A Local’s Look at Food in NoFo
Story and photos by Chris Myers
Food comes up a lot when discussing Fondren. For the last fifteen years, the food culture has been one of the catalysts of the neighborhood’s development. Those discussions are typically focused in the downtown historic district of Fondren. It’s a big neighborhood, though, and if you venture up State Street, you’ll find a wide variety of food options in Broadmeadow/North Fondren, also known as NoFo (the official boundary is Northside Drive).
BIG APPLE INN
My first experience with Big Apple Inn was almost my last. I had heard its name mentioned around Jackson for my first few years here. I didn’t even know where Farish Street wasÂ then, much less its complicated history. My roommate came home with a greasy brown bag, pulled out a greasier wad of white paper, and shoved it in my face. It was my first encounter with the pig ear sandwich. At the time, I had yet to hear third generation owner Geno Lee wax poetic to Anthony Bourdain about his Mexican immigrant great-grandfather who made a living selling tamales on Farish Street in the 1930s. I had yet to hear him describe the frugality that led to the creation of his signature sandwich, the pig ear, to Andrew Zimmern. All I could think was that the texture was really strange.
People come from all over to try them, and everyone should try at least one – then, wash it down with its more palatable (and delicious) cousin, the smoke. It’s a small sandwich on a slider bun made by uncasing and grinding Red Rose sausage, sauteeing it on a griddle, thenÂ topping it with mustard slaw. Order them by heat, “hots” or “milds,” or run the risk of sounding like you don’t belong there. They have burger, bologna, and hot dog variations, as well, and the tamales that started it all.
In 2005, after the city started construction on Farish Street, Big Apple Inn was almost completely blocked off from its customers. Lee made the decision to open a temporary location in North Fondren at 4487 North State street to offset his losses. It quickly became a huge success and has been open ever since. You can call ahead, or order at the tiny window inside. Dining in is an option, but drinks only come from a machine in the corner. At $1.50 each, I’m prone to pick up a sackful of smokes to take to parties- half hot and half mild.
Gas station barbecue is a decidedly Southern phenomenon, and some of the best barbecue in Jackson can be found at the intersection of Northside Drive and the I-55 South Frontage Road, at the northern limit of Fondren. Taking a shortcut on McWillie behind Banner Hall to the Exxon station to pick up some ribs one Saturday a few years back, something caught my eye. In front of a previously empty building sat this 30 foot long beast of a black steel tank that had been converted into a smoker. It seemed a new barbecue spot was coming. Months and much speculation later, a foodie spy friend spotted smoke coming from the tank. There was no sign then. The smell of smoke led us there. It was Woodhouse Grill.
It is no-frills barbecue, meat flavored perfectly by fire and smoke and just enough sauce, served with two sides and a roll. Options typically include ribs, rib tips, wings, pork chops, sausage (beef or pork), and pork tenderloin. Sides include greens, mac & cheese, baked beans, potato salad, cole slaw, and fries.
If you feel the desire to eat immediately after getting your order, there’s a lounge in the back of the building. They don’t have a license to sell beer yet. Bring your own, or walk next door to one of the neighboring gas stations and pick up a cold one.
E-ZEE FISH & CHICKEN
Fish houses are like potholes in Jackson. They’re everywhere. I have no evidence to back this up, but I would make the claim that more pantrout is consumed within the Capital City than anywhere on Earth. People love fried fish – and shrimp, and potatoes, and chicken. If you want to open a restaurant that serves those things, you have to really step it up.
E-Zee Fish & Chicken is one of the new kids on the block and they do just that. The interior of the place is immaculate – so immaculate that one might mistake it for a national chain. The menu is extensive including everything from chicken wings, gizzards, catfish, pantrout, and oysters to nachos and a gyro plate. That’s right – a gyro plate. E-Zee is Syrian-owned. In addition to standard fried fare, you can find a few outliers like gyros and a case full of middle-eastern desserts, including baklava.
There’s plenty of room to dine inside the restaurant or outside on their large patio. All of the food is cooked to order, so if you’re in a hurry, be sure to call ahead.
When thinking of fried seafood takeout in Jackson, Ellis Seafood is an icon. Their flagship store on Ellis Avenue in West Jackson has been around a while, and its success led to another location on Woodrow Wilson and two in Memphis, which raises it to regional status. In 2015, the Nguyen family opened their doors on Meadowbrook in Fondren.
Fried seafood is their primary business, and they cook the standards well – catfish, pantrout, wings, shrimp, po-boys – but the owners aren’t content with just the standards. Seafood gumbo is an option, along with a recent addition of seasonal items like boiled crawfish, shrimp, and crab legs. Look off-menu at the counter, and there’s an array of Asian menu items including fried rice and broccoli beef.
The staff and management could not have been nicer when I went with a friend to try a good sampling of the menu. The woman behind the register was extremely helpful in guiding us to try all of her favorites. With such a varied menu comes a need for lots of sauces and condiments. They have everything, so don’t be afraid to ask. We left with two sacks full of food, a sack full of condiments, and a new go-to spot for the golden fried treats.