood Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Guests can choose to take cooking classes, but Hunt said the most popular option is to participate in a cooking demonstration.
“You’ll learn to make anything from pizza to sushi,” she said. “There is lots of crowd participation, and the best part is that you get to eat and take recipes home with you. You feel like you’re on a live version of a Food Network television show.”
Nearby is Giardina’s in the four-star Alluvian Hotel, a restaurant that has served hip diners since 1936.
“You know you’re in an Italian venue when the pasta is served with ‘meat gravy,’” said Hunt with a chuckle. “But they are also famous for their whole, broiled pompano, tamales and more. And with booths curtained off, diners still enjoy the same atmosphere as during Prohibition, when privacy was necessary for brown-bag booze.”
Everything is made from scratch at the Crystal Grill, a local favorite since the 1930s.
“This is where you order ‘meat and three,’” said Hunt. “That’s meat and three vegetables. And isn’t it great that only in the South is mac ’n’ cheese considered a vegetable?”
Mississippi Gulf Coast
Mississippi’s Gulf Coast has much more than seafood: The Shed Barbeque and Blues Joint is a celebrated bayou joint with locations in both Ocean Springs and Gulfport.
“The owner, Brad Orison, has been on many television competition shows,” said Taryn Sammons, media relations manager for the Mississippi Gulf Coast Region Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Their cooking team has won awards for their meat, sauces and sides. The outdoor atmosphere includes the best bluesy music — I can’t think of any place where a fun-loving group would have a better time.”
But back to the seafood: McElroy’s Harbor House has been around forever, according to Sammons.
“From po’boys to their legendary breakfasts, this dining spot is a culinary favorite. They’ll even cook your catch if you’ve been lucky on the water that day,” she said.
With locations in Biloxi and Gulfport, the Half-Shell Oyster House serves those oysters raw, baked or over an open flame amidst New Orleans-style architecture. Gumbo, shrimp and grits, and fish that were swimming nearby only hours before are also on the menu.