When one of my Atlanta colleagues heard we were moving to New Albany, he frowned and asked, “But what will y’all eat?”
His question might strike you as odd, given that Mississippi is the capitol of comfort food. But my friend knew how often Clyde and I dine out. (There was this spare room in our last condo I understand they call a “kitchen.”) He knew our strong preference for local joints (no chains, unless they started in town). And he knew our passion for “every Tuesday night” cuisine — my term for friendly and affordable restaurants we could frequent once a week or more without busting the budget.
Would we find that in New Albany?
We do eat at home more (in part because we live 20 minutes outside of town). But when you come to visit me, I have a varied list of unique local eateries I can’t wait to share with you. Here are my favorites so far.
Okay, so — not a restaurant. But my sister-in-law treats us to savory gumbo, colorful salads, oven-roasted vegetables, Easter hams, red beans and rice, spicy chili, steaming cauldrons of soup, and crunchy fried okra on a regular basis. Patrice pulls gourmet feasts together with apparent ease, uniting an enormous circle of friends and family at her table again and again. If she offers to cook during your visit with us, bring a nice bottle of wine, loosen your belt a notch or two, and prepare to experience true Southern hospitality.
I love everything about this intimate, candle-lit small town gem, from the antler chandelier to the expansive antique bar. Named for a colorful local adventurer, The Rainey is the place to nosh on fried shrimp, thick filets, pecan-crusted salmon, vegan pasta, and piping hot catfish while sipping a craft cocktail, a good bourbon, or an ice-cold local IPA. My favorite thing, though, is that everybody knows everybody, so every meal includes at least two or three tableside chats with neighbors who know us by name. So when you’re in the mood for “friendly fancy” dining, we’ll snag a window seat (or wiggle into my favorite booth — the one in back with its own private fireplace), order fried mushrooms and crab claws for starters, and make ourselves at home.
New Orleans comes to Mississippi in this bright, lively Main Street eatery decorated with bold black and white geometrics and fleur-de-lis. At the Tallahatchie Gourmet, tables are packed with chatty locals gobbling up gumbo, shrimp and grits, po boys, baked ziti, grilled pork chops, chicken and dressing, and hash brown casserole (and the kitchen never misses a beat when I need to tweak a dish to meet this week’s dietary requirements). Owner Angele Mueller has opened a second location in Oxford, but the original TG’s — where my father-in-law, Joe, never failed to show up for Friday lunch — will always be my favorite. With a solid bar dispensing adult beverages on one side of the room and refrigerators packed with grab-and-go dinners on the other, what’s not to love? When you’re here, this will definitely be your “come as you are” favorite. Don’t let me forget to check the chalkboard for specials!
New Albany has no deficit of Mexican restaurants, but El Agave is our go-to Tex-Mex destination thanks to its handmade tortillas, “made on demand” guacamole, cheerful staff, flexible kitchen, and eye-popping margaritas the size of kiddie pools. I order off-menu (burritos stuffed with rice, potatoes, beans, grilled veggies, and pico de gallo), but when you come with me, you should start with a large cheese dip and move on to the chicken fajitas for two (which feeds six), a plate of the street tacos, the Big Daddy burrito (I dare you!), or the surprisingly good hamburger. Wash it all down with house-made sangria or one of those disturbingly large margaritas — but only if I’m driving, because the bartenders aren’t stingy with the alcohol.
Clyde’s homemade vegan carrot cake is the best on the planet, but any cake from Sugaree’s Bakery easily claims second place. With buttery caramel cakes stacked high with pillow-soft layers and coconut cakes so light and sweet you’ll swear they’re carved from clouds, most locals have given up baking cakes of their own. I favor the chocolate peanut butter oatmeal drop cookies because they evoke childhood memories, but you may prefer the chocolate meringue pie, the dipped cupcakes, Miss Robbie Ray’s cream cheese pound cake, or a simple chocolate chip cookie. Don’t miss the “scratch and dent freezer,” where delicious cakes that didn’t meet Sugaree’s exacting standards can be had for half-price. (Can’t wait until you’re in New Albany? Good news: Sugaree’s ships nationwide.)
Imagine an empty warehouse: soaring ceilings, exposed beams, concrete floors. Now, furnish it with a sprawling sea of tables and chairs. Now, fill those chairs with a thousand hungry locals … and in front of each local, imagine a plate loaded down with hand-cut steaks or piles of corn-meal dusted catfish. That’s The Warehouse in all its down-home glory: a sprawling communal space where the lines are long, the conversations are loud, and wait times for tables can be half an hour or more. The obligatory salad bar comes with your meal, but ain’t nobody got time for that, because they’re saving room for succulent catfish, the crispy hushpuppies, and thick, chargrilled slabs of beef.
I rarely eat yard bird these days (and when I do, it’s Clyde’s Fourth of July fried chicken). But I used to love sinking my choppers into some George’s fried chicken … and at least one of the nephews remains convinced that no fast food joint on earth has an entree that compares with George’s chicken sandwiches and a milkshake. The locals must agree; any time George opens the doors, the lot is full and the drive-thru window attracts a longer line of cars than a Drive-Thru Beer Barn. If you tell me you want something quick but local, I’ll take you to George’s … or, if you’re more into beef, we’ll head for:
What time is it? If you’re hungry for hamburgers and chicken wings, it’s Game Tyme for sure. From inside a shack by the tracks, this tiny kitchen assembles New Albany’s best “dirty South” burgers. Take your heart medicine, then order the Slam Dunk double-cheese burger, the NBA (a ten-pack of honey garlic hot wings), and a side of seasoned fries, then wash it all down with a bucket of sweet tea. Don’t wear white, though: this is the kind of saucy, visceral dining that will make you wish you’d worn a poncho — and that’s a compliment. If that doesn’t help you understand why Game Tyme tops my list of local burger joints, consider this: the sweet-spirited staff once re-opened the kitchen just to cater to one of my pregnant niece’s late-night cravings.
In a future post, I’ll cover some favorite spots in nearby Ripley, Tupelo, and Oxford. In the meantime, my fellow New Albanians, what’s a place you always take your out-of-town guests to? Any restaurants to add to my “every Tuesday night” list? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.