Monday, January 10, 2011

Progress And Pancakes Moving Slowly In The Old South

The Elite Restaurant
141 East Capitol Street
Jackson, Mississippi
Visited October 15, 2010

Capitol Street in downtown Jackson, Mississippi is like stepping back in time. To the Old South of the 20s, 30s, and 40s. Sure, half a century before my time, but I’ve seen it on TV.

Jackson may serve as both Mississippi’s largest city and its capital, but it retains the pace and character of small town Hollywood South, like Mayberry or Hazard.

Friendly Mississippians and state legislators from all corners of the Magnolia State still stroll the sidewalks, on-street parking is down right plentiful and traffic lights dangle in the sweltering southern heat in no particular hurry to turn from red to green.

I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see old Boss Hog himself ramble down the marble steps of the Mississippi Capitol Building sweating in a seersucker suit.

Oh yeah, there are certainly signs of “progress”, so called.

Each trip I make to Jackson seems to reveal one more gleaming new bank building, but Capitol Street still has the Roaring Twenties era Walthall Hotel, named after a local Confederate hero, where I stay for $79 per night.

And the old Mayflower CafĂ©, which has been serving fried seafood and “comeback” sauce since 1935, beckoning passersby with a vintage neon sign that hasn’t seen the business end of a paint brush in decades.

Best of all, The Elite Restaurant is still serving biscuits, eggs and enchiladas just like they have for 63 years.

The old buildings of stone, art deco and ornate cornices may be one by one giving way to the glass and steel of modern bank buildings on Capitol Street. The old Montgomery Wards and Ace Records buildings may now be vacant -- or worse -- housing government workers.

However, change still comes slowly to Jackson.

And I like that.

Easy for me to say, I realize, since I don’t have to live here.

But I like that 15 years after my first visit, I can still count on a good southern-cooked meal at The Elite. And a friendly Southern waitress who knows every customer by name (except for me) to serve it.

All my previous meals at The Elite were lunch – tenderloin, catfish or enchiladas with sides of slow cooked Southern vegetables.

The breakfast menu definitely trails far behind the lunch menu in variety. Nothing out of the ordinary here. Pancakes, eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits or toast. And grits, of course.

It turns out the traffic lights and the airport TSA agents aren’t the only ones taking their sweet time in Jackson. I almost missed my 8:15am meeting because it took so long for my breakfast to make its way to my booth.

Nope. Nobody is in a hurry in Mississippi. Except Suit757, that is.

My waitress apologized and explained that it took a while to heat up the griddle. Apparently, I was the first customer of the day to order pancakes.

After tasting them, I could see why.

The two ramekins of melted butter and homemade maple syrup certainly helped to liven them up, but these crumbly dry pancakes certainly weren’t up to shirt-buying standards.

The country sausage patties and homemade biscuits on the other hand were better than average.

And you can’t beat the price. $5 for enough food to feed me for at least 36 hours.

But based on the modest menu, sparse crowd and uninspiring pancakes, breakfast clearly isn’t the specialty of the house at The Elite.

Next time I’m in Jackson, I’ll stick to lunch and those slow Southern cooked vegetables. And give myself plenty of time because turnip greens and “progress” in the Old South just can’t be rushed.

Rating: Would Wear A Free Shirt.
Elite Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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