By Brandi Perry
Located just a couple of miles off Highway 61 and mere blocks from the churning Mississippi River stands a large, southern-style home perched high on a hill overlooking Adams Street in the Historic Olde Town Vicksburg.
Long before this home was built or the world-renowned southern cuisine was served to thousands, the Spanish explored the area and called it “Nogales” for the many walnut trees that adorned the bluffs throughout the area. However, by the time the United States became a country in 1776, the area residents called it “Walnut Hills.” The town changed its name once again when founded in 1811 to Vicksburg.
The handsome old house that bears the name of the original settlement was built in 1880 by the Rogers Family. Laying eyes on this marvelous piece of architecture just once keeps visitors remembering the wide porch, mismatched rocking chairs, the tall, shuttered windows and the pierced columns. But the strongest of all memories come when the first-time visitors sink their teeth into the delicious cayenne-laced fried chicken. When you step through the doors and here and creak of the floor under your steps, you are immediately taken back in time. There is no way around feeling as though you are miles away from your daily life when you enter the doors to a true Mississippi culinary adventure.
The historic district home opened in 1980 as a round table restaurant. The state has seen very few of these types of establishments, and most have passed from existence. Walnut Hills was very similar to the old boarding house restaurants that became popular in Mississippi around the beginning of World War II. Patrons still have the opportunity to sit at a round table when they visit Walnut Hills. While seated, food arrives to guest in large portions, and the table is spun when someone wants a dish passed their way. One of the best reasons to sit at the round table is that guests may share a meal with someone they have never met, getting to extend courtesy and hospitality to each other while sharing in the south’s favorite pastime, eating.
The secret behind the delicious food and 41 years is the longevity of their staff. Miss Herdcine Williams has been the chief cook at Walnut Hills for more than 30 years, and she is the second generation of family members to attribute to the success of this incredible restaurant. Miss Herdcine’s mother, Ms. Alma Robinson, made the salads and slaw every day at Walnut Hills until she retired at the age of 70. Her son, Xavier, has been serving there for more than 15 years, making him the third generation of the Williams Family to play such a critical in the restaurant.
Beyond their place on the staff, they each have helped develop the extensive menu and contributed recipes to the community cookbook. For instance, Herdcine is the author of the recipes for the famous fried chicken, homemade biscuits, salad dressing and made from scratch cornbread. Owner Joyce Clingan’s specialties include cakes, pies, casseroles and potato rounds, all of which are favorites at Walnut Hills.
In addition to southern cuisine, Walnut Hills also serves incredible steaks, seafood, po-boys and desserts that have won numerous awards. Some of the old favorites include the creole cream cheese cheesecake, the pecan praline pie, complete with pecan liquor, and the Nellie and Joe’s Key Lime Pie. If you want dessert, there is something for everyone!
After a visit to Walnut Hills, it is easy to see why Delta Magazine awarded the restaurant the title of "Best Fried Chicken" and why they received a certificate of excellence from TripAdvisor. Additionally, they received Best Presentation at Taste of Mississippi in 2015, were named one of Mississippi’s 10 Best Restaurants by Culture Trip in 2015 and Deep South USA listed them as a top 10 places to eat in Mississippi. With all these awards and recognition, there is no wonder they have been featured on Good Morning America, Southern Living Magazine, 1000 Places to See Before You Die and Saveur Magazine, to name a few.
Walnut Hills is so much more than just a popular restaurant. There are a couple of sister businesses on the property that deserve mentioning as well. The Nogales House at Walnut Hill, originally built in 1868, is a renovated home next door to the restaurant. This home serves as an event center that specializes in fine dining, a full bar and an extensive wine selection. They also pride themselves on making your private function a success while keeping it within the budget you established. Requests and reservations must be made ahead of the event. The Bakery at Walnut Hills serves freshly made cakes and pies, and guests can choose to have one piece or the entire dessert. The bakery recently unveiled four new delectable creations including, chocolate cake, lemon cake, red velvet cake and even homemade cheesecake.
Guests who have previously visited Walnut Hills before may notice some changes upon a new visit. Extensive remodeling has been done to the property, including a new kitchen and a chef for the evening meals. However, regardless of any changes, the hospitality, delicious food and the longing to stay a little longer to experience the spectacular location remain. Take a second when you are nice and full and sit a spell in one of the famous unmatched rocking chairs on the front porch. There is no better way to let your food settle.
When you have a chance to visit this Mississippi jewel for yourself, they are located at 1214 Adams Street in Vicksburg and are open Wednesday through Monday and closed on Tuesday. Their hours are 11 am to 2 pm on Sunday, and 11 am to 9 pm the remainder of the week. If you have questions about any of the three parts of Walnut Hills, please call (601) 638-4910. You can view all their delectable menu items and learn more about the restaurant and its colorful history at walnuthillsms.com.
All photos in this article were taken by Dori Lowe of “Backroads and Burgers”