Monday, February 21, 2011

The Cherokee Inn - Jackson

I suppose I stand out from the majority of Jackson residents when it comes to The Cherokee Inn. I only visited the original North State Street location once and even then I didn’t see the attraction. It was a dark, dingy looking place with mediocre food and a less than spectacular location. Sure, they might have played a little fast and loose with ids back then, but I could think of better places to enjoy lunch on one of those rare half days off from school.

Well times have changed. The Cherokee Inn is now off the I-55 North Frontage Road and resides on Old Square Road. While the same neon sign may still shine over the building and the multitude of pennants line the rafters and walls, the atmosphere has significantly changed. Of course, I can remember that building housing a new Chinese buffet with clean carpets and fresh white walls, but that was years ago. Gone are the steamer trays and carpeted floors. The dilapidated Cherokee booths now occupy that dining room with peeling, painted concrete floors and missing tiles to match.

Sitting down for my first visit, I was surprised that The Cherokee has such an extensive menu. Running the gamut from everything fried to po-boys to pizzas, there are enough choices of greasy foods to suit every hung-over appetite. Of course, this is Jackson and the only real place to start is with an order of comeback and crackers.
It’s as simple as it sounds. You’re brought a squeeze bottle of dressing and a basket of crackers.
Pour a little dressing on your cracker and pop it in your mouth. With The Cherokee’s comeback, there’s no tinge of cayenne or smokiness of paprika. Their dressing arrives with a background of garlic and vinegar and what I think is sweet pickle relish. This is the epitome of a simple appetizer but I simply couldn’t stop eating them.

Of course, there’s more to the appetizer list than tarted up Thousand Island dressing, Cherokee supposedly fries things quite well.
I have to give them credit for the quantity.
Fresh from the fryer, these chicken fingers were coated in a nice thick breading and were remarkably juicy for white meat. What was missing was any form of seasoning. You’d expect fried chicken to come drenched in salt, but there wasn’t anything there. It’s much what you’d expect really, a lot of quantity with very little quality.

Maybe there would be better luck with the pickles?
Actually, I did have some more luck with the fried dill slices.
Breaded everywhere but the rim, these fried pickles didn’t need any seasoning.
Each slice consisted of a crunch followed by the pungent flavors of a dill pickle; juicy, salty with a trail of vinegar, garlic, peppercorns, and dill, I think I finally struck gold.
Made even better with prodigious amounts of ranch dressing, these pickles may have been served swimming in a pool of grease, but that made them all the better lubricant for a hearty night of cold domestics.

While fried chicken tenders and dressing are all well and good, a fine litmus test for any restaurant is their burger.
The Cherokee served up a bacon cheeseburger with all the dressings on the side. It was staggering amount of mayonnaise.
There’s nothing fancy about this burger. This is straight ground chuck formed into a patty, fried on a griddle top, and topped with a slice of American cheese and five strips of salty, crispy bacon.
You can see there’s a nice crust from the griddle.
Unfortunately, this aesthetically pleasing crust concealed a tiny, dry, overcooked patty that lacked basic seasoning or even an inkling of beef flavor.

What goes best with a bacon cheeseburger?
That’s right, an order of gravy fries.
Much like the burger they accompanied, these fries have the look but not the substance. The fries were bland and gummy but covered with decent full bodied gravy.
With some touching up with salt and pepper, these gravy fries became a lot like mashed potatoes and gravy, but, with the exception of Tracey’s, I like fries to be fries first and a vehicle for gravy second.

I haven’t found much in the way of guidance when it comes to The Cherokee except that Thursday is roast beef day. Seeing as it was a Wednesday, I was out of luck with the roast beef special. I did the next best thing and ordered a roast beef po-boy.
Gambino’s po-boy bread, lots of roast beef, lettuce, tomato, mayo, everything looks pretty good save for the lack of noticeable amounts of gravy.
Well, there’s a little bit of gravy.
Sadly, this po-boy sticks to the trend at Cherokee. That large amount of shredded roast beef may look appetizing but each bite is dry, overcooked and generally unappealing.
What should have been an excellent po-boy is dragged down to the murky depths of mediocrity. Even if they kept the dry roast beef, a little gravy would have masked it and made it a fairly decent po-boy.

Despite my general dislike for meat and two/three or blue plate specials they do seem to be one of the lunch crowd draws for The Cherokee. Since I kept visiting on a Wednesday, that meant I would be trying their fried chicken plate.
It was nice to have a choice of white or dark meat.
First the sides, starting with the black eyed peas. These are well cooked peas, but they’re missing the prerequisite Southern seasonings of pork and salt.
While the gravy might have worked with the French fries, when mixed with mashed potatoes you get the always stirring combination of boring on boring.
Would there be a saving grace in the cornbread? No, this was dry crumbly cornbread. Neither sweet nor salty, this didn’t really fit the mold of Southern or Northern cornbread. Also missing was a thick, hearty crust; all I found was a texture that coated that roof of my mouth.
Surely the star of the plate would make up for everything else? Once again, disappointment reigns. While this dark meat was quite juicy, these pieces smacked of banal buffet chicken. Each piece was a two note chord of salty and juicy with any real taste of chicken remaining conspicuously absent.

Maybe I’m missing something, but I really don’t see the reason behind the devotion to The Cherokee Inn. While there are a few good items, it’s mostly a collection of mediocre to poor food choices surrounded by a dingy atmosphere. I can see how there can be some charm to its dive bar qualities. If you’re in the mood for a good bar and something domestic, light, and cold, The Cherokee would be right up your alley. The food is a different story. I didn’t see the attraction before, and I don’t’ see it now. If I’m on the hunt for some early afternoon fried food to balance out a night of adult beverages, The Cherokee might pop up on my radar, but for all other occasions, I’ll have to pass.

The Cherokee Inn Address & Information
1410 Old Square Road, Jackson, MS 39211 // 601.362.6388
Cherokee Inn on Urbanspoon

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