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Sal & Mookie’s promises dining experience in Fondren

There is a new eatery under construction in the heart of Jackson that promises to offer the area something different. Sal & Mookie’s is planning a mid-April opening in the Fondren District of the Capital City, offering gourmet New York-style pizzas, sandwiches, ice cream and more.

While the restaurant and concept will be new to the area, the principals are veterans of the industry. Jackson high school buddies Jeff Good and Dan Blumenthal opened BRAVO! Italian Restaurant & Bar approximately 13 years ago, and were joined by chef Jon Pixler when they opened Broad Street Baking Company & Café approximately nine years ago. Sal & Mookie’s looks to be their most ambitious undertaking to date, but the three were all smiles as they talked over the screaming saws and pounding hammers at the restaurant’s site on Taylor Street.

“The word of the day is ‘great,’” Good said.

All-American food

Is developing quality pizza dough an art or science?

According to Pixler, the chef and “head pizzaiolo” at Sal & Mookie’s, it is a lot of both, and he should know. He has spent the last months in pizza dough research and development, and, like the rest of the new eatery’s offerings, the three men believe they have found just the right mix and method.

But, the roots of Sal & Mookie’s, named for the main characters in the Spike Lee film “Do the Right Thing,” go back much farther than that. The principals had been kicking around the idea of opening a new restaurant in Jackson for a half-decade, and decided on pizza for several reasons. One, they felt the Jackson area was underserved by quality pizza restaurants. Two, Blumenthal grew up in the Northeast, and was familiar with New York-style pizzas. Third, everyone loves pizza.

“It’s an All-American food,“ Blumenthal said. “So is ice cream.”

In addition to the dough, Pixler has spent long hours tolling over recipes for pizza sauce, and has concocted one featuring San Morzanzo tomatoes, which are sweet while low in acid. The mozzarella will be freshly made, and the herbs will be grown on-site in Mookie’s Herb Garden, which will be located on the west side of the eatery.

Not scrimping on the cooking, either, the pizzas will be baked in four custom-manufactured, brick-lined, gas-fired parabolic ovens.

Sal & Mookie’s will offer much more than just pizzas. In addition to Italian appetizers, upscale salads and, at night, home-style pasta, meat and poultry dishes, the restaurant’s menu will include grilled panini sandwiches, submarine sandwiches and unique hamburgers made with a mixture of ground chuck and Italian sausage and served on buttery buns baked at Broad Street.

Another unique offering will be ice cream. Good, Blumenthal and Pixler took their time mulling over ice cream, at one point leaning toward co-branding, but in the end deciding on an on-site scoop shop. It will offer 18 types of gourmet, small-batch, handmade ice cream, as well as numerous house-made desserts, shakes, sundaes, splits and a complete espresso, cappuccino and coffee selection.

The ice cream bar will be located near the restaurant’s entrance, and will double as the take-out counter for all call-in orders.

Finally, Sal & Mookie’s will provide a bar offering wine, beer and mixed drinks. According to the principals, Sal & Mookie’s will be the only pizzeria in the tri-county area to offer a full-service bar.

Building on the past

Good, Blumenthal and Pixler have been just as particular about the layout of the restaurant. The building on Taylor Street goes back decades, and was most recently The Woodlands restaurant. The renovation required a total gutting of the building, overseen by builder Jimmy Thornton.

The décor will be that of a 1930’s Little Italy restaurant with warm colors, wood trim, brick floors, unique black-and-white photos of New York in the 1930s and antique furniture.

The restaurant will accommodate up to 222 patrons, and seating choices will include tables, booths and a long banquette, a perfect venue for large groups. Sal & Mookie’s will also offer one of the largest outside decks (“Italian Porch”) that will stretch across the eatery’s west and south sides.

Counting both inside and outside, Sal & Mookie’s will encompass approximately 8,000 square feet, and will employ roughly 60 workers. (That would bring total employment between the principals’ three restaurants to approximately 180.)

The principals are banking that diners will see an ever-changing vista. The historic Fondren District has seen a renaissance of late, and perched on the district’s southern edge, they believe new development is on the way. A developer has bought up much of the surrounding land, and a new Fondren trolley is running, bringing customers from other parts of the city to enjoy the area’s blend of quaint and interesting shops, boutiques and eateries.

Good, known for his advocacy of the Capital City, said they built in Fondren because of this ambiance, and feels Sal & Mookie’s will be a perfect fit for the area’s other offerings.

Blumenthal admitted that they knew they were somewhat pioneering in the area, and, thus, the risks were higher than when they founded BRAVO! and Broad Street. However, as it stands now, the restaurant is within walking distance of the University of Mississippi Medical Center and Memorial Stadium, and with that and the trolley, Sal & Mookie’s should not have to wait for customers to come calling.

“We have people who are extremely passionate about what they do,” Good said. “That’s been our secret to success, and we will have the same passion here at Sal & Mookie’s.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.

About Wally Northway

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