Saturday, February 4, 2023

Iconic Restaurants of Jackson, Mississippi

Bill Matheos of Jackson, MS. Photograph by Rien Fertel.
Bill Matheos of Jackson, MS. Photograph by Rien Fertel.

Eudora Welty, in an autobiographical essay titled “Finding a Voice,” called her hometown of Jackson “a region to itself.” And over the first two days of an oral history road trip here to capture the stories behind the area’s iconic restaurants, I’ve found Welty’s words echo in the voices of a Greek immigrant, a second-generation catfish shack proprietor, and a fledgling developer who has saved a beloved soda shop from shuttering. Their quiltwork of voices define many places and one place, many regions and one region. Take Bill Matheos (pictured here). A cook in the Greek Navy, after a couple unsuccessful attempts to jump ship, he migrated to the United States in 1968. He met a local girl, Judy, who helped him open Bill’s Burger House. After a decade of living in America, Matheos added recipes from his home-island of Thasos. It didn’t take at first, but, soon enough, orders for the house specialty — fresh seafood, coated in flour and Greek spice, and griddled in olive oil — eventually found an audience (Welty , herself, became his most famous regular and a close friend). Seventy-nine years old, Matheos still stands at his grill for eleven lunch and dinner shifts each week, frying fish, sing-shouting Greek and American folk and pop songs, and greeting each customer with a hearty, “God Bless America!”
~Rien Fertel
Rien Fertel has documented lunch houses in Acadiana and a multitude of barbecue joints for the SFA. His first book, Imagining the Creole City, is out in October. –Amy Cameron Evans, SouthernFoodways