As familiar as the Drago’s name may be to people in Jackson, it’s not because the restaurant—renowned for its “original chargrilled oysters”—is a big chain. In fact, some locals are surprised to learn that the Jackson restaurant is only one of three Drago’s locations, along with the long-time Metairie, La. location and Drago’s in the Hilton New Orleans Riverside.
“We have our own Drago’s trucks,” says Skipper Westbrook, the general manager of the Hilton Jackson, which partnered with the Cvitanovich family to build the Jackson Drago’s. “They come up here every other day. It’s the same fish, the same oysters, the same lobster you get in New Orleans.”
In other words, Drago’s on County Line Road is a truly authentic New Orleans dining experience right here in the City With Soul.
Westbrook toured us through the kitchen at Drago’s and into the massive walk-in cooler out back, where a 2500-gallon open tank (Westbrook calls it the “lobster lap pool”) holds bushels of live lobsters that await their fate. Palettes of oysters sit in the next room kept fresh in the chilly air—Westbrook says the high stack we’re looking at will be gone in hours.
Westbrook, a fourth-generation Jacksonian, has managed the Hilton and other properties around the South for years.
“Having been in hospitality my whole life, it was very interesting to me that we could completely replicate what they’re doing in New Orleans all the way down to the ticket times,” Westbrook says. “We’ve got the exact same menu they have in those two restaurants; same prices.”
When they opened the Jackson Drago’s two years ago, Tommy Cvitanovich (son of founder Drago Cvitanovich) was heavily involved in the planning and training, and he remains hands-on with the food. Sauces and spices are created under Cvitanovich’s supervision in the Metairie restaurant’s commissary and trucked to Jackson with the seafood. Jackson staff trains in New Orleans and Cvitanovich still comes up once a week to check the kitchen, the service and to greet guests.
Westbrook says one key to their success is how little turnover they have at Drago’s or the Hilton Jackson.
“In the hotel kitchen I’ve got folks who have been here 30 years; 90 percent of my Drago’s kitchen staff was here when we opened a little over two years ago,” Westbrook says.
Westbrook also notes that it’s helpful that Drago’s (a 384-seat restaurant) and the Hilton Jackson (a 276-room hotel) share a parking lot. Hotel guests can order Drago’s to their rooms, and meeting planners can use the back room of Drago’s for presentations, parties, private dining or receptions—all while taking advantage of the audio-visual and other convention services offered by the hotel.
Drago’s also offers “Drago’s to Geaux”—a service that delivered to offices, medical practices and offers other off-premise catering options. Lisa Latimer, 769-218-7771, handles private dining and catering.
Westbrook says one of the great pleasures in bringing Drago’s to Jackson was being a part of the legacy of Drago Cvitanovich. The elder Cvitanovich, who passed away in early 2017, built his fabled New Orleans restaurant business after arriving in the U.S. as an immigrant from Croatia seeking to escape the Yugoslav Communist regime.
An inscription on the Monument to the Immigrant, in Woldenberg Park in New Orleans, commemorates the legacy that Drago and his wife, Klara, have created for both their family and the people they’ve touched through their food—both in New Orleans and, now, in Jackson, Miss.
Drago’s is located at 1005 East County Line Road.