State’s Pine Belt Has So Many Culinary Jewels, It’s Hard to Pick Just One
Following up on my promise to share new “must try” restaurant dishes, it’s time to move a little further north from the Gulf Coast to the Pine Belt. Filled with close to 20 cities and towns offering a plethora of great restaurants, ranging from family-owned diners to fine dining, it’s hard to narrow down my favorites. However, it must be done and if your eatery didn’t make the list, drop me an email and I’ll include it in future columns.
As I mentioned last week, call first before heading out to a new place. With labor and food shortages still causing problems, many restaurants adjust hours at a moment’s notice.
1. Collins… it’s one of those places people sometimes describe with the words, “Oh yeah…I pass by it all the time when I’m traveling on Highway 49.” One of the best reasons for a detour is Deli Diner, a somewhat humble-looking establishment housed in a renovated Sonic frequented by me and high school friends. Fast forward to today, when regional and national publications are describing the fresh, innovative cuisine of the family-owned restaurant. Sandwiches, paninis, burgers and an impressively-long list of salads are on the menu. So far, my favorite pick is the grilled redfish sandwich; running a close second is Deli Diner’s shrimp po’boy. 704 S. Fir Ave., Collins; 601-765-4359.
2. Further west in Columbia, Magnolia Grille is known as one of the best places to dine when in search of a sumptuous Southern buffet, steak dinner or healthy salad bar. And that’s the short list. Each dish is worth a try, but I gravitate to one outstanding dish: Mardi Gras pasta. Pasta is tossed with chicken, shrimp, sausage, peppers and onions and seasonings, then topped with a creamy Cajun sauce. Who needs New Orleans when this dish is on the menu? 115 R A Johnson Dr., Columbia; 601-736-2222.
3. One of valuable perks of working for Copiah-Lincoln Com-munity College in Wesson was discovering restaurants in nearby Brookhaven. A co-worker treated me to lunch at Broma’s Deli on my first day and I’ve been hooked ever since. As a creature of habit, the French Dip sandwich with the restaurant’s famous homemade chips is my regular order. It’s a shame, too, since I’ve never sampled anything else on the menu, including burgers, salads, soups, loaded potatoes and much more. 1203 Hampton Dr., Brookhaven; 601-823-2224.
4. In the eastern part of the Pine Belt, Laurel is quickly becoming the destination of choice for tourists from around the U.S. and even the world. One of my favorite things about Laurel is the transformation of old downtown buildings into shops and restaurants that retain the charm of yesteryear. Lee’s Coffee & Tea, housed in a Sears store from a bygone era, is a charming place to enjoy the aforementioned beverages, order a bountiful breakfast or stop by for lunch. At my Laurel friend’s urging, I ordered founder Aunt Lee’s pimento cheese sandwich. It’s a unique combination of a BLT and homemade pimento cheese. Skeptical at first, I was a quick convert to the unique sandwich. Stop by for this treat and so much more. 409 W. Oak St., Laurel; 601-649-4161.
5. Asking me to pick a favorite at one of Hattiesburg’s hundreds of restaurants in a near-impossible task. I’ll stop short of saying it’s “the best,” but the ‘que at Strick’s BBQ is pretty close. Another hard task is selecting one item as Strick’s star. Strick’s has been a Hattiesburg staple for 42 years so they’ve had plenty of time to perfect the menu. But, if I have to pick one, Strick’s hickory-smoked wings are at the top of the list. 3802 W. 4th St., Hattiesburg; 601-264-2502.
Moving further north to share culinary delights in the central part of the state is on tap for next week. Feel free to share your favorite places, along with top menu picks for an outstanding meal.