Pasta, pasta everywhere (and lots of pizza)
Son No. 1 took himself a wife with wanderlust in her blood, and he knew it full well when he married her. On college break, while the rest of her dormmates waited tables and babysat their nephews, R. criss-crossed Alaska as a tour guide. Another adventure involved trekking the Grand Canyon. And after graduation she even did the travel nurse thing on St. Thomas for a while. So when my son told us they were planning a trip to Italy this year — Rome, Venice, the whole nine yards — I wasn’t really surprised. R. would get to see great stuff, and he’d get to eat great stuff. What more could a couple want?
But while they’re scrambling for passports, I’m content to partake of some closer-to-home Italian fare. In addition to Brookhaven’s own notable establishments, Mississippi touts quite a few other pasta and pizza eateries, and I’m hoping to make my way (eventually) to all of them. For starters, though, here are four I can attest to as being worth a visit. And the best part? The menu prices are reasonable, leaving diners with something to contribute to their own dream-trip-to-Italy travel fund. Capishe?
Buon Cibo (Hernando)
Buon Cibo (Italian for “good food”) gets rave reviews for its commitment to serving a menu made from locally-grown ingredients. Our group decided to try one of their pizzas, all of which are named for towns in the region – The Biloxi, The Memphis, The Natchez – with clever references. The Nesbit honors Jerry Lee Lewis (it’s a killer), and The Oxford brings in the Greek (you’ll pledge to love it). We went with The Itta Bena (make B.B. proud), a tall boy with roasted chicken tossed in buffalo sauce, marinara, celery, mozzarella and blue cheese. I also ordered the ‘Shroom and Brie Sandwich, a fancy number with caramelized onions and a balsamic reduction sauce. Yum.
Tony’s Brick Oven Pizzeria (Gulfport)
We knew Tony’s had to be something special when the lunch line wrapped outside the door and onto the sidewalk on the day we decided to check it out. “It’s always packed,” one local told me, which means the Food Network Magazine knew what it was doing when awarding the downtown eatery with its “America’s Best Pizza” prize for the state of Mississippi. Tony’s offers what the name proclaims – a variety of pizzas baked in a brick oven, plainly in view from most seating areas. We ordered the Downtown Supreme, a pie which has, in addition to expected toppings, capicolla, artichoke hearts, baby portabella mushrooms and zucchini. Definitely worth the wait.
Tellini’s Pasta Market (Tupelo)
Recipient of the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal’s 2015 Reader’s Choice Award for best Italian food, Tellini’s has a reputation as a fast, casual eatery that’s perfect for the entire family. Don’t let the drive-through window fool you, though. This is no fast-food fare. Scratchmade and fresh, menu items include everything from homemade meatballs to paninis. If you and your bambinos go, be sure to try the cheesebread (a crowd favorite). My husband gave his dessert an eight-plus on his cheesecake scale.
Lillo’s has been serving up no-frills authentic Italian in the Delta for over 60 years. Loyal fans don’t seem to mind the aging interior, which even my husband (a man who isn’t known for noticing such things) commented on. I found I can look past time-warp vinyl and a stack of boxes in the corner when superior red sauce is involved.
Our meal began with the beloved Lillo’s salad, a simple offering made of iceberg lettuce, house dressing and optional anchovies. It ended in lasagna delight.
Here’s what one diner had to say about the traditional hot spot: “I’ve endured my share of small-town excuses for Italian, as well as the “trendy bistro” approach in wannabe mid-sized cities. The Delta has a long Italian heritage, and it shows at Lillo’s. It’s very good basic Italian food.”
Mama-mia. I’d have to agree.
Wesson resident Kim Henderson is a freelance writer who writes for The Daily Leader. Contact her at email@example.com.