Touch down in the 1693 Red Zone Grill, tuck that packed to-go box under an arm and know this: It’s winner dinner time. Chef/owner Michael Mosley draws from his native New Orleans for a culinary base, and pulls in global influences for fun.
The 1693 Red Zone Grill, open almost three years “and still pushing” Mosley says, is in the same strip center as Quest Fitness, at 1693 Lakeover Road in Jackson. The restaurant’s address is listed as 1693 Beasley Road. Just call if you need to home in on it.
Mosley played college football at Louisiana Tech University, then transferred to Jackson State University where he played quarterback and receiver. He did track and field there, too. “I threw javelin. I wasn’t running or anything,” he says, chuckling. “I tried it once but I’m like, ‘naw,’ I’m not a big fan of running.”
He is a big fan, though, of running the grill that keeps diners in that Red Zone sweet spot — so close to a touchdown they can taste it.
“It’s fun to me. I’m only closed on Sundays. I’d do it all days, but my wife ain’t having it. …When I’m off, I’m usually at home, cooking.”
He’s always cooked, he says. Growing up in New Orleans, “that’s how it is. … I’m teaching my son how to cook now. He’s only 7.” Michael Jr. started learning three years back, trying to season and stir pots when his daddy wasn’t looking. “He can’t really see over the stove. Either he’s got to get on a stepladder, or he’s got to wait.” His family also includes wife, Kenita, and daughters Cenise, 13 in July, and Christine, 1.
Mosley got into restaurant work when he couldn’t find a job with his sociology degree, without experience — hard to come by as a full-time student and full-time athlete. A cousin got him on at Clancy’s in New Orleans. First three months, he washed dishes. Then, the fry guy quit. “I watched every station,” and within a few months, he was running them. “I picked the chef’s brain every day,” on details from cuts to seasonings to temperatures. “I think he was surprised when I learned his whole kitchen that fast.”
At 1693 Red Zone Grill, Mosley pegs a New Orleans flavor spiced with other cultures in the jerk dishes, pastas and stir-fries. A former supervisor at Whole Foods, he oversaw the prepared foods, as a new cuisine rotated in every two weeks on the hot bar. “I loved it,” he says, noting Indian (although he hasn’t tried any yet at Red Zone), Cuban and African among those that stuck with him most.
It never really crossed his mind to open a little to-go restaurant, he says. A food truck maybe, and that’s still a goal for the future. But a promotion to head chef, running a Georgia Blue location, prompted him to consider a standing eatery. “I’m a quick learner. … Get the right people put in place, anything can happen. So, that’s what I did.”
At Red Zone, he’s on his third menu, the latest edition a roundup of specials that he used to run once a week. “People just kept asking for them and they started selling more than the menu items. So, it was time to change menus!” Plate envy drove the decision. “Certain people didn’t know about these specials, and they’ll see someone walk in and grab their plate and go, ‘Wow, what was that?!’” It’d be a special he ran a week prior.
Mosley singles out as standouts the jerk chicken egg rolls and the shrimp mountain — a mountain of Cajun rice topped with fried or grilled fresh Gulf shrimp, topped with a crawfish sauce spicy enough to tease the next bite. “It’s a lot of food.” And it could be more. “They add everything to the shrimp mountain,” he says, showing off one customer’s version that put steak and broccoli into the mix. Another quick photo shows the dish topped with a soft-shell crab, topped with crawfish sauce that looks triple-threat delicious. “You’d have fun trying to eat that!”
There’s a theme here. Football player portion sizes? “Yes.” But he’ll look out for you. Come in for lunch and load up too much, “I’m like, ‘You got to go back to work? I don’t recommend trying to eat all this before going back to work. You’re going to pass out.’”
Try and save some for later. If you’ve got the willpower.
The menu is to-go, but there is some seating at booths and tables. Everything is made to order. Out back, a pavilion with outside seating, spot for a band, TVs and a big smoker are expected to be in use before summer’s out. A second location is in the works in Colonial Mart, off Old Canton Road in Jackson.