By Pamela Selbert
One of the best parts of traveling – even when you go by RV and bring your kitchen along – is occasionally letting someone else do the cooking. This may be especially true in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi – the states we’re crossing on U.S. Highway 80 this month – as each has its own distinct cuisine. You’ll find local favorites – as well as standard fare – at the following “mom and pop” family-style restaurants.
2717 Howell Street
Hours: Sunday-Wednesday 10:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., Thursday 10:30 a.m. to 3:00 a.m.,
Friday and Saturday 10:30 a.m. to 4:00 a.m.
Although Rocco’s, which opened in 2001, focuses mainly on Italian cuisine with an almost bewildering array of pastas and pizzas, and is located a few miles north of Highway 80, it comes so highly recommended by Dallas residents (a “city search” called Rocco’s pizza “Number 1 in Town” and a couple that dines there often insists that the “alfredo sauce is to die for”), it seemed leaving this restaurant out would just be wrong.
Owner Manal Khalaf says the restaurant, which can seat 80 to 90 diners, is especially popular for its brick-oven pizzas, with nearly two dozen varieties and dozens of toppings available. Rocco’s Supreme, Chicken Alfredo and Buffalo Chicken are top favorites. Dozens of pasta dishes, including several with seafood are also on the menu, as are numerous soups, salads, panini sandwiches and much more. Prices are reasonable. Pasta with salad and rolls costs $6.50; pizzas in five sizes range in cost from $9.95 for a 10-inch pie to $19.95 for an 18-inch pie.
To get to Rocco’s from Highway 80 (I-30) take U.S. Highway 75 north to the Lemmon-Hall exit; turn left on Hall, left on Oak Grove, left on McKinney, and right on Howell to the restaurant.
Bluebird Café in Wills Point, Texas
124 West North Commerce Street
Hours: Monday-Saturday 6:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Closed Sunday.
The Bluebird, owned by Mike and Lorie Isaac, opened in the early 1980s and can seat up to about 90 diners, according to employee Carrie Bateman. Breakfast specialties include a popular Spanish omelette. The lunch menu offers burgers that are “just plain good, nothing processed, nothing frozen” and a variety of “Tex-Mex” dishes such as enchiladas, Texas-size burritos and more. Prices are reasonable: a plate lunch of “meat and two sides” costs $6.50. Commerce Street parallels Highway 80 through the town, with just a few dozen feet separating the two.
Neely’s Brown Pig in Marshall, Texas
1404 East Grand Avenue (Highway 80)
Hours: Tuesday-Thursday 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., Friday 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. and
Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Closed Sunday and Monday.
Neely’s, opened by James Neely in 1927, has over the years become a local institution, famous for miles around. Now owned by Sally Cobb and Sue Lazaro, the restaurant, which seats 45, is nearly always full – diners may eat in or carry out. A variety of sandwiches are on the menu, most notably the beef brisket; “little pig ham,”
diced pork tenderloin; ham and cheese, and sliced pork served on a four-inch white bun (as are all the sandwiches) with mayonnaise, lettuce and the restaurant’s signature barbecue sauce. Baked ham sandwiches, hamburgers and cheeseburgers are also available.
Sides include chili, French fries, cole slaw and Neely’s famous chili-cheese fries. A meal, which includes a sandwich, slaw, fries and a drink (iced tea or other soft drink) costs $6.40. Sandwiches range in price from $2.50 to $3.25.
Crawfish Palace in Haughton, Louisiana (east of Shreveport)
1865 Highway 80
Hours: Open the weekend after Thanksgiving to the weekend after July 4th;
Monday-Thursday 4:00 to 8:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday Noon to 9:30 p.m.,
and Sunday Noon to 8:30 p.m.
Owners Somsree and David Cook opened Crawfish Palace 13 years ago. As the name suggests, crawfish are the main focus – hence the restaurant is open only when the little crustaceans, caught in south Louisiana, are in season but the menu also includes other dishes. Most popular are the platters that include three pounds of boiled crawfish, corn-on-the-cob and two boiled potatoes, says Jodi Kociaba of the restaurant. The price varies “according to the market” ($21.95 in February, though the cost goes down with warmer weather, when crawfish become more plentiful, she says). Boiled shrimp, catfish and French fries are also available, as is a “superb” made-at-the-restaurant seafood gumbo served with rice.
Rowdy’s Family Restaurant in Vicksburg, Mississippi
60 Highway 27 (at the corner of U.S. 80 and Mississippi Highway 27)
Hours: Sunday-Thursday 11:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11:00 a.m.
to 10:00 p.m.
Rowdy Nosser, who opened the restaurant in 1987, comes from a long line of restaurateurs and grocers (his grandfather, Pete Nosser, founded the Jitney-Jungle grocery chain in 1933, the first supermarkets in the state; his parents and uncle ran local restaurants). All the dishes at Rowdy’s are original family recipes, he says, with names such as “Southerner” and “Vicksburger” (hamburgers), “Towboat” (hamburger steak), “Old Man River” (thin-sliced catfish fried to a potato-chip-like crisp), “Paddlewheel” (fried breast-filet of chicken) and others. Diners – the restaurant seats 140 – may choose to have their entree grilled, blackened or fried, he said.
Restaurant décor is “Old Vicksburg,” with photos of the town from the early 1900s and numerous artifacts from his family’s restaurant and grocery days adorning the four walls.
Nosser says he “prides himself” that all food served at the restaurant is made there. This, he believes, is what has made him so successful. Desserts – notably his mother’s recipes for pecan pie and Mississippi mud pie – are particularly special. He adds that his fried catfish has been voted “Vicksburg’s Best” from 1996 through 2010. Prices are reasonable, with meals ranging in cost from $4 to $15.
When RVers have finished their meal they have only to drive off the parking lot and onto Old U.S. Highway 80, which “begins – if you’re headed east – right outside my door,” Nosser says.