May 29, 2014

Getting Burgers and Blues in Jackson, Miss.

Every so often, you find someone with the type of judgment you really have to question.  In my case, that man is Terry Hupp.  So, when we stopped for an overnight stay in Jackson, Miss., on our road trip to New Orleans, we looked to Terry to help us find something – anything – interesting in a town that, frankly, had always left me unimpressed. 

My crew and I met Sue and Terry at Burgers and Blues, which was not far from their hotel in Ridgeland, a suburb of Jackson.  For travelers along I-55, Ridgeland is a hotel and chain restaurant oasis on the north side of the city.  Terry recommended Burgers and Blues based on past travels, and the fact that you could hear decent music emanating from the general direction from his hotel window.  Follow your senses, I guess. 

Tucked away in southern suburbia ... 

After fighting traffic typical of a sprawling suburb where business has grown too fast for the highway system, we found the place tucked in a strip mall a little off the beaten path (aka County Line Road – did I mention Ridgeland is in Madison County, not Hinds County like Jackson?  I smell tax advantages.).  Yes, a strip mall.  I became a little skeptical.  Terry and I are almost always on the same page about these things … how often do you find any place with character in a strip mall?  Still, I reserved judgment. The place was packed, and we could already hear music from a spacious beer garden/outdoor seating area next to right edge of the building. 

Call me crazy, but I think these kids have a future together. 
And, of course, that beer garden is where we found Sue and Terry, happy and halfway through their first drink.  And to be honest, after seeing the beer garden I don’t know why anyone would want to eat inside at this place.  It has a very large amount of bench seating for groups large and small, the trees behind it provide additional shade and scenery, and a nice-sized stage provides the setting for live music. 

Beer in foreground, Sue's jewelry in background.  I think Terry is admiring the beer more.
Life was good.  I enjoyed the moment with my favorite Mississippi brew – Lazy Magnolia Southern Pecan Nut Brown Ale.  

And then I had two more.  (OK, maybe three more, but the last one was comped … I’ll explain later.)

So, the ambiance was just what we were looking for on a delightful spring night to start our vacation.  But you may be asking, does Burgers and Blues deliver on what its name advertises?

Well, considering it’s the home of the Whammy Challenge, as featured on the Travel Channel’s “Man vs. Food Nation,” you’d have to say yes on the burger part.  In fact,  everyone in our group who ordered a burger from the variety of options on the menu was quite pleased with the quality and portions.  Of course, I’m the type of person who likes to go against conventional wisdom, and since I was back in Mississippi, I opted for something I consider synonymous with the state – the hot delta tamales.

This is an appetizer.  I’m not kidding.  Another reason I ordered an appetizer was because I didn't think I’d be hungry enough to finish off what amounts to a third-pound burger and fries.  I have absolutely no complaints, though.  These were some of the biggest, and best, tamales I've ever had – spicy, flavorful and bursting full with meat.  Adding the chili and queso sauce to smother the tamales was a great recommendation by our waiter.  And between this and the beers, it filled my up like a load of bricks.    

Kids love the blues.
As for the blues … so, it’s no Mississippi Delta juke joint.  But the two-person band playing that evening wasn't half bad.  If nothing else, they provided nice background music, with good acoustic versions of several blues and bluesy rock standards.  The children in attendance were entertained, which I’m sure was appreciated by the parents on hand. 

The one area where Burgers and Blues seemed to be lacking was service.  Our waiter was very friendly and welcoming at the beginning, but he seemed … confused … for much of the evening.  The effort was there; he did appear to be working very hard, but the attention to detail wasn't.  For example, my friend Don asked for water three times, and by the third time he was beginning to think hydration was overrated.   

Then there was the delay in getting our food.  This was apparently not a problem confined to just our table.  Eventually, the cook came out to our table and admitted our order had been lost.  Frustrating?  Yes, but it did not have a huge impact on our ability to enjoy the evening in the beer garden.  And, to help make it right, our entire table was provided a complimentary round of drinks (which helped me lose count on the number of beers I had).  So, I give points to the management for helping right an inconvenience.     

In the end, it was mission accomplished – a fun, relaxing first night to our trip.  Would I go back?  Yes.  The food and atmosphere were worth it, even if the service was spotty. 

He kind of looks like ESPN's Chris Berman, I think. Would you trust your future to this guy?
And, as an added bonus, we had plenty of time to study the local weekly paper, so I now know which lawyer to call in the Jackson, Miss., area, if I ever have low expectations and am only looking to “minimize your damage.”  I can just hear it now:  “What, you didn't want to go to jail?  What, do you expect me to work miracles here?”    

Sometimes, it’s the little things that amuse me most.

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