10 Best Eats on the Natchez Trace Parkway
Savor the scenic drive from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee.
Story by Jill Gleeson
Beginning in Natchez, Mississippi and running 444 miles to Nashville, Tennessee (or vice versa), the Natchez Trace Parkway follows the historic Old Natchez Trace through three states. Initially used by Native Americans who were following the tracks of large game such as bison, the Trace became an important trail for settlers, slave traders and soldiers. Today, it makes for a gloriously scenic drive filled with opportunities to stop and sample some of the South’s best food.
One of the finer foodie towns along the Trace, lovely Natchez offers plenty of good eateries. The one you absolutely can’t miss is King’s Tavern, located in the oldest building in the Mississippi Territory, built in 1789. Owner and chef Regina Charboneau is famed for founding the Biscuits & Blues club in San Francisco; she’s also been the culinary director of the American Queen Riverboat. Be sure to sample one of the tavern’s gourmet flatbreads and a handcrafted cocktail or two.
Fried chicken aficionados, listen up. While little Lorman is located just 35 miles from the brighter lights of (relatively) big city Natchez, you’d best make a pit stop at the unincorporated community’s Old Country Store. Tucked away in a charming, century-old building that’s seen better days, the general store/restaurant offers a southern-food buffet filled with goodies like mac and cheese, cornbread, turnip greens and, yes, fried chicken so tasty it made the Food Network’s “Best Thing I Ever Ate.”
Located little more than a half-hour west of the Trace, Vicksburg, site of the Civil War battle that won the Union crucial control of the Mississippi River, is a must-stop for history buffs. The food’s great, too. Check out Rusty’s Riverfront Grill, perennial favorite of locals, with a Cajun-inspired menu heavy on hearty portions of steak and seafood, including a hard-to-beat ribeye. It’s family-friendly, too.
Hailed as an“overlooked Southern city” by Food and Wine in 2017, the Magnolia State’s capital is rich with good restaurants. Barrelhouse, a southern gastropub, was named the Jackson Free Press’ “Best New Restaurant of 2018.” Signature dishes from this smart and stylish eatery located in Jackson’s historic Fondren district include the inspired tuna poke nachos and buffalo cauliflower with a Grit Girl cornmeal crust.
Mama Hamil herself may be gone (she passed in 2017), but Mama Hamil’s Southern Cookin’ and Bar-B-Que Buffet is still going strong. With wooden booths and big, communal tables, this is the kind of casual joint where you can—and should!—wear your stretchy pants. The prices are reasonable ($14 for dinner for an adult) and the authentic Southern food seems pretty much endless. Depending on the day, the menu features dishes like chicken and dumplings, fried gizzards, ribs, fried catfish, rutabaga, black-eyed peas and pole beans.
Family-owned and a proud stop along the Mississippi BBQ Trail, the Old Trace Grill sits just outside of Kosciusko, a county seat perhaps best known as Oprah Winfrey’s birthplace. With a jaw-dropping 100-some items, the menu overwhelms; focus on the hickory-smoked ribs and pulled pork, the hand-cut ribeyes, or, if you’re not fretting over your arteries, the chicken-fried steak sandwich. There are hearty daily specials, too, like red beans and rice and homemade cornbread.
Tupelo is where The King of Rock & Roll was born and bred, but it offers more culinary delights than just Elvis-approved dishes like meatloaf and fried catfish. Many of those delights can be found at Neon Pig, a butcher shop/restaurant that’s the brainchild of Mitch McCamey, Trish McCluney and Seth Copeland. The trio also opened Kermit’s Outlaw Kitchen and King Chicken in Tupelo, but to bite into what Thrillist called “The Best Burger in America,” order Neon Pig’s Smash Burger.
Part of the Florence-Muscle Shoals metro area, where some of the greatest songs in American music history were recorded, this small city in Northern Alabama also boasts a bustling little culinary scene. The best restaurant of the bunch is Odette thanks to Chef Josh Quick, who has cooked at the distinguished James Beard House in New York City. Quick and owner Celeste Pillow keep the focus on locally-sourced ingredients made on the premises, like the house-ground, local beef cheeseburger, graced with homemade red pepper-thyme ketchup.
Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee
While there are Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant locations all over Tennessee, including Nashville and Chattanooga, the original Puckett’s isn’t part of that empire. It’s the real deal, founded in 1953 by the Puckett Family as a market and canteen. Nowadays the focus is more on music; big names like Wynonna Judd, Keb’ Mo’ and Phil Everly have all performed live there. But make no mistake, the down-home fare, including pimento cheese, chess pie and hash brown casserole, also make stopping at Puckett’s a must.
Nashville is the biggest boomtown along the Trace and the city’s culinary scene is top-notch. Amid stiff competition, Sarah Gavigan’s Little Octopus is making waves by dishing out “vegetable driven” California-style cookery with Caribbean influences. The menu, with plenty of vegan and gluten-free options, specializes in nifty small plates, such as the superb broccoli with seaweed, smokey miso, sesame and jalapeno crema.
Plan A Trip
Jill Gleeson is a memorist and travel journalist living in the Appalachians of central Pennsylvania. Find her at gleesonreboots.com.