New Orleans in a glass...does it not sound like the perfect way to begin one's weekend? In my case, the night was Friday, the place was Parlor Market in Jackson, Mississippi and the drink was a Vieux Carré. Rye whiskey, cognac, sweet vermouth, benedictine, and bitters swirled in a glass, reminiscent of the classic, New Orleans sazerac, coupled with a dark, candle-lit atmosphere, a deserted downtown city, an early weekend electricity in the air, and I felt excitedly like a character in a Raymond Chandler novel. Fortunately, no shots were fired, or damsels found in distress, just a romantic meal to awaken the senses.
On our way to the coast from Oxford, we decide to break-up our trip in Jackson, and were thrilled to learn that our friends were playing downtown at 119 Underground. This cozy basement blues club and restaurant, is keeping Mississippi blues alive and adding entertainment to an otherwise sleepy urban downtown. After popping in for a quick visit, which included a huge treat, a tour of the building's dreamy loft apartment and businesses, we left for a late reservation at Parlor Market. Jackson is one of those cities that evacuates at night for the suburbs. Fortunately, places like 119 Underground and Parlor Market are revitalizing city life in this historic district.
From the moment we entered Parlor Market, the service was warm and attentive. The vibe was hip and yet classic. The menu offered a number of raw bar options and appetizers. I rarely turn down an opportunity to eat foie gras and the description made it clear that tonight would be no exception. Served atop a french bread style brioche, the foie gras was served with a kudzu jelly and a red-eye gravy, with a fried sunny-side-up quail egg. As one would expect, the foie gras was silken and rich. I often experience the purist syndrome with foie gras, in that I want to simply eat it plain to relish the buttery depth of the liver, but after trying that, I moved on to feast on the pudding-like texture of the brioche, encapsulated by the crispy french-toast exterior. When dipped in the sweet kudzu jelly, made from the fruit of the infamous locally invasive vine, and the rich coffee flavored red-eye gravy, I felt I had discovered the love child of an affair between France and Mississippi.
In addition to the foie gras, we ordered the southern cheese plate, which included a salty blue cheese, a truffle cheese, a cinnamon and vanilla gouda and an aged, buttery cheese for which our server didn't know the name (it reminded me of a piave vecchio). Served with locally made jalepeno honey, tiger melon, small seedless muscadine grapes, blueberries, incredibly fresh roasted candied pecans, and sliced brioche, I felt like I had gone to tapas heaven.
For my main course, I could not resist the venison special, seared with a dry rub atop a butternut squash puree, drizzled with a truffle gravy, alongside a mushroom and foie gras bread pudding with fig preserves and a haricot vert and sun choke stir fry. Please believe me when I tell you that I could have cut the venison with a fork! The loin was flavorful and tender, almost delicate, and completely unrelated to any of the game venison I have cooked on my grill. The bread pudding should be illegal, it was moist, deep in flavor, and completely satisfying on the tongue. The bright and crispy haricot vert, juxtaposed the fullness of the meal as did the treat of the sun chokes, one of those delightful root vegetables that just never quite make it to my home table.
Mark opted for the burger and as you might expect, it was a work of art worthy of the finest european pub. In keeping with their bread of choice trend, the burger was served on buttered, toasted brioche with butter lettuce, heirloom tomato, and horseradish pecan cheddar. It was accompanied by sweet potato pomme frites in their own miniature fryer basket -- fried to perfection.
While the famed strawberry cake tempted us, the shear richness of our meal prevented us from indulging further, leaving us with a reason to return. While it is easy to patronize our local suburban venues, there is something sexy and historic about driving into the city for a night of great gastronomy and music. Put on your heels, crank the music, and head downtown for a night worthy of writing home.