Mississippi Homemade

fried chicken and sides at Mr. Bully's in Jackson, Mississippi

In a state rich with culture and history, you’ll find the Southern spirit alive and well in its restaurants.

Written by Julia Sayers

Mississippi has more flavors to offer than letters in its name; you’ll find Smoked Catfish Dip and Pimiento Cheese Fritters at Restaurant South in Tupelo and Duck Confit and Grilled Quail at City Grocery in Oxford. There are tapas bars and barbecue joints in Jackson and fresh seafood and sushi on the Gulf Coast. With a mix of cuisines and inventive cooking, we sometimes forget the simplicity and goodness of true home cooking. But Mississippi never did, and at the heart of its culinary heritage is no-frills, down-home Southern cooking.

In Tupelo, Beverly Blaylock runs Sweet Tea & Biscuits, a café known for its homemade dishes and desserts.

After 26 years of working in the furniture industry, Beverly decided to take a leap of faith and follow her dream of opening a café. She recruited her sister, Joan, and opened Sweet Tea & Biscuits two years ago in the same building as the Joyful Creations Gift Market, which is owned by a friend.

Sweet Tea and Biscuits restaurant in Tupelo, Mississippi

With individually decorated dining areas and warm greetings from employees, Sweet Tea & Biscuits feels homey and comforting. But what really makes the restaurant special is the time and love put into the food. Using their mother’s recipes, Beverly and Joan serve up homemade soups, sandwiches, daily specials, and desserts, all made by hand and from scratch. The signature soup is Baby Ruth’s Chicken Stew, named after their mother. With egg noodles, carrots, celery, and large chunks of white-meat chicken, you won’t find a single canned item in the soup.

“When we were growing up, we didn’t know about canned goods,” Beverly says. “We lived on a farm, so we always had meat in the freezer and fresh produce from the garden. Packaged foods weren’t required to make a homemade meal, and that’s how we do it here.”

You can taste more of their homemade goodness in the daily quiches, such as the Chicken, Cheddar, and Pecan Quiche, entrée specials, and Fried Green Tomato BLT, with pimiento cheese made with three cheeses.

And when you’re at Sweet Tea & Biscuits, you can’t pass up dessert. Joan makes Caramel Pie from a recipe she acquired from a coworker in the ‘70s, and you’ll also find rotating specials featuring Strawberry Cake, Coconut Pie, Chocolate Meringue Pie, and Banana Pudding. Buttermilk Pie is on the menu every day, and they often end up selling out of it thanks to loyal customers.

Beverly says she feels so blessed to have an outpouring of support from customers. There are the regular diners, such as a group of ladies who have been playing bridge together for more than 50 years and now play at the café, and the visiting ones like the Hot Springs Hotties, a group of jazzy older ladies who performed an impromptu serenade at the restaurant.

But Beverly knows she couldn’t do all this without the support of her sister, her husband, and her staff —most of whom she’s known for more than 30 years. Every day at 2 p.m., they all sit down to have lunch together. Sometimes customers will join them, as well.

“It’s our little family table,” Beverly says. “And we want our customers to feel like they’re part of that family. We’re having fun, and that’s the important thing.” 2025 McCullough Blvd., Tupelo, MS 38801

A few hours southwest of Tupelo, in the heart of the Delta, is another restaurant built on family traditions and values.

Established by Doe Signa in 1941, Doe’s Eat Place in Greenville has been run by the Signa family for more than 73 years, but its history began even before that. Doe’s father moved to Greenville in 1903 and opened a grocery store in the building that is home to the restaurant today.

Doe was working in the cafeteria of the local air force base in the late 1930s when someone gave him a recipe for hot tamales, and he brought it home to his wife, Mamie, who helped to doctor up the recipe. They began selling their hand-rolled, homemade tamales at the store around 1941, and that was the beginning of Doe’s.

Originally, the front part of the store operated as a honky-tonk, but Doe would cook steaks for a doctor friend in the back part of the store. However, as the doctor began bringing his friends, who began telling their friends, Doe realized he had a regular restaurant in operation. He closed the honky-tonk and focused primarily on the restaurant. In 1974, he retired and turned the business over to his sons, Big Charles and Little Doe, who now run it with their own sons.

Doe’s is still known for their tamales but has grown increasingly famous for their steaks. With a simple menu of tamales, chili, salad, spaghetti and meatballs, shrimp fried or broiled, and steaks, Doe’s focuses on what they do best. Choose from a Porterhouse/T-Bone (the original steak that started Doe’s), Ribeye, Filet Mignon, or a Sirloin—most of which are served in massive portions and can be shared between two to four people. The steaks are always juicy, flavorful, tender, and cooked perfectly to the temperature requested. When you’ve been doing something for 73 years, it’s hard to not have it down to a science.

steaks at Doe's Eat Place in Greenville, Mississippi

But don’t expect a fancy, white-linen tablecloth restaurant when you visit Doe’s. The restaurant is still located in the original store’s building, a tiny white house situated along the road. When you enter Doe’s, you walk right into the kitchen, where you can see the cooks grilling steaks, and through the kitchen to your red-checkered-tablecloth table. “It’s a family-run place,” Big Charles says. “Whenever you come in, there will always be some family member cooking.”

Aunt Flo is 88 years old and still working at the restaurant; the salads she makes are another Doe’s specialty, featuring just a simple dressing of olive oil, garlic, and fresh lemon juice. Big Charles, Little Doe, and their sons can be found cooking up steaks.

Not much has changed at Doe’s over the past 73 years—and that’s a good thing. The recipes have proven themselves successful, and Doe’s has shown that you don’t need a fancy place or an extensive menu to make good food. It’s simplicity at its fi nest, and it will be one of the best meals you’ll find this side of the Mississippi River.

“Doe’s and my sons are the third generation running this,” Big Charles says. “And as long as we still have customers coming in, we’re going to stay here and keep doing this as long as possible.” 502 Nelson St., Greenville, MS 38701

Continuing the tradition of using time-honored recipes is Bully’s Restaurant.

Advertising “Great Soul Food” in a tiny blink-and-you’ll-miss-it brick building on the outskirts of downtown Jackson, the wood-paneled walls of Bully’s are covered in photos of blues musicians, and the tables are set with sunflower placemats.

Owner Ballery Tyrone Bully, known as Mr. Bully, greets customers from the kitchen. He opened the restaurant in 1982 and has been serving up his feel-good, home-cooked soul food ever since. Mr. Bully’s father, WB Bully, had the idea for the restaurant when Mr. Bully was in his mid-20s. Their family owned a grocery store on the corner, and there were a lot of manufacturing plants in the area. WB Bully thought the workers could be serviced well through a restaurant, and Mr. Bully was happy to run it. They originally started as a short-order restaurant, but when one of the ladies in the neighborhood asked if they would hire her as a cook, Mr. Bully decided to start serving full meals.

It was just Mr. Bully and Ma Pearl, the cook, back in those days. Ma Pearl would do all the cooking, and Mr. Bully would help her out. Her recipes came from her mother and family and are still the recipes used today. And she took no shortcuts in her cooking.

“She didn’t give me any slack,” Mr. Bully says. “Whether you were washing the greens or cleaning the chickens, if you didn’t do it right, she would scold you.”

Ma Pearl is no longer there, but Mr. Bully says she still lives on in spirit. He buys only the freshest produce for the food and has relationships with local farmers to supply him with fresh collard greens, potatoes, squash, rutabaga, and whatever else is in season.

“You can tell a difference between fresh foods coming out of the field and what comes from the grocery store,” Mr. Bully says. “We want it to taste the best it can.”

fried chicken and sides at Mr. Bully's in Jackson, Mississippi

The food is true soul food at Bully’s. The menu features Smothered Oxtails, Southern Fried Catfish, Chitterlings, and Beef Tips with Rice. Each day there are daily specials including Red Beans with Rice on Tuesdays and Meat Loaf on Fridays. You can always get the Southern Vegetable Plate (try the collards, fried okra, sweet potatoes, and mac and cheese—yes, that’s a vegetable in the South) or order Fried Chicken on the lunch menu. It’s perfectly fried so the meat stays moist and juicy and has a crisp, golden crust that’s not too heavy. Each meal is served with a corn muffin. The good soul food, coupled with the time and attention put into each recipe, is what keeps people coming back to Bully’s over and over. “We built our business on the mantra, ‘Do a good job, do it well, and people will come,’” Mr. Bully says. “We treat people the way we want to be treated.”

Mr. Bully’s words embody what Mississippi does best: providing people with hospitality through food, time, and love. They’ve kept this Southern spirit alive in their restaurants, and the commitment to providing truly homemade food to all who visit is what will keep this state’s Southern food culture prospering year after year. 3118 Livingston Rd., Jackson, MS 39213

What are hot tamales?

hot tamales common in the Mississippi Delta

The Mississippi Delta region is known for their hot tamales. While no one knows for sure how they came about, it’s speculated that they were first introduced by migrant workers from Mexico who were brought in to help harvest cotton in the early 20th century. Most tamales consist of ground pork and masa dough, but recipes vary place to place—some use beef, some chicken. Some are spicy, some mild; some are wrapped in cornhusks, and others in parchment paper.

Other Great Mississippi Eats

You can find a variety of foods throughout the many different regions of Mississippi. Here are some more of our favorites eateries.

Restaurant South
1010 North Gloster St., Tupelo, MS 38804
Flavor: Modern Southern Cuisine
What to Order: South Fritter Trio

City Grocery
152 Courthouse Sq., Oxford, MS 38655
Flavor: Fine Southern Dining
What to Order: Shrimp and Grits

Brent’s Drugs
655 Duling Ave., Jackson, MS 39216
Flavor: Old-Fashioned Soda Shop
What to Order: Malt Down Milkshake

CJ’s Seafood House
1618 Bienville Blvd., Ocean Springs, MS 39564
Flavor: Gulf Coast Seafood
What to Order: Seafood Platter

French Kiss Pastries
714 Washington Ave., Ocean Springs, MS 39564
Flavor: Bakery and Pastry Shop
What to Order: Macarons

Photos courtesy of Sweet Tea & Biscuits, Visit Mississippi, and Greenville-Washington County CVB

This content was originally published in the March/April 2015 issue of Cooking with Paula Deen magazine. © 2015 Hoffman Media