Hattiesburg restaurateur and author Robert St. John had been majoring in Communications when he took a job managing a small delicatessen. In this episode, he recalls how that experience lead him to a career. While working at the deli and as a waiter, St. John returned to college, studying Hospitality Management, where he preferred to spend his time designing restaurants. He opened his first one in the late 80s, the Crescent City Grill where he began to establish a reputation as a chef and food writer.
After 29 years in business, Robert St. John knows what it takes to be a successful Hattiesburg restaurateur. With five unique restaurants, currently in operation and another opening soon, he discusses what makes his home town special and how to give customers what they want. He also describes two of his newer dining concepts and the process of creating them.
Whenever St. John is on the road, he always seeks out locally owned places to eat and shop. He believes these one-of-a-kind businesses are what gives a town its unique identity.
PHOTO: Hattiesburg American
Lunch counters and cafeterias have long provided time-strapped Americans with fast, affordable food. In this episode, restaurateur and author, Robert St. John discusses the evolution of Hattiesburg dining, beginning with three early Hub City eateries and why they were close to the train station. He also recalls the Frost Top, a franchise fixture from the 50s - 70s, all the times he ate there and what made the Frost Top so special.
Throughout the 20th Century, large companies and boarding houses provided plate lunches for hungry workers. St. John describes some of Hattiesburg’s favorite lunchrooms and their “meat and three” menus. For hungry shoppers, the department store lunch counters provided a ready respite, before eventually being replaced by mall food courts. St. John remembers some of Hattiesburg’s department store food fare and hanging out at the Cloverleaf Mall.
PODCAST EXTRA: Jimmy Faughn, an early Hattiesburg restaurateur, operated several eateries including The Collegian, Le Faughn’s, and the Sea Lodge. St. John reflects on Faughn’s reputation as the fine dining patriarch of Hattiesburg.
PHOTO: Coney Island Café in the same location since 1923.
The term “comfort food” is used to describe those dishes that remind us of home and family.
In this episode, Randy Yates co-owner of the Ajax Diner in Oxford discusses his idea of comfort food. He shares his memories of dishes his mother prepared for the family growing up as well as the wide variety of foods they enjoyed at the Neshoba County Fair every year.
When Yates and his business partner opened the Ajax Diner in Oxford, they decided to offer a quality plate lunch. He discusses what the average college student wants, the large variety of home-style dishes they offer and explains why the term “comfort food” is no misnomer.
No one has more of a passion for good food than Hattiesburg’s own Robert St. John. As a food writer and restaurateur, St. John has found the recipe for successfully translating his love of cooking into a successful career. Through the popularity of his eateries, cook books and food columns, one readily sees his complete understanding of the southern palate. An understanding he credits to his upbringing.
In this episode, St. John discusses his Hattiesburg roots and how his family’s Thanksgivings have changed through the years. He remembers his grandmother as a great cook and hostess. And he explains how the smell of a roux still reminds him of Thanksgivings at her house.
Many of the recipes St. John prepares on Thanksgivings today have been passed down from his mother and grandmother. Even so, he still manages to add his own touches.
Podcast extra: Even though he knows he could do a lot of business on holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, St. John feels it’s more important for his employees to be at home with their families on those days.
Happy Thanksgiving from Mississippi Moments.
Marcelle Bienvenu grew up in Saint Martinville, Louisana. In this episode, she discusses her family’s passion for cooking and how Chef Paul Prudhomme introduced the world to Cajun cuisine. Bienvenu was working at Commanders Palace restaurant in New Orleans when they hired Prudhomme. She recalls his “Trinity” of spices.
Bienvenu is a columnist with the Times Picayune and has published several cookbooks. She also teaches cooking classes and courses on culinary traditions of the American South.
Podcast Extra: Bienvenu explains how which part of Louisiana you’re from determines the way you cook Creole food.
Kris Gianakos of Meridian comes from a large Greek family. In this episode, he discusses his favorite way to prepare leg of lamb. Lamb is a staple of Greek cooking. For his family, it was a dish usually served during the holidays. He also describes avgolemono soup, a traditional Greek chicken soup and explains why it always reminds him of home.
PODCAST EXTRA: According to Gianakos, wherever he travels, he runs into other Greeks eager to share their traditional foods. As examples he cites two Greek-owned restaurants in Memphis and Oxford.
Mary Louise Tarver was born in 1918 on Elm’s Court Plantation in Natchez. In this episode, she recalls her Uncle Will’s garden and his prickly relationship with her mother.
Growing up on a farm taught Mary Louise Tarver to enjoy simple pleasures. She remembers riding horseback to the Homochitto Swamp to spend the day fishing.
For Mary Louise Tarver, farm life meant learning to be self-sufficient. She describes how her mother would use apple peels to make vinegar, and use the vinegar to make pickles.
PODCAST EXTRA: During the Great Depression, some schools began serving students a hot lunch using food items provided by government. Tarver recalls how the lunch lady did the best she could with what she had on hand.
Before there was Whole Foods, there was wild foods. As a young man, Alonzo Brandon of Port Gibson, hunted in order to help feed his family. In this episode he describes how he would outsmart the squirrels that tried to hide from him.
After working all day, Alonzo Brandon would often go coon hunting. He recalls waiting until dawn some nights for a treed coon to finally come down. He also discusses his weapon of choice, the 22 caliber rifle.
Brandon’s family raised hogs as an additional source of protein. In this podcast extra, he remembers how the hogs would also hunt to supplement their diets.
Jackson has always enjoyed a wide selection of choices when it comes to dining out. In this episode, Randy Yates discusses the important role Greek restaurateurs played in Jackson’s culinary history. Yates began working for Primos Northgate restaurant as a college student. He remembers the large crowds and the places the staff would go between shifts.
After Primos, Yates took a job working at Scrooge’s. He credits owner Bill Latham and Don Primos for teaching him some important job skills.
Today, Randy Yates is co-owner of the Ajax Diner, on the Square, in Oxford.
Hattiesburg native, Robert St. John opened his first restaurant, The Purple Parrot, in 1987. He explains his decision to have multiple dining formats in the same building.
St. John has authored seven cookbooks and his weekly food column is syndicated in thirty newspapers. In this extended version of the original episode, he discusses how his love of traditional Southern cooking, seafood and Creole cuisine has shaped his own cooking style and how Southern cooking has evolved in the past twenty-five years.
Jewish holidays are traditionally associated with certain foods. Gail Goldberg of Greenwood discusses some of these dishes. She explains why, as the Jewish population of Greenwood has declined, holiday traditions have become even more important. Goldberg also details the tremendous amount of effort that goes into preparing for the family’s annual Rosh Hashanah celebration.