Fine and Dandy is Redefining the Southern Diner Experience

There is nothing quite as comforting as diner food. It could be after church on a Sunday or after eight hours of day drinking and all you need is grease. No matter what you’re craving, you’re going to find something that will make the situation (even) better.

When you think of diners, though, certain images come to mind. In the South, Waffle House is probably the first place that popped into your mind. If you’re in the Northeast, maybe it’s a greasy spoon diner in New Jersey or New York. Great food, but definitely not at the level as other restaurants you can go to.

Now, in Jackson, Mississippi, you’ll have a chance to have your diner food and your elevated experience all in one place.

At Fine & Dandy, which opened in late 2017, executive chef Jesse Houston is kicking the diner game up a few notches. In the words of the time, he wants to make diner food “fancy AF.”

If anyone can do it, it’s Houston. He is a James Beard Award nominee for Best Chef in the South and his previous restaurant, Saltine, was given a nod on Bon Appetit’s 50 Best New Restaurants 2015 list. Before starting on his own, Houston worked with chefs such as Wolfgang Puck, Stephan Pyles, and more.

The premise for Fine & Dandy is simple, Houston says. “We wanted to build a burger restaurant that was based on Southern cuisine where we could give the classics  modern twist while still remaining approachable.”

He calls this approach “grandma chic” — something your grandmother would make and eat, but updated.

Jesse Houston
Image courtesy of Fine & Dandy
Image courtesy of Fine & Dandy

Take, for example, one of the star menu items: Tater Tots We Didn’t Make. The tots, as the name says, are the exact same tater tots you’ve been eating since grade school.

“I’ve made tater tots from scratch before and they’ve always been good, but they’re not the same. You just can’t get the same crunchy outside and pillowy interior,” Houston says.

Instead of trying to recreate what is already great, he says they take the tots and run with them.

“We’re not going to hide the fact that we make everything in-house. We’re going to call it what it is, but we will top it with things like bacon or caviar and present it in a high-end manner,” he says.

If the thought of crispy tots drizzled in truffled créme fraiche “ranch” and finished off with the saline joy that is smoked trout caviar doesn’t do it for you, we don’t know what will.

tater tots
Image courtesy of Fine & Dandy
Image courtesy of Fine & Dandy

Oh wait, yes we do: the Worst Ribs in Town.

A play on a pork belly dish that Houston used to make, the Worst Ribs in Town are a nod to the rich barbecue culture of the South.

“Everyone already has their favorite local barbecue joint and style. If I said mine were the best, people would automatically go against that and think they’re not,” Houston says.

To make the ribs, Houston says, they first smoke the meat for a few hours. Next, the ribs are wrapped and braised in stock. Once cooled, they’re cut into smaller racks and deep fried to order.

Yeah, you heard us. Deep. Fried.

The ribs are then glazed with pepper jelly and topped with crushed peanuts, pickled onions, and minced chives. The resulting heaven on a plate is sticky, smoky, and savory — everything a good barbecue dish should be.

On the burger side — since the goal was to make a burger place, after all — the Byron walks the line between casual diner food and a high-end experience. The patty is made from house-ground beer then topped with house bacon, Swiss, malt vinegar mushrooms, crispy shallots, and roasted garlic mayo. What’s not to love about that?

The drinks haven’t been forgotten. Fine & Dandy is stocked with local beers and offers a variety of cocktails, including classics like a Manhattan or a Planter’s Punch and original drinks such as the Kentucky Beach Party (Old Overholt Rye, Plantation Pineapple Rum, cinnamon, Velvet Falernum, grapefruit, and lime) and the Gose Gamblin Spritz (Barsol Pisco, Lucky Town Gose Gamblin’, passion fruit, and cardamom bitters).

Whether you’re looking for down-home cooking or elevated cuisine while traveling in and around Jackson, Mississippi, Fine & Dandy is the place to go.

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