When a restaurant on the highway advertises its wares with a intriguing combination that includes, but is not limited to, “smoked chicken and ribs, general store, plants, tomatoes, and homemade cakes,” you know you’re in Mississippi. More specifically, you’ve stumbled upon a good place to stop, stretch your legs, and enjoy a down-home meal. As spring and summer travel begins, it’s good to know such places exist. Since I’m a frequent traveler of the state’s highways, I’ll periodically share my picks for places to eat and experience a little southern culture along the way.
A good place to start is Shady Acres Village, a sprawling food and yard/garden compound just south of the Seminary exit on U.S. Highway 49. It’s an interesting place to visit any time of year, but especially during warmer months when the nursery adjacent to the general store, bakery, café, and gift shop is filled with blooming plants and flowers. The ancillary departments are fun to peruse, but it’s the rustic café with a screened porch overlooking the busy highway that draws a steady crowd of visitors around lunchtime six days a week.
Hungry for a taste of southern cooking courtesy of juicy pieces of fried chicken or pork chops, highlighted by sides of okra and tomatoes, turnip greens, black-eyed peas, and squash? Or maybe a big juicy slab of ribs, baked beans and cole slaw is more to your liking. Believe it or not, a café on the side of the highway with the word “village” at the end of its name can adequately quell both sets of cravings.
Shady Acres offers a daily blue plate special served cafeteria style with a choice of one meat, two sides and cornbread or roll. On my most recent visit, I arrived a little late for lunch. That’s never a good idea at this busy place whose parking lot stays packed with vehicles with car tags from counties around the state and country. The smoked chicken I’d planned to order was running low, and I wasn’t in the mood for chicken spaghetti, so I chose smoked ribs. The ribs were, as advertised, smoky and delicious. With a splash of barbecue sauce, they rivaled the ribs I’d sampled at genuine barbecue restaurants.
Shady Acres provides a chance to sit back and relax in comfortable seating courtesy of cozy booths and wooden tables that easily seat one or a large party. The wood walls are filled with kitschy, vintage décor. However, the main draw is a southern-style lunch that’s not overly greasy or fattening as some are predisposed to be.
While most expect to find typical roadside food when they enter the wooden doors, they are surprised to find expertly prepared meat, vegetables, and desserts that, as stated, aren’t coated with the expected amount of oil, breading or other unhealthy ingredients that often accompany blue plate lunches.
Besides the specials on the day I visited, other entrees that rotate during the week include fried or smothered chicken, fried catfish, smoked or fried pork chops, and beef tips. Along with your favorite vegetables and a “bottle Coke,” it’s a lunch that far surpasses anything you’ll find at the drive-through.
Shady Acres’ menu also includes a variety of homemade appetizers, ranging from fried green tomatoes to fries covered with gravy and onions and a crowd favorite, “piggy piggy nachos.” Also on the menu are burgers, including the “Shady Acres Old Fashion Burger” and a bacon cheddar burger. The sandwich menu is filled with pulled pork, chicken salad, and Philly steak and cheese offerings. If you’ve skipped breakfast, try the “The Big Shady,” a massive bun filled with pulled pork, homemade barbecue sauce and coleslaw.
On the lighter side, Shady Acres has a variety of meat-based and vegetable salads that are a meal unto themselves.
Rounding out the menu are kids’ meals, a variety of beverages and to top off the meal, slices of homemade cake or pie or a serving of banana pudding.
After lunch, I wandered over the wood floor to the adjacent bakery, filled with the delicious aroma of towering layer cakes and pies. Italian cream cheese, red velvet, German chocolate and coconut cakes are just a few of the delicious cakes that are packed and ready to travel with you. Nearby, fresh vegetables are piled in perfect precision, while around the corner, a spacious gift shop is filled with Shady Acres’ own jellies, jams, and pickles as well as a variety of gift items.
As you head to the car, you’ll be tempted to stop at look through the nearby nursery’s assortment of hanging plants, flowers and yard art.
As I checked out the bakery delicacies, a sweet treat I hadn’t seen before, pecan chess squares, caught my eye. Later, I couldn’t get those delicious-looking squares off my mind. A quick search of my files uncovered a similar recipe. I’m not sure if the finished product was as good as Shady Acres’ squares. I may have to return to make sure.
Springtime Cream Cheese Pecan Squares
1 box yellow cake mix
1 cup pecans, chopped and lightly toasted
1 stick of butter, melted
1 (8-ounce) bar cream cheese, softened
Pound of confectioner’s sugar
Heat oven to 325 degrees F. Line a 13-by-9-inch pan with foil, crisscross fashion, and allow long ends to hang over sides. Lightly spray foil with Bake Easy or other flour-based cooking spray.
In a mixing bowl, combine cake mix, pecans, butter and one of the eggs until well blended. Press mixture in bottom of pan.
In another bowl, beat remaining two eggs, cream cheese and confectioner’s sugar with mixer on medium speed until smooth. Pour over cake mix base.
Bake 40 minutes or until firm. Cool completely on cooling rack. Remove by pulling up foil edges and cut into squares.
Shady Acres Café is open from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., while the remaining village shops are open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Everything is closed on Sunday. Located at 624 Highway 49 in Seminary at the south end of Covington County. If you’re traveling south on Highway 49, you’ll pass the main Seminary exit and travel a few miles until you see it on the left. If you see the Forrest County sign, you’ve gone too far. For more information or to check daily specials, call 601-722-4114.