Updated: Apr 8, 2020
Nashville hot chicken is coated in hot sauce, then fried and topped with chopped pickles and black pepper ranch and served on white Bunny bread.
During these trying times, it’s important to focus on positive things that make us happy and if possible, include a good meal. A place that meets this criteria–and by the way, is still offering limited contact, take-out meals for one person or in family-to-go sizes–is Saltine in Jackson’s historic Fondren neighborhood. Like most of the state’s restaurants, curbside pick-up service is the only way to enjoy a Saltine meal during the current healthcare crisis. But when life returns to normal, I encourage you to visit and enjoy a leisurely meal in Saltine’s light and airy restaurant highlighted with both modern and historic touches from a 20th-century classroom.
Saltine is located in the former Duling Elementary School, which opened in 1927 to educate countless generations of Jackson school children. Closed in 2005, today the castle-like building is home to several shops, venue space, a church, and restaurants, including Saltine. The restaurant’s specialty may be oysters, but trust me when I say you’ll find much more than the loaded oyster bar on the menu. Everything from skillet cornbread to Nashville hot chicken to soups, salads, sandwiches, burgers, seafood, and everything in between can be enjoyed at this sophisticated restaurant with a charming neighborhood vibe.
Saltine’s red brick, castle-like exterior is a perfect complement to the historic Fondren neighborhood. Inside, an old classroom chalkboard lists daily specials and grade-school metal lockers have been repurposed as décor. Nostalgia aside, don’t let the quaint accoutrements create the illusion of stuffy, days-gone-by cuisine. Saltine’s chef puts a fresh, unique, and creative touch to dishes like goat cheese grits, bacon-wrapped meatloaf, and Cajun seafood pasta.
Saltine is open for both lunch and dinner, but I’ve only had occasion to dine at lunch. If you visit Saltine midday, you’ll be tempted to select one of the daily blue plate specials. For $10, entrees like red beans and rice, chicken fried chicken, pork chop, chopped steak, and catfish and hushpuppies rotate throughout the week and are served with cornbread and choice of two side.
Also on the menu are salads like the Saltine salad ($5-$9), seared yellowfin tuna ($15), alligator and andouille gumbo ($5-$9), lobster roll ($24), Saltine burger ($10-$12), Comeback chicken sandwich ($11), fried oyster and shrimp po’boys ($14.50), fried or blackened catfish ($12), and roast beef debris ($12), and fried or grilled chicken sandwich ($12).
Many Saltine regulars head straight to the oyster bar, where $14 brings a sample plate of a half-dozen oysters. There are also oysters Lafitte ($14) citrus butter ($12), and Bama barbecue ($12).
As expected, Saltine’s sides are creative, ranging from hushpuppies served with pickled red onions and tartar sauce ($6), goat cheese grits ($6), and Brussels sprouts ($8) with sweet chili sauce and peanuts to roasted sweet potato ($6) topped with coffee honey and white pepper crème fraiche.
A fun way to enjoy a light lunch is to order Saltine’s small plates ($11-$12) filled with everything from Nashville hot oysters to shrimp and lobster spring rolls to seared pork belly, crab and avocado toast, and smoked tuna dip.
If you have a little more time to linger, order one of Saltine’s delicious lunch entrées. Sadly, I can’t eat spicy foods, but my friends rave about Nashville hot chicken ($12). It’s a feast for the eyes and palate courtesy of perfectly-coated (with hot sauce, no less) fried chicken tenders topped with chopped pickles and black pepper ranch dressing, served on a stack of white Bunny bread. I know, it sounds incredulous that it’s one of Saltine’s most popular and eye-appealing dishes, but it really is.
My favorite lunch (or dinner) entrée is low country boil. A plate piled high with tangy Gulf shrimp, Andouille sausage, and corn that’s lightly seasoned with Creole spice, it’s the perfect antidote to the mid-week blues. At $13 for a half-dozen shrimp and $21 for a dozen, it’s a satisfying and economical mealtime feast.
There are also wood-fired Biloxi snapper ($24), grilled pork chop and potatoes ($26), bacon-wrapped meatloaf with potatoes and cabbage ($10), Gulf shrimp and grits ($12), and another of my favorites, Cajun seafood pasta ($17), among a list of others.
A visit to Saltine requires saving room for dessert. A crowd favorite composed of the world’s best ingredients is cinnamon roll cheesecake. Picture maple cinnamon cheesecake topped with a warm cinnamon roll, cream cheese glaze, bourbon caramel, and a graham cracker pecan crumble. It’s an irresistible combination that I’m hoping will travel well in a to-go box. I can’t imagine anyone passing this delicacy by, but if you do, other choices include s’more cake, banoffee pie, beer ice cream, and key lime tart.
Saltine Restaurant is located at 622 Duling Ave., Jackson. Curbside pick-up hours are 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. daily. Right now, dining in is not available.
Full menus are located on the website at jacksonsaltinerestaurant.com. Call 601-982-2899 to place an order for pick-up.
Kara Kimbrough is a freelance food and travel writer. Contact her at email@example.com.