When a restaurant remains relatively unchanged after decades in the same location, it’s a sure sign the food is good and customers are happy. Vetoing a move to a trendier area, addition of modern accouterments, and menu changes suggests to me the owners are living by the mantra that, pardon the grammar, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” A prime example of this successful business plan is Hickory Pit in Jackson. The neighborhood “barbecue place” at the entrance of Canton Mart Square just a stone’s throw from I-55 North has continued to keep customers (not just from the neighborhood, but visitors from around the U.S. and more than a few foreign tourists) happy by serving delicious barbecue, sides, and desserts under current owner Ginger Watkins since 1979 and for many years prior.
During the 1980s and 90s, I lived nearby and frequently dashed through Hickory Pit’s drive-in window to pick up a pulled pork sandwich and a side or two of baked beans and coleslaw. After moving, I hadn’t thought about the Jackson landmark until I reconnected with Mary Ann, a longtime friend who still resides in the area. Stopping by Hickory Pit for a barbecue meal or to pick up a Hershey Bar Pie for holiday meals is still part of her routine. After our conversation, I had to stop by to see for myself if Hickory Pit was still as good as I remembered. Let’s just say, I wasn’t disappointed.
Like most barbecue “joints,” Hickory Pit doesn’t feel the need to offer guests fancy dining arrangements. The same red checkered tablecloths, cool tile floors, touches of wood and tin and kitschy memorabilia adorn the main area. A breezy patio covered with a tin roof provides a cozy space for outdoor dining. It’s not fancy, but, like I said, this is a place that makes up for its lack of modern touches with its food.
It had been a while since I feasted on ribs, so a half-slab ($16.45) of Hickory Pit’s famous pork ribs was my first order of business. A steaming plate of succulent, perfectly-crisp ribs soon arrived, along with delicious coleslaw, baked beans, and a slice of Texas toast. A coating of Hickory Pit’s house-made sauce with its slightly-sweet flavor was the perfect coating for the ribs.
A whole slab is $28.55 and is more than adequate for a party of two. Other plates include chopped barbecued pork ($12.95) or beef ($13.50), barbecued chicken ($13.15), and a combo plate filled with a half chicken and half slab of ribs ($24.95). Each plate comes with a choice of two sides that include, besides my choices, garden salad, potato salad, or home fries.
If you’re in the mood for a sandwich or smaller meal, Hickory Pit offers plenty of options. There’s a sandwich platter ($9.45) built with your choice of smoked meat, hamburger, or turkey with a choice of two sides, barbecued chicken ($6.35), chopped pork with slaw relish ($5.45) or chopped beef ($5.80), smoked ham or turkey ($6.35), hamburger ($4.75), or poboy filled with your choice of meat ($10.45).
A perennial favorite that I remembered from earlier visits, barbecue nachos ($8.99), is still on the menu. Filled with chopped smoked meat and vegetables, it’s the perfect preliminary to a barbecue plate or is hearty enough to suffice as a meal.
It’s hard to do this at Hickory Pit, but try to save room for dessert. I’ve been hearing about Hickory Pit’s Hershey Bar Pie for years, including from Mary Ann, but never tried it. Don’t get the idea this is one of those flat chocolate pies that’s sunk down into the crust. No, instead, picture a crust of thick, chocolatey Oreo cookie crumbs, decadent chocolate filling, fluffy whipped topping, and a liberal dusting of more chocolate cookie crumbs. I was all set to order a slice ($5.45; $23.40 for a whole pie) until I spied the other desserts in the glass case.
Massive, multi-layer carrot and coconut cakes ($5.45 a slice; $44.50 for a whole) and glistening pecan pies ($4.80 a slice; $20.85 for a whole) were up for consideration, but it was the old-fashioned lemon meringue pie that made the cut. With a graham cracker crust, filling of tangy lemon custard and a mile-high meringue curled into perfect, lightly-browned tufts, it literally fit the description of “just like your grandmother used to make.
For large events, Hickory Pit offers a variety of “party packs” and large quantities of meat and sides for take-out.
My trip back in time to one of Jackson’s landmark eateries made me realize that despite the growth of suburbs, many good things still exist in our Capital City and are worthy of a visit.
Hickory is located at 1491 Old Canton Road in Jackson. Hours are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday through Saturday and until 11 p.m. on Sunday. Call (601) 956-7079 to place an order or for more information.