Mississippi is one of those rare states where cities and regions managed to shape America’s identity in a variety of disciplines. There’s literature in Oxford, music in the Mississippi Delta, visual arts throughout the state, and now, culinary arts in Ridgeland.
In the South, tastes have long been tuned in to comfort foods. In Ridgeland, chefs are elevating meals into comfort cuisine as they chart independent paths en route to the same destination: Perfecting creative dishes made with traditional ingredients.
As with the visual and literary artists before them, the changes they are making to Ridgeland’s restaurant scene is gaining attention. Here, roughly 10 miles north of Jackson, each has endowed their upscale restaurants and more casual eateries with a distinctive ambiance, and each one is attracting a growing number of foodies who have an appetite for new twists on traditional dishes.
Reflective of dining’s new direction are two restaurants that are perfect for a date night, a quick bite, or an evening out with friends. Check them out, and you’ll realize that Ridgeland’s definitely a place with good taste.
Surf and turf
1. Ely’s Restaurant and Bar
Opened by Richard Shapley in 2008, a sense of family runs through Ely’s. No wonder. Not only is this steak and seafood restaurant named in honor of his grandfather, Shapley considers the surrounding neighborhood and Madison County beyond all a part of his extended family.
Recall the kindness and sincerity found in a local diner, transfer that to a contemporary, upscale restaurant, and you can picture Ely’s. It’s what continues to attract multiple generations of diners, many who arrive early—and for good reason. Between 4 and 6 p.m., small plates of tenderloin sliders and fried oysters, tenderloin tips and fries, yellowfin tuna, and hummus complement wine and cocktails at the bar.
As the hours pass, the main dining room fills. Here, the variety of the menu reflects the diverse tastes and ingredients that define Mississippi’s nouveau cuisine, including barbecued shrimp and grits, filet Louisiane, seafood-stuffed flounder, sweet chili-glazed salmon, grouper pecan, and more. Shapley’s Lebanese background also shows up, most notably in the baked kibbeh appetizer and tabouli salad.
2. Burgers & Blues
Sometimes you just want to get back to the basics. For a place where you can kick back on a large outdoor patio with a frosty beer in one hand and a warm hamburger in the other, head for the comforting setting of Burgers & Blues.
In addition to blue-plate specials, this is where locals learned a hamburger can be more than a hamburger. Owner, Steve Sahler, decided to dress up America’s most popular meal with far more than lettuce, tomato, and onions. He created signature choices that include The BnB (the most traditional of their burgers), Sonic Boom (get ready for habanero mayonnaise, fried jalapeños and hot pepper jack cheese), The Countyline (sautéed onions, mushrooms, jalapeño peppers, and chili), and The Annihilator (add fried eggs, applewood bacon, grilled cheese, and ranch dressing).
Of course, if you’re a Type-A personality motivated by a challenge, then you’d want to step right up and then sit down for The Whammy—Ridgeland’s ultimate eating challenge. It is the Andre the Giant of the hamburger world—three one-pound patties with all the trimmings. Finish it in less than 30 minutes and not only is the meal free, you receive a free Burgers & Blues t-shirt and achieve a type of immortality when your photo is added to their wall of fame. And while you’re showing off, go ahead, grab the mic and let loose at karaoke!
These two restaurants only give a taste of the mouthwatering culinary creations Ridgeland has to offer. Other highlights include Cinco De Mayo—a Mexican restaurant with truly authentic, delicious food—and Kathryn’s Steak & Seafood—which features live music nightly. It’s worth making a trip to enjoy comfort food classics with a twist. Do your taste buds a favor and head to Ridgeland.