As the writer of Exodus tells us, “There arose a new pharaoh who knew not Joseph,” so there has arisen a new generation of Jacksonians who know not the Elite. Or, to be more specific, the pronunciation thereof. As far back as I can remember (which was not too far removed to that then august establishment) the name of the restaurant rhymes with “delight.” Nowadays folks will argue, desirous of applying the Yankee articulation which enunciates more like “delete.”
Whichever is your choice, make no mistake, the food successfully matches the former.
The real delight is, of course, feasting on those piping hot-from-the-oven yeast rolls slathered in butter. One could easily make a meal off them and a couple glasses of iced tea. They are baked literally by the thousands every day. If you have ever wondered why there are people lined up and down the block during the 100 degree temperatures and 90+% humidity of mid-August or the below freezing temperatures driven even lower because of the wind chill factor of February, then you need not speculate further. In a word, it is the rolls. Pure and simple.
There are, however, many more delightful and tasty dishes listed on the bill of fare. So much so that the rolls become a pleasant adjunct. And those waitresses will ferry rolls out to your table as long as you can put them away.
Two of our favorite dishes at the Elite are the enchilada casserole and the veal cutlet, both of which are, I suppose, to us at any rate, comfort food. They both appear on the lunch and dinner menus.
We usually opt for the enchilada casserole with extra onions. Tortillas rolled with onions and cheese, topped with chili and even more cheese and baked until they are crisp on top. A serving of extra, raw, chopped onions completes this dish — provided you do not have interviews all afternoon. And we sop the extra sauce with more of those luscious rolls.
Our other comfort food is the veal cutlet. Real ones, not those frozen patties that have become the mainstay in so many eateries. Lightly breaded and fried and served with a glop of gooey gravy that nicely holds its shape atop the cutlets. The Elite invented “gooey” eons before that Chihuahua was hired for those commercials.
Fried calves liver smothered in onions is another favored selection. The liver is thin but not overcooked. The gravy is good and this provides a good way to get an extra portion of iron in your diet without all of the mess and bother of doing it yourself.
Other recommendable meals are the Irish stew, which is made with beef rather than mutton, but was pronounced “more than adequate” by our friend Maestro Colman Pierce, who is, at present, over on the other side of “the pond” enjoying the real thing.
We also enjoy the smoked pork hocks and navy beans when we are in the mood for something different.
The folks at the Elite do a jam-up job with the fried shrimp. We have been known to order them with the remoulade sauce as an appetizer or make our meal off them. The butterflied, jumbo shrimp are just lightly battered and fried to perfection.
A dozen fried oysters also provide a relatively low-cal meal that is both delicious and filling. The oysters always seem to be cooked to perfection and we have never encountered overdone mollusks in this establishment.
The fried chicken is good, but you will have to wait for it. That takes about twenty minutes, but it is worth the wait.
Most of the enumerated entrees are served with a starch or may be ordered as a part of a complete meal at either lunch or dinner, which includes a salad, vegetable, dessert and a drink.
The pies at the Elite are still worth the extra calories. We usually split one after an otherwise filling repast replete will rolls and butter. A couple of forks full of sweet in sufficient to leave a good taste in one’s mouth and sate one’s sweet tooth, but not enough to make one feel overly stuffed.
Lunches are generally in the $5 to $6 range and dinners around $10, so the Elite not only provides good food, but does so at a reasonable price. Two persons can easily dine in the evening for between $25 and $30 including tax and tip.
Among the idiosyncrasies of the Elite is “no plastic” and “no checks.” Many is the time, we have had to hot foot it down to one of the ATMs in the next block to retrieve cash to satisfy the ticket.
My grand Dad used to regale us with the memory of his first visit to the Elite. During the first week, word got around, and my sire’s entire engine crew walked down Capitol Street all the way from the I.C. Depot where they had “tied-up for beans.” And on that fateful day in 1947, they were turned away — because they were all wearing overalls, and “this restaurant has standards.” So much for class in the Capital City, but at least the food standards are still in place. So much so that one can find oneself out on the sidewalk waiting during the evening hours as well as at lunch. And we think that the patrons waiting on the outside more than reflect the quality of the food to be found on the inside.
The Elite Cafe is located at 141 East Capitol Street in downtown Jackson. Hours are from 7-9 a.m. on weekdays and from 5-9:30 p.m. on Saturdays. Dark on Sundays. Cash only. No checks and no credit cards. Inexpensive. Handicap accessible. Reservations not taken. Telephone: (601) 352-5606.
Bill Patrick’s column appears regularly in the Mississippi Business Journal. He has written extensively about restaurants for more than a dozen years and has served in the kitchen, dining room, behind the bar and as a food service inspector. The views expressed in this column do not necessarily represent those held by the Mississippi Business Journal, its staff or advertisers. Comment is welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. Bill Patrick makes a regular appearance on Thurman Boykin’s radio talk show Thursdays at 5:30 p.m. on WJNT-1180 AM in Jackson.