It’s a hot summer day in 1962 in Jackson, Mississippi. Skeeter races into Brent's busy soda fountain area. Hilly and Elizabeth await Skeeter's arrival in a booth. Elizabeth slides a coke float in front of Skeeter. A waiter, Henry, approaches the table. “I made you an egg and olive on rye, Miss Skeeter,” says Henry. Skeeter smiles. “Oh, thank you, Henry. You remembered.”
The scenario above, paraphrased from the actual movie script, was transformed into a short scene in the movie, The Help, that may have gone unnoticed by most of the world. However, it was watched over and over by Mississippians, thousands of whom grew up slipping into the same aqua and white leather booths as the ones Skeeter, played by actress Emma Stone, and her friends occupied in the hit movie.
What is real is the location in which this scene and another featuring Skeeter eating a meal at Brent’s famous linoleum lunch counter as Henry quietly tells her she “best get over to Miss Aibileen's house. Now.”
Like many iconic Mississippi locations, Brent’s Drugs is one of those places tourists around the U.S. and other countries visit in order to “sit where Skeeter and her friends sat” and to sample an egg and olive sandwich accompanied by a cherry limeade. However, surprisingly, many Mississippians, and even some Jacksonians, have never stopped by Brent’s to experience it firsthand.
If you’re in this group, I encourage you to make a visit to Brent’s a priority the next you’re near the Fondren area of Jackson. Better yet, plan a trip for no other reason than to see this Jackson treasure that’s been serving up sandwiches, burgers, onion rings, milkshakes, and limeades since 1946.
Brent’s Drugs opened its doors in October 1946 when the Morgan Center, the first shopping center in Mississippi, opened. It later became Woodland Hills Shopping Center. Pharmacist Alvin Brent decided a pharmacy and soda fountain was needed in the Fondren neighborhood. From day one, Brent’s was a successful pharmacy and a popular gathering place for friends and neighbors.
Following ownership changes and the closing of the pharmacy in 2009, the kitchen was moved to the pharmacy area. In 2014, a renovation project added modern restaurant touches without removing the charm and cozy features beloved by generations of Jacksonians.
The soda fountain and classic bar stools remain in the original 1946 location. Linoleum tables and aqua and white leather booths still beckon diners into the cozy space that has been attracting diners to Brent’s for decades.
Just as the décor looks frozen in time to a bygone era, today, general manager Sarah Friedler is content to offer menu offerings that are, with a few minor updates, the same as those served in 1946.
“Our feeling is, if something is working and people love it, why change it?” said Friedler. “Besides tourists from around the world that saw The Help and travel to Jackson to see Brent’s and sit in the booth where the actors sat, we are at the center of many people’s childhood memories of growing up in Jackson. For them, it’s a special place they’ll never forget.”
Friedler said generations of the same families come in and enjoy telling staff how they were once the children that were brought there by grandparents to eat at the lunch counter or get a milkshake. Now, they are grandparents or great-grandparents and bring new generations to Brent’s to sit on the same stool or in the same booth they did as children.
“It’s so obvious by the way they speak of this place that Brent’s holds so many wonderful memories for people in Jackson and all over the country,” said Friedler. “Brent’s is a favorite lunch spot for groups of high school and college friends who still get together every year and in some cases, every week. They love the fact that at least one thing in their lives has not changed over the years."
Brent’s does an admirable job of preserving the past, both with its original seating and collection of advertisements and artifacts from the past scattered around the room. However, let’s be honest. The crowds would dwindle if the food wasn’t good. I wasn’t around in 1946, but I can attest that in 2018, Brent’s food is worth the drive from almost anywhere.
First, let me say that I’m not an egg lover. Eating a boiled egg is my idea of torture. However, Brent’s famous egg and olive sandwich ($7, pictured right), made with the original recipe, is the exception to this rule. I’m not sure how it's made, but it doesn’t taste like boiled eggs. Yes, I know they’re in there. But the flavors are intermingled so well with diced olives and, I’m assuming, a blend of mayonnaise, maybe mustard and pickle juice…but who really knows? It’s a secret and after 72 years, I’m sure it will remain that way.
Several menu items have withstood the test of time and remain on Brent’s menu. One is the Brent’s burger ($9 dressed; $12 with bacon or fried egg). According to Friedler, it remains the best-selling item on the menu. Adding bacon and egg on top of the burger patty is a long-time tradition that has withstood changing times.
Other popular items are the patty melt ($9), another old-school sandwich that remains a favorite; grilled cheese ($6.50), BLT ($7), club ($8.50), chicken sandwich ($9.50), Philly cheesesteak ($11), and a modern addition, the veggie burger ($11). Sandwiches are served with chips, house-cut fries, onion rings, fruit or potato salad.
Besides serving up classic salads on a bun, Brent’s offers the same ingredients on a bed of lettuce and tomatoes. In addition to egg and olive, there’s tuna, pimento cheese, and chicken salad, all for $4 per scoop. A salad sampler composed of three scoops of diners’ favorite classics is $9.50.
Brent’s cheese soup and Texas chili ($3 for a cup, $6 for a bowl) are served up for those seeking comfort food in a bowl.
Breakfast is another way to experience Brent’s. Try a Brent’s biscuit sandwich ($5) filled with fried chicken, sausage, or fried egg and cheese. Or, select an omelet ($7), buttermilk pancakes ($7.50), breakfast melt ($5), breakfast tacos ($7), or granola parfait ($7).
A visit to Brent’s isn’t complete without a stop by the old-fashioned soda fountain. A variety of flavored milkshakes ($4 to $5) can be made to your specifications, along with sundaes ranging from banana split to hot fudge ($4 to $6), root beer and Coke floats ($4), and scoops of ice cream ($3).
And it isn’t just the food and soda foundation that attract the multitudes to Brent’s. Old-fashioned cherry limeades filled with homemade syrup ($3), cherry Cokes ($2) and other drinks from a bygone era are the perfect antidote to a hot summer day.
Children have always been some of Brent’s biggest fans. This fact hasn’t changed over the years. While the adults dine on their favorite items, children under 12 can enjoy smaller portions of burgers, grilled cheese, hot dogs and buttermilk pancakes ($6.50).
On weekends, Brent’s kicks it up a notch with special brunch items from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Chicken and waffles ($12), French toast ($8) and brunch patty melt ($10) join many of the weekday’s regular breakfast items on the brunch menu.
Brent’s is located at 655 Duling Ave. in Jackson. Hours are Monday through Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Friday, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.;
Saturday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Phone: (601) 366-3427