Blue Plate Highways: Adventures in Gastronomy in Rural Mississippi

Blue Plate Highways

Chad Hammons

Article by Chad Hammons Featured Author


Hub Grub

Like other states and countries, Mississippi has its share of towns and cities with identifying nicknames. Even though Paris may be “the City of Lights” and Los Angeles “the City of Angels,” Meridian is “the Queen City,” and Vicksburg is “the Red Carpet City.” Our very own Jackson has had multiple focus-group driven handles, including the “Bold New City,” and the “City of Grace and Benevolence. 2” The current Chamber of Commerce sloganeering has apparently settled on “the City with Soul.”

Of all the cities in Mississippi with nicknames though, perhaps the best known is Hattiesburg, and its sobriquet, “the Hub City.” The nickname originally alluded to its status as a railroad intersection, but now also encompasses its identity as a major highway crossroads, with Highways 49, 98, and 11 intersecting, along with Interstate 59.

Hattiesburg is a county seat and the site of a United States District Courthouse. United States Bankruptcy Judge Katharine Samson also holds court there once a month, and various bankruptcy trustees hold Section 341 meetings there as well. Hattiesburg also sits midway between Jackson and the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

With all of this going on, there are ample opportunities for CABA attorneys and others to dine in Hattiesburg after a morning court appearance or while driving to/from the coast. Downtown Hattiesburg offers multiple options for grabbing a quick bite when time-crunched to get back to Jackson or back to court for the afternoon.

A particularly easy place to get in and out of in less than an hour is Grateful Soul, located at 205 Main Street, a few blocks down from both the state and federal courthouses. Grateful Soul is basically a walk-through meat ‘n three, with cold ice tea, and a vibe that is part Jerry Garcia, part Jerry Clower (HAWWWWW!). Lunch is very reasonable, and comes with dessert. The pork chop is excellent, and tomato pie is a must, if it’s on the menu that day. Grateful Soul is really good when you are in court, and have a short break for lunch. You can get there in a couple of minutes, go through the line, and get back to court on time. Or if you are done for the day, you can ease down there, have lunch, and keep on truckin’ back to Jackson.

If you are going to or from the coast, and take the bypass around Hattiesburg, options abound for pulling off I-59 and grabbing lunch. If you are looking for fine dining for either lunch or dinner, Robert St. John’s The Purple Parrot is the go-to place. It is located between Highway 49 and I-59, just off the Hardy Street exit, at 3810 Hardy Street, where it shares a building with Crescent City Grill, which is good, but more of a bar and grill. If you are in the mood for Italian, St. John also owns and operates Tabella’s, in the shopping center immediately behind Purple Parrot and Crescent City Grill. All are great choices.

Even though I like all of these places and will definitely dine at all of them again in the future, I recently discovered a true jewel in the road that will now be a regular installment in my Highway 49 travels. Since I began writing this column, several people had mentioned this place to me, but to a person, none could remember its name. They all referred to it as “the hole in the wall Thai place” or some variant thereof.

Sure enough, it has an actual name. It is called Jutamas, and is located at 910 Timothy Lane in Hattiesburg. “Where?” you might ask. Good question. If you are going south, stay on Highway 49 through Hattiesburg until you get to the southern part of town. If you get to the railroad overpass crossing 49, you’ve gone a bit too far. You will turn left on West Pine Street, otherwise known to Hub City locals as “dealership row,” because of the large number of car dealers located on that stretch. 3

Once you turn on West Pine, you will go down a little less than a mile, and then turn left. Jutamas will be on the right. 4 Unlike our own Thai Time here in Jackson, it is not a buffet. Like all Thai restaurants, the Pad Thai is a staple. I had the Drunken Noodles when I visited there with my friend Bryan Buckley, who is now taking on the criminal element in Forrest County, after doing so for many years in the Jackson metro area. The noodles were excellent, as were the spring rolls and soup. 5

This is just a sampling of the choices available in Hattiesburg. There is also a relatively new development on Hardy Street within walking distance of USM that has several options, including an Asian restaurant, a diner, and other choices. A sequel could be in the offing. Until then, drive safely and sample the local cuisine when you can.

  1. Chad Hammons is a partner at Jones Walker LLP.
  2. Which prompted a former law partner and me to refer to it instead as “the City of Mace and Malevolence.”
  3. This is a great example of what urban sociologists call “commensalistic clustering,” where groups of similar businesses cluster together and in effect “brand” their area. I mention this primarily because I taught a class in urban sociology years ago, and the field needs all the PR it can get.
  4. There is another location on Highway 98. I have not tried it, but will do so, and will report back in a future column.
  5. I still maintain though that the best Asian soup around is the won-ton soup at Mr. Chen’s in Jackson.