Blue Plate Highways

Adventures in Gastronomy in Rural Mississippi

Chad Hammons,

Article by Chad Hammons, Featured Author

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Chad Hammons is a partner in the Jackson office of Jones Walker LLP, where he practices in the Litigation Section, specializing in creditors’ rights, bankruptcy, and commercial litigation.

A fringe benefit of practicing creditors’ rights law from Jackson is the regular opportunity to travel across Mississippi to hearings or foreclosures in small towns spanning the state from Gulfport to Corinth and all points in between. As a lifelong Mississippian, I’m proud to say I have actually touched foot in all 82 counties, and have been to court in most of them. (Like the great white whale though, Paulding still eludes me, even though I’ve had numerous hearings in Bay Springs).

Over the past few years, I’ve had the chance to get pretty familiar with east central Mississippi, and have burned up the roads around Carthage, Philadelphia, and Forest, foreclosing on defunct chicken farms and other real estate, for a bank client. Fortunately, the bank takes these things seriously, and sends one or more representatives with me to the sales on the various courthouse steps.

Their assistance is both substantive and procedural, you might say. Once we complete the sale and record a deed, we waste no time in getting somewhere to sample the local cuisine. My client reps tend to be pretty good at showing me out-of-the-way places wherever we might be, and turning lunchtime into an episode of backyard cultural tourism that my friends with the Southern Foodways Alliance not only approve of, but envy.

There is little doubt that each of these establishments could be considered as a “perfect example of its kind,” to borrow a phrase from my old sociology department chairman Larry DeBord, quoting the novelist Harry Crews. In this vein, people familiar with the foodscape of rural Mississippi are no doubt aware of the prevalence of gas station restaurants, where you can order a hot plate lunch at a walk-through line and sit down in a booth with a Styrofoam glass of tea, for under $10.00.

The ultimate example of this genre is Duett’s in Sebastopol, the little town in the corner of Leake and Scott counties, between Forest and Philadelphia on Hwy 492. Owned by Steve and Geraldine Duett, it is a large gas station and convenience store, with a large food line and seating area to match – both of which are needed to satisfy the customer demand. Steve is an excellent grillmaster, and puts those talents to use on Fridays with either chicken or ribs, to complement the universal Friday staple of fried catfish. I have also been told the chicken and dumplings on Thursday are a house specialty.

The customer demographics at Duett’s are quite interesting. The crowd was a microcosm of Mississippi ethnic diversity when I ate there a couple of months ago: white, African-American, Choctaw, and Vietnamese customers were all present, all eating the same type of food, all trying to make it through the lunch hour, before getting back at it to finish the day.

Another diamond in the rough is Urban Country Kitchen in Walnut Grove, just off Hwy 35 between Forest and Carthage, owned by Ms. Kashia Zollicoffer. I posted on Facebook about this joint after eating there several months ago. From what one of my bank sources tells me, it took 6th place in a Hell’s Kitchen competition several years ago. It’s another walk-through place, serving up heaping helpings of soul food in quantities that someone my age doesn’t need to consume.

And if that isn’t bad enough, Ms. Zollicoffer or her assistant will bring out your choice of dessert before you finish your initial round of gluttony. “Sinful” is the word that comes to mind. I’ve also been told that you don’t know what a neckbone is until you’ve sampled the one here. I haven’t had it, but if I do, I will make a supplemental filing on this issue.

The final place I want to mention in this installment is a restaurant my banker boys turned me onto about 5 years ago, that I had passed probably hundreds of times without ever noticing. I’m willing to bet the same goes for 99% of the people reading this. It is called Maydro’s and is located on the eastern edge of Scott County, at the intersection of Hwy 25 and Hwy 13. If you get to the Pearl River, you’ve gone about 100 yards too far. Maydro’s is owned by Robert “Pedro” Gill and is technically known as Maydro’s Seafood Kitchen, because it serves up a nighttime seafood buffet Thurs-Sun.

For road warrior purposes though, it is open for lunch on weekdays. The go-to specialty is the hamburger steak with onions, and a side of house fries. “Larapin,” as my friends from northeast Mississippi used to say, when describing delicious food. One note of warning though: they do not want you spitting in the sink in the rest room. They have a sign that tells you so, written on cardboard and taped on the wall.

One of the takeaways from this column should be that a steady diet from these establishments probably would not be good for your waistline or your cardiovascular health. They are worth visiting though, to get off the beaten path and to experience Mississippi on the front lines. What may not be good for your cholesterol level will be good for your intellect and soul. As in all things, moderation.