Food, the concept is simple. Your body tells you it needs fuel, you provide sustenance, and the desire to yell at someone for no reason subsides. “Hangriness” is a real struggle. While eating is a function we can accomplish moments after birth, it is a skill we hone through the following years. No adult admires a baby’s blended peas and carrots. (And I just grossed myself out.) In the same way, our adult pallets cannot comprehend how chicken fingers and fries could be chosen over steak and parmesan crusted potatoes. (I apologize if you love chicken fingers over steak. Or do I? Should I have to apologize for that or should you?) My point is, food is a true art form. They don’t call it the culinary arts for nothing, folks.
If I eat at a world-renowned restaurant, I don’t leave gushing only about the food, it is the entire experience. The atmosphere, comfiness of the tables – can my feet touch the floor or are they dangling uncomfortably midair, music playing, and yes, the food makes my experience complete. You don’t have to dine at a five-star restaurant to experience the culinary arts. What makes someone truly an artist? Passion? Skill? Natural ability? Vision? I guarantee these are all qualities of Jackson’s restaurant entrepreneurs. Culinary arts may not come to mind when you think of Jackson, but that is where you would be wrong. The Hub City is blessed with many food creators who call our city home. They share their passion with every stir of their spoon.
If the way to a man’s heart, and mine, is through his stomach, then how could we not provide our Experience Jackson participants a food tour? (My Tuesday nights often look like a food tour… of the styrofoam temple in my refrigerator.) We decided to introduce the participants to a handful of Jackson’s culinary highlights. There are many more that were not included on the tour. I mean, we only had one evening. If you have a favorite restaurant you think newbies to Jackson should know about, please comment and let us know! I highly recommend following eat731jacksontn on Instagram or Facebook to stay up to date on local cuisine.
The Experience Jackson food tour began at Picasso’s. (Carb-loading here we come!) We entered the bistro and the aroma of delicious delicacies overwhelmed us. The first dish to catch my eye was the bruschetta. Beautifully crafted with fresh tomatoes, onions, feta, basil, and pesto sauce; I was certainly helping myself to seconds. The filet sliders were a crowd favorite; but, with excellent steak on soft bread, who could be surprised that they flew like hot cakes? I had the opportunity to sit down and speak with the owner, James Salter. James told me that Picasso has been in business for 15 years and he has been the owner for the past 13 years (spending his first two years at Picasso as the bartender). I asked James why he believed Jackson was a great place to own a business, “Jackson is a constantly growing community. We are centrally located between Memphis and Nashville so we are experiencing growth on both sides.” If you have a “hankering” for fabulous food, excellent service, and maybe a cocktail then you should make Picasso your next stop.
We cruised over to Asia Garden, open since 1985, for our next stop on the tour which seemed appropriate on International Sushi Day. (Believe me when I say Asia Garden has more than sushi!) We were immediately welcomed by Asia Garden’s owner Joy Yeh. Joy shared with us how her husband and his family came to America from Taiwan. Jackson was not his first landing in the states, but it was his final stop and where he decided to call home. The story of how they came to call Jackson home is as distinct as their family. While traveling through Jackson, the family’s tire went flat and they were forced to pull over. Joy said someone pulled over to help her family right away. From then on, the Jackson community has always gone out of its way to support her, her family, and their business. (Excuse me while I wipe my eyes.) This is one of the many reasons I continue to fall in love with Jackson – strangers who lend a hand and southern hospitality that still stands true.
The plethora of food options was delightful. Chicken katsu, tempura fried squid, tuna or beef tataki, orange chicken, and assorted sushi. For those who were brave enough, there was the chance to try quail eggs. (The eggs are not a standard menu item so don’t expect to get one the next time you pop over to Asia Garden. You have to be a part of the Experience Jackson crew to be cool enough to receive one.) The room was a cacophony of compliments. “I have never had anything like this,” was a repeated phrase. Joy shared with me her love of the Jackson community. “The community has stuck by us through it all,” Joy said. “From the economic downturn to changing locations, they have always been there and supported us. The Jackson community is fantastic and unlike any other.” I wholeheartedly agree with Joy.
We then “salsa”ed our way to Tulum where the scent of fish tacos enveloped us from outside the door. We were immediately greeted with fresh chips and queso at our table. (I have decided this is how I always want to be welcomed. No hugs, no hellos, just queso.) Roberto Garcia, the general manager, told us we would be having their most popular menu item and what Tulum is most known for – fish tacos. The fish taco can make many eaters leery; however, as I watched those around me try their tacos for the first time, I could see their eyes light up and their minds explode with joy. I even overheard someone say, “I can see why this is their most popular item!” Roberto sat down with me and discussed how the restaurant has flourished in the community. “Tulum offers something completely different. All of our food is fresh and never frozen and I think that is something the people of Jackson appreciate,” he said. “We are so fortunate to have amazing customers because without them we would not be where we are today.” The need for two locations shows just how beloved this restaurant is in the community.
731 Sports Bar and Grill was our final stop on the tour. I was excited for the participants to experience 731 because it’s a great environment to go to after work, to watch a game, get a drink, or just socialize. It truly fits into the “sports bar” feel with large televisions covering the restaurant and a distinct pub style menu. We were treated to a variety of wings such as Mango Habanero, Caribean Jerk, Garlic Parmesan, and Honey Garlic. After much deliberation and taste-testing, our participants all came to their own conclusions of which wing flavor was their favorite. Many stood by their decision, while some declared they liked them all.
I was able to speak with Breeana Hudkins, one of the assistant managers, about her love for the restaurant. She said, “I think 731 is different from anything else in Jackson. It is a relaxed environment that is great for people to come together to socialize, watch a game, and enjoy a meal.” She continued by saying, “Jackson is a wonderful town and the community has really supported us ever since we opened in late 2017.”
Don’t mind me, I’ll just be over here wiping the drool off my keyboard. Let’s wrap this puppy up because I’m officially starving. Our participants had a wonderful time eating their way around Jackson, and we are so grateful to each of our host restaurants for their gifts of time and food. If you are interested in learning more about each restaurant, please check out their websites listed below. It is inspiring to see Jacksonians creating a better culinary experience for their community one dish at a time. So, the next time you go out to eat with friends or family try eating local and encourage the chefs in your neighborhoods by making lots of yummy noises. With so many delicious food options, there is no reason to be hangry in Jackson.
Picasso Pizzeria – http://picassopizzeria.com/bistro/
Asia Garden – https://www.asiagardenjackson.com/
Tulum Fresh Mexican Grill – http://www.tulumfreshmex.com/
731 Sports Bar and Grill – https://www.731sportsbarandgrill.com/