Tamales are the ultimate portable food. Just think about it – they come equipped with a moist, edible wrapper and are succinctly packed with ground meat and spices offering easy-eating courtesy of a built-in corn husk holder. Some are thin and fragile, breaking apart when unwrapped. Others are thick and spongy, packing a delicious punch of meat and flavor in each bite. And a few varieties are dense and chewy. Despite the differences in the spicy, rectangular treats, most are assembled with corn flour dough rolled around a spicy filling steamed in a corn husk or wrapped in parchment paper.
One of my favorite places to get my tamale fix is Tony’s Tamales in Ridgeland. Since 1982, the Mosley family has sold thousands of homemade tamales using a secret recipe of made-from-scratch ingredients. Besides its signature drive-through restaurant on Old Canton Road, Tony’s Tamales can now be found in supermarkets like Walmart, Kroger, McDade’s, and Whole Foods, along with a list of Jackson-area restaurants who prefer to let the Mosley prepare the tamales on their menu.
The company’s history is almost as rich as its spicy tamale filling. Nearly 40 years ago, Robert Mosley had the idea of bringing tamales made by hand in the Mississippi Delta to the state’s capital. He began serving his delicious tamales in a small restaurant on Delta Drive in Jackson. As the Tony’s Tamales restaurant and brand grew, Mosley and his wife, Patricia, decided to relocate the business to a larger facility on Livingston Road.
After branching out as a restaurant supplier and relocating yet again, the company made the final move to the current location on Old Canton Road in 2011. There’s no dining area, yet customers appear to be satisfied with placing an order at the drive-through window as long as they have a sack of hot, steaming tamales to take home to the dinner table, tailgate party, and even special occasions like wedding receptions and Christmas parties.
“If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” absolutely applies to tamales, said second-generation tamale purveyor Reginald Mosley. More than three decades after his father, Tony, opened his namesake tamale shop on Livingston Road in Jackson, the younger Mosley says the company is still using the same recipe, rolling method and steaming technique that built Tony’s reputation as the go-to place for tamales in Jackson.
“My dad’s customers loved his tamales, so there was no need for a major change when I got involved in the business,” Mosley said. “The restaurant has moved from Livingston Road to Woodrow Wilson to our Ridgeland location, but our tamales taste the same as they did when my dad began making them.”
Loyal customers agree that Tony’s tamales are not in need of “fixing.” Ordering a dozen or more to go - is a regular occurrence for customers who, like me often need a tamale fix. Filled with a special blend of spices and rolled not in masa but a special cornmeal blend, the tasty creations made a seamless, early switch from ground beef to turkey.
“We began using ground turkey to make them a little healthier,” explains Mosley. “To be honest, nobody seemed to notice. We kept the same great flavor and simply replaced beef with turkey. It’s really the combination of spices, the cornmeal, and our way of steaming (the tamales) that makes them unique and delicious.”
Tony’s tamales can be order mild or spicy to please both palates. A dozen tamales are $11.21, while a half dozen are $7.48. Diners can select a chili cheese sauce to pour over their tamales, but for most folks, Tony’s tamales need nothing extra. They’re perfect served unadorned, hot and juicy, right from the steamer. If dinner is delayed, the vacuum-packed tamales can be placed in the refrigerator, then popped into a pan of boiling water and steamed for 10 minutes or microwaved for a few minutes to a perfect steaminess.
For those in the mood for something besides tamales, there are similar spicy, made-from-scratch items on the menu. A favorite selection is red, bean and rice ($7), a dish Pat Mosley says is made from, “the best recipe ever.” There’s also gumbo ($8.41 for a bowl; $15.50 for a quart); taco soup ($5.41) and a combination dinner of chili, cheese, onions and tamales ($8.41).
According to Pat Mosley, Tony’s Tamales are popular year-round, but never more than from now until the end of the year.
“People love to pick up several dozen tamales to take to their tailgate parties in the fall,” she said. “They’re the perfect delicious, yet easy dish. And, they’re in demand for holiday parties and special dinners. Everyone loves them, no matter their age. They’re simply delicious and easy to serve and eat. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Tony’s Tamales is located at 6961 Old Canton Road in Ridgeland. Hours of operation are Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. Call 601-899-8885 to place a pick-up order. Visit their website here.