Sunday, December 13, 2015

Bully for us!

We were on a road trip to Oxford, Mississippi, three students and a professor making a pilgrimage to the home of author William Faulkner. It was lunchtime and we were hungry. We used our phones to Yelp as we approached Jackson, going north on I-55.

"How about barbecue?" someone suggested. "Something that's real Mississippi."

"This one comes up with 42 reviews and all of them five-star."

Bully's Restaurant is just across Livingston Road from the railroad tracks. It took a sharp eye to discern the faded wording on the sign. There's a burned-out bungalow next door, and there's a pool room on the corner. Driving there, we passed many vacant lots and abandoned buildings, an urban environment that was regressing back to weedy nature.

But the parking lot at Bully's was full of cars, and the entry space was full of people. We were greeted by a smiling woman wearing Christmas novelty reindeer antlers over her food-handler's hair net. She sat us in the cheerful, Christmas-decorated dining room under a bug-zapper and a wall filled with portraits of Martin Luther King, Jr., Jesse Jackson, Malcolm X and other local and national figures.

Table centerpiece
Giant plastic tumblers of sweet tea and water appeared seconds after we ordered them. I looked at the menu, which offered good hearty meals like ham hocks, ribs and fried catfish, and daily specials like meatloaf and liver-and-onions, accompanied by two sides of your choice. I have a small appetite, so I went for a lunch special, thinking it would be modest portions.

Here's the fried chicken lunch special - for $6.59, a wing and a huge breast with collard greens, lima beans and a corn muffin.

The chicken was perfectly cooked; the batter crispy and with a little spice in the seasoning. The greens were incredible, cooked with a spicy sausage and swimming in a tasty, vinegar-tanged pot likker. It was so abundant I was embarrassed I could not finish my meal, but my tablemates did justice to their ribs, chicken, and sweet potatoes.

Professor and my classmate
The waitstaff - the lady in the antlers and another young lady - were as sweet as they could be. When we were ready to leave, the owner kindly asked after our reasons for visiting, and when he heard we were travelers, he let us know about stories and news articles written about the place. He came out and posed for a picture with the three of us students.

Photo credit to Richard Goodman
"Look!" said the woman with the antlers, showing us one of the magazines. "Did you see me in the picture?" And there she was, proudly offering a tray of delicious food on camera

Later, I found an article about Bully's on Southern Foodways, which tells how important the restaurant is as a cultural icon of Jackson's African-American community. Members of the legislature eat here, the local pastors' association, celebrities, musicians, and just plan neighborhood people.

It also tells how much integrity and care the owners and staff bring into the kitchen. The food is all cooked from scratch; the greens and vegetables grown locally (I passed a basket of sweet-potatoes on a table, in various stages of preparation, when I went to wash my hands in the back.) In a video on the Southern Foodways site, Jacqueline, the woman with the antlers, says, "Nothing in the can. Everything is fresh-picked."

But I didn't need to read a magazine to find that out. It was apparent at the table, and in the loving care shown to customers.

If you ever visit Jackson, Mississippi, a visit to Bully's Restaurant should be on the top of your list. You can read about it, and listen to interviews with the staff and grateful customers, at this link.


Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

I grew hungry reading about the food there! I'm not a fan of cooked greens, but you made it sound delicious, and now I wish I had some to eat.

David Duff said...

Oh God, that chicken(?) dish looked disgusting! I really do worry about you sometimes, Auntie!

Glennis said...

David, you are a weird dude

cookingwithgas said...

My father always looked for local restaurant where the locals ate. His advice was if there is a pick up truck and a Cadillac in the parking lot, stop.

John Doe said...

Just left from dining at Bully's about 45 minutes ago. Great food and service.