by Kara Kimbrough
It appears Mississippi is emerging from the worst of the pandemic that began a year ago. Almost no segment of the retail industry is more grateful for a return to normalcy than restaurants. After shutting down indoor dining and reducing other services, many Mississippi restaurants are ecstatic to be offering on-site dining again, along with takeout options.
Jackson’s Saltine, located in the historic Fondren district, is an example of a restaurant that’s not only grateful, but flourishing as more Jacksonians and city visitors flock to the light and airy eatery located in the former Duling Elementary School. Health and safety precautions are still in place, but guests are enjoying dining inside or on the adjacent patio.
The restaurant’s specialty may be oysters, but there’s more on the menu than the loaded oyster bar. Everything from skillet cornbread to Nashville hot chicken to soups, salads, sandwiches, burgers, seafood and other delicacies in between can be enjoyed at this sophisticated restaurant with a charming neighborhood vibe.
An old classroom chalkboard reminiscent of school days gone by 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, as well as Sunday brunch, 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, sandwiches and poboys like the Saltine salad ($5 to $9), seared yellowfin tuna ($15), alligator and andouille gumbo ($5 to $9), lobster roll ($24), Saltine burger ($10 to $12), Comeback chicken sandwich ($11), fried oyster or shrimp po’boys ($14.50), fried or blackened catfish ($12) and roast beef debris and fried or grilled chicken sandwich ($12).
Many Saltine regulars head straight to the oyster bar. For $14, a sample plate of your favorites brings a half dozen oysters to your table. There’s also oysters Lafitte ($14) citrus butter and Bama barbecue ($12) from which to choose.
As expected, Saltine’s sides are creative, ranging from hushpuppies served with pickled red onions and tartar sauce ($6), goat cheese grits ($6), Brussels sprouts ($8) with sweet chili sauce and peanuts and 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 shrimp and lobster spring rolls to seared pork belly, to crab and avocado toast or smoked tuna dip.
If you have a little more time to linger, order one on Saltine’s delicious lunch entrees. 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 and 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 and lightly seasoned with Creole spice is the perfect antidote to the mid-week blues. At $13 for a half dozen shrimp or $19 for a dozen, it’s a satisfying and economical mealtime feast.
There’s 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 Cajun seafood pasta ($16), 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 and key lime tart.
Saltine is located at 622 Duling Avenue in Jackson. Their hours are Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Contact (601) 982-2899 or visit jacksonsaltinerestaurant.com for more information. Full menus are located on the website. Call to place an order for pick-up.