FOOD: Al Fresco Dining: A Sin?

Had God intended us to experience fine dining out-of-doors, he would have created Schimmel's as a group of picnic tables scattered around a vacant lot on North State Street. The mere existence of china, crystal and air conditioning communicate the Almighty's intent as clearly as that burning-bush thing. Civilized people are to eat indoors. Period.

There are those, however, who seem to actually enjoy eating outside. These naïve waifs need to understand that eating out-of-doors in Mississippi has the potential to take on the qualities of one of the newly popular extreme sports. Consider the hazards. First, we possess an insect population large enough to be of interest to even the most experienced entomologist. Second, one can be assured these creatures will be accompanied by high humidity. In turn, the high humidity will be associated with either biting cold or stifling heat and, in both cases, rain. It is the stuff of a reality TV show.

Concerned for the safety of my readers, I attended several establishments in the Fondren district for purposes of outdoor food and drink. Despite the risk, I am able to report a number of places where the al fresco event was actually pleasurable.

Cups (2757 Old Canton Rd., 362-7422) in Fondren offers the most traditional of the outdoor dining encounters and resembles a Parisian sidewalk café. The patio is covered and protects the eclectic crowd from rain and sun. An excellent selection of international coffees, pastries and sandwiches make Cups an exceptional location to debate the coming war—whether you wish to bomb Iraq or the Republican National Committee.

Some may feel a discussion of global political strategy requires more experience in international fare—tequila, for example. Good news: El Ranchero Mexican restaurant (2741 Old Canton Rd., 982-0809) is just a few steps from Cups. Strings of brightly colored lights illuminate the covered outdoor dining area. The fajitas are superb, and the portions are ample. A friendly wait staff will not only attend to every need, they will not laugh when you attempt to use your long-forgotten high school Spanish.

Walker's Drive-In (3016 North State St., 982-2633) is a Jackson favorite, whether you're dining inside or out. Comfortable furniture, and heaters to take the chill off the evening, contribute to a pleasant experience. Umbrellas protect diners from the late afternoon sun, and a short brick wall gives the area an intimate feeling. Anything you order will be good, and the wine list is more than adequate.

Outdoor dining is also available at the Woodlands (565 Taylor St., 713-1004) just off North State. The patio area is small, but French doors open to the bar so people can go in and out at leisure. The menu features seafood and meat dishes, as well as wonderful desserts.

A new dimension in open-air dining in Fondren will arrive with the renovation of the patio at Que Sera Sera. Over 1,800 square feet of imported Italian tile will form the floor of the refurbished area. Translated into the vernacular, this is about the size of your average double-wide. Four heaters and an open-fire pit will keep diners warm on cool nights, and a fine mist system will cool the air in the heat of the summer. All this— and a menu with everything from ribeye steaks to ham and cheese po-boys.

Even though I ate the food and drank the wine at great peril, please feel no need to thank me—it's my job. I still believe God intends for us to consume food inside, but the Fondren district's restaurants offer one more chance to sin and enjoy it.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment