The exploration is more like a tasty international tour, with guides as fluent in ethnic flavors as they are in Mississippi tastes. All the “travel” danced on my tongue, with a party spirit worthy of a postcard home (even if that’s just the other side of Interstate 55).
First stop: France. Then Cuba. Then South toward home before a sweet dash back to France. All at Whisk Creperie. The concept by the La Brioche Patisserie team focuses on savory and sweet crepes (thin, light pancakes rolled or folded with filling). Savory crepes use buckwheat flour (naturally gluten-free) in a nod to France’s Bretagne region’s original recipe, says owner Patrik Lazzari.
Gray Townsend, savory chef de cuisine, says educating customers about the endless possibilities of crepes — as versatile as sliced bread or pizza crust — is part of the process. A crepe is simply the vehicle, with plenty of room for the filling to ride inside.
Whisk honors the traditional French crepe, but also pays tribute to the local palate. Hence, the Southerner, a crepe with braised collard greens, Country Pleasin’ sausage, pimento cheese, tomato relish and a drizzle of comeback sauce— a combo that sounds like a gimmick till you take a bite. It hugs you like a homecoming, and a feast ensues. For Townsend, it’s a sensory trip back to family cookouts — a family reunion in a crepe, with all the love folded in, too.
Lazzari says crepes provide a quick, lighter alternative for lunch. Whisk’s savory special for September was La Cubana, a playful take on the Cuban sandwich, crepe-style; the sweet special was a spin on S’mores. More classic is the dessert crepe, Nutty Bella, with Nutella spread, fresh strawberries and Chantilly cream, dreamy under its dusting of confectioner’s sugar and a drizzle of chocolate. Gelato and pastries further tempt the sweet tooth.
Next stop: Hawaii, by way of Poké Stop Hawaii Bowls’ chilled raw goodness. It’s as refreshing as an ocean breeze. Owner Rachel Phuong Lê came to Mississippi from Long Beach, California, and brought the Poké wave with her, along with a food love honed in her family’s Vietnamese Pho shop from her childhood. Poké is a deconstructed sushi roll in a bowl, and its light, healthy profile was a prime reason for her pick.
“I wanted to bring something refreshing, new and healthy to Mississippi,” she says. It’s simple — soy sauce and fish over rice and her sauces trend lighter, too. Customize your bowl with picks of white or brown rice, mixed greens or a combination of those. Then, pick two proteins (tuna, salmon, tofu, Spam, cooked seafood), mix-ins of raw vegetables, a selection of her house-made sauces (honey ginger, sweet chili sauce and red volcano among the options) and toppings including pickled ginger, crispy wontons, avocado, seaweed salad and many more.
This Poké newbie picks The Sweet Ukuleleist bowl with half brown rice and salad greens, tuna and shrimp, and the combo of pineapples, cucumbers, edamame and corn topped with seaweed, masago, crispy wontons and furikake sauced with honey-ginger. It’s a revelation, and refreshing as promised. The pineapple orange summer punch with a shot of strawberry is like sunshine in a cup, and I hear a blue coconut punch is on the horizon next.
The degree of customization at Poké Stop makes it a breeze to suit any eating style — gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, low-fat, low-carb, Keto and more. See long lines there? It’s a validation, but not a concern — they move fast, Lê says. “It’s a great lunch destination. You don’t feel sleepy afterward, and you get your food in under 10 minutes.” That’s feel-good, all the way around.
Ariella’s NY Delicatessan
Next stop: New York City. Chef Alivia Townsend (no relation to Gray Townsend) started out with Ariella’s NY Delicatessen at Cultivation Food Hall, inspired by the votes of Facebook group Eat Mississippi #TriCountyFoodies members and tapping into nostalgia for the beloved but gone Olde Tyme Deli. That concept pulled from Jewish and Italian deli influences and enjoyed a run through early October 2019.
At last check, Alivia Townsend plans to reopen Ariella’s in a new spot in the hall as an Italian pasta bar. “People know that I know flavors,” she says. “Now it’s just a matter of showing them what I really do.” Start salivating for fresh pasta, house-made sauces, a variety of salads and pasta salads, tiramisu and Italian cream sodas, on a menu aimed at both lunch and dinner crowds.