Meandering down the long stretch of Lakeland Drive, local gems inconspicuously blend into the chain restaurant landscape like deer in the woods. You know they are there but it takes focused determination to hunt them down.
Eslava’s Grille occupies the shell of a former fast food restaurant, mixed in with the likes of Primo’s, Saigon, Fusion, Grant’s Kitchen and Table 100 from Jackson to Flowood. The former chef from AJ’s on Lakeland (the lakeside location closed) took off on his own and has operated Eslava’s for just over a year.
Similarly as hearing about a book I’d like to read and then promptly forgetting the title, I had wanted to eat at Eslava’s but it escaped my mind time and time again.
Recently my husband ate lunch there and I snagged a highly discounted certificate on the Restaurant.com website, which was a perfect reason to go back for dinner. The weekend rolled around and we took off for a date night.
Upon entering we saw a fairly full dining room, open doors and no host or hostess. We looked around aimlessly – wondering if we should sit or wait – and were rescued by other patrons who said we seat ourselves. A waitress rushed by shortly after and apologized for the confusion. She came back and promptly took our order of crab cakes, salad, Red Fish for me and Cajun Pasta for him.
Inhaling a basket of warm, buttery crostini with the kitchen in full view, we set in for our leisurely meal.
All four of the listed appetizers sounded great, but the other three might have been better options than the average crab cakes. Their version was thick, lightly breaded, accompanied by a light mango salsa and plated on a creamy sauce. The fresh green side salad was unembellished and came with a lovely house-made vinaigrette.
When my entree was set before me, I couldn’t help but observe how brown and one dimension the plate was. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the large portion of fish prepared with restraint and a dash of lemon, absent of a heavy sauce or pools of butter. It was served with roasted potatoes and an overcooked yellow squash/zucchini medley on the side, which is how Southerners seem to like them. On the other hand my husband’s pasta was plum full of seafood and had a muted spicy kick. After one good dash of salt, I kept sticking my fork in his bowl in return for my vegetables.
We had pleasant, if not slightly drawn out service, because there seemed to be only two people working the dining room besides the cooks. This might have been amended since we dined there, but they need a standing sign near the door instructing people to seat themselves. We observed many parties come in with confused faces. It’s a very small detail but one that could be of great help.
For generous portions and fresh seafood, the prices are fair. If you’re curious to try it for yourself, consider buying a certificate from Restaurant.com because our meal of one appetizer and two entrees was still over $40 after saving $25. I’d like to return for the avocado salsa, pasta or fried green tomatoes and crab meat sauce. And unbeknownst to us, apparently it is a BYOW establishment that other tables were happily taking part of.
Due to the simplicity, you might have the same thought as I did, that I could have made this at home. However, when you don’t feel like cooking, search out Eslava’s bright sign for a solid seafood meal.
2481 Lakeland Drive
Jackson, MS 39216
I’ve eaten the best burger Franklin County has to offer.
The number of items we forgot on our camping trip was ridiculously long and included lunch. We had no lunch! How this was overlooked is as dumbfounding as color safe bleach, and why I created a camping checklist.
Hungry and rapidly approaching the Homochitto National Forest, desperation set in because the pickings are slim the closer you get to the campsite. We were almost reduced to gas station food, when my husband recalled seeing a place boasting of having the best burger. It was a challenge and a promise.
Drive slowly and don’t blink, or you might miss the Tastee Shack sitting directly south of highway 84. Located near the border of Franklin County, it’s most definitely a shack. A bright yellow sign announces their charge of having, “The best burger in the county!” but we were going to see about that.
Similar to most road food establishments, two local ladies serve up hamburgers, cheeseburgers, chicken tenders and just about any other fried item you can think of. My husband got a double cheeseburger and regular french fries, while I opted for the single hamburger fully dressed, without mayonnaise (remember, I’m a Northerner) and curly fries.
It must be a popular place because within the short span we were waiting for our food six more people came through. The shack has two small tables for dining in but we took our food to go and headed to the forest.
Unwrapping my white paper bag, I did indeed find a terrific hamburger. Contrary to the dark crust on the meat, the patty inside was surprisingly juicy. It has an ample amount of toppings including pickles, onion, iceberg lettuce, tomato and mustard. Both types of fries were satisfactory and needed salt. I had a Diet Coke but a milkshake probably would have been stellar.
It may be the only burger I’ve eaten in Franklin County, to which I can say, it’s definitely the best.
12209 Highway 84 West
Roxie, MS 39661
This list consists solely of places I’ve eaten at, but there are numerous places I still want to try. Due to where I work, many of these restaurants are located downtown or in Fondren. Click the restaurant name for the website. Click the read more link to read my restaurant story.
1. Sal and Mookies | $5.50 lunch special
For some reason, I think the pizza tastes better at lunch but maybe it’s the dirt cheap price. The lunch special consists of a slice of pizza and your choice of a side salad, soup or french fries. The daily slice offerings include a white sauce slice, red sauce slice and vegetarian. An additional slice will only set you back $2.50. Read more…
2. Walker’s Drive-In | $8 blue plate (price on site is outdated)
If you are a fan of Walker’s but don’t have a mint to spend, eat there at lunchtime instead of dinner. The same blue plate specials are repeated weekly and you get an entree, two vegetables, cornbread and salad. At the same price you can get the vegetable plate (four veggies), cornbread and salad. Read more…
3. Brent’s Drugs | $3.50 burger and chips
A single hamburger is a mere $3.50, which leaves plenty of room to splurge on a small cherry limeade ($2) or chocolate milk shake ($3). All of the burgers and sandwiches come with chips or you can upgrade to french fries for $2 more. Read more…
4. Ding How Asian Bistro | $5.50 – $7.25 lunch special
Besides being one of my favorite restaurants, Ding How has a great lunch deal where you can get an entree, soup or salad, and steamed or fried rice. Read more…
5. Mr. Chen’s | $6.50 – $7.50 lunch special
If you can’t get up to Ding How, Mr. Chen’s has an equally good lunch deal including an entree, egg roll and streamed or fried rice. It’s the ideal opportunity to try their dishes on the cheap. Read more…
6. Steve’s Downtown Deli | $6.50 plate lunch
Head downtown to Steve’s for lunch because it’s the only time it’s open! He offers the same plate lunch specials on a weekly basis, in addition to sandwiches, quiche and soup (go for the Senegalese Peanut Chicken). Read more…
7. Soulshine Pizza Factory | $5.95 – $9.99 lunch special
If you are budget conscious get the one-topping, eight inch pizza and drink, but if you are looking to splurge add on a side salad or cup of the addictive crawfish soup.
8. Farmer’s Market Grill | $5 – $7.25 plate lunch
Unknown to many, the farmer’s market has a small restaurant inside offering up terrific daily lunch specials where you get your choice of entree, three vegetables, bread and a drink. The vegetable place includes three vegetables, bread and iced tea for $6.75, or a hamburger, french fries and drink costs around $5. Read more…
9. Peaches | $6-$8 plate lunch
This isn’t your ordinary plate lunch. Serving up soul food, Peaches is a downtown institution revered by many. So do likewise and grab lunch which includes a meat, two sides and dessert.
10. Rooster’s | $7.50 – $10.50
Occasionally only a good burger or chicken sandwich will do and this is the place to go. The hamburgers and chicken sandwiches range from $5.50-$7.75 and a side of curly fries or onion rings will cost you $2-$2.75. They also offer other hot plates, hamburger steaks and salads. Read more…
Great Buffets to Fill Up At
Mama Hamil’s serves up Southern cookin’ for $8.95 per person
Petra Cafe offers Mediterranean and Greek fare for $9.99 per person , $12.99 on the weekend
Spice Avenue has fine Indian cuisine for $9.99 per person
If gas was cheaper and I had a free weekend, it’s almost worth the hour and a half drive for Bianchi’s Pizzeria.
During our travels we occasionally pass through Hattiesburg and need to eat. On our latest trip Ben insisted we take a break at Bianchi’s. He could inhale nearly an entire pizza about every other day if I let him.
We drove downtown and walked into a quiet, empty dining room, which wasn’t a surprised at 2 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon. Needless to say we had great service, but it was such an off time.
Bypassing the lengthy list of gourmet pizzas, we opted for a basic style pizza Margherita. Much like the strong, simple flavors of Domenica but on a different crust, Bianchi’s has a marvelous Pizza Greco consisting of basil, tomato & fresh buffalo mozzarella cheese. Sweet, salty and deliciously gooey, this pizza momentarily took us back to Italy.
I’m afraid the other pizzas might have too much going on and we hadn’t been as impressed before when we’ve tried other versions. Go with the Greco. Throwing on the addition of pepperoni put us back about $23 for one large pizza ($20 plus $2 for an extra topping). It’s not inexpensive, but quality is worth the cost.
Giving in to my massive sweet tooth, I also ordered an ice cream sandwich for dessert. Constructed from three chocolate/anise waffle cookies with house-made white chocolate ice cream, I caved like a kid at a candy bowl. The cookies were softer than I expected and would have liked, but it didn’t last long.
We enjoyed our pizza and merrily went about our way.
128 East Front Street
Hattiesburg, MS 39401
A dairy bar is my kind of bar.
Due to Ben’s family ties, once in awhile we find ourselves cruising along Highway 25 to Carthage, Mississippi. Carthage is a typical small town with a population less than 5,000. They have a square, a Wal*Mart, quiet neighborhoods and most notably, the Crest View Dairy Bar.
The Dairy Bar has been in business for over 60 years and is a fixture on the side of Highway 16. I believe the same establishment has been passed down within the Watkins family, and the oldest Watkins daughter still works there today.
On our most recent stop, I was really hungry. We convened at lunch time, ordered big and our group of ten easily overwhelmed the staff. The wait for our food was a bit longer since they moved at their usual leisurely amble.
I got a hamburger, tater tots, strawberry shake and may have swiped a few of Ben’s curly fries…and one of his aunt’s offered me a chicken finger. I didn’t want to be rude and turn it down. No crumb was left behind.
The burgers are fairly large, hand-pattied, well-dressed and so greasy you can see through the wax paper it’s wrapped in. Tater tots are irresistible when I come across them and these were a perfectly crisp, golden brown. However, the best part might have been slurping up the creamy, fresh shake with an occasional strawberry clogging up the straw. Be sure to get ice cream, because in lieu of air conditioning the restaurant has fans.
They also serve sandwiches, chicken livers, gizzards, chicken-on-a-stick, homemade pies, sundaes and nearly any fried side item you can think of.
If you are looking for a meal which includes fried foods, batter, saturated fats or grease, look no further because this is the place. Do you see the glossy sheen on the hamburger bun?
Since I find nothing wrong with indulging in any (or all) of these four food groups on occasion, I welcome these sporadic road trips.
Crest View Dairy Bar
102 Highway 16 West
Carthage, MS 39051