By Kara Kimbrough
Headed south for a long Memorial Day weekend at the beach? Take the Hattiesburg exit and drop in the bustling city of Hattiesburg to stretch your legs, enjoy a delicious meal and take incredible selfies in a wonderland of beautiful roses.
Slightly twisting Shakespeare’s words, a rose by any other name, or color, would look and smell as sweet on the scenic campus at The University of Southern Mississippi. Right now, the university’s All-American Rose Garden, located at the front entrance of the campus on Hardy Street, is at its peak. Over 800 rose bushes in vivid colors of red, pink, coral and other vivid hues are causing motorists to slow down and view as much of the stunning beauty as possible. The rose garden attracts visitors from around the state and country.
Planted in 1973 by the Hattiesburg Area Rose Society and maintained year-round by Southern Miss, the All-American Rose Garden was named an accredited Public Rose Garden by All-American Rose Selections. The semicircular garden consists of 32 separate beds, each containing its own unique hybrid of roses. The renowned garden is visited by photographers, roses aficionados and those simply looking for a picturesque setting for photos. Right now, before summer’s heat descends, is the perfect opportunity to stop, shoot photos and quite literally smell the roses.
Southern Miss’ Rose Garden is open to the general public free of charge, seven days a week. Walking around to admire the blooms and shoot photos is perfectly fine. But here’s a friendly reminder: anyone caught cutting a blossom faces a monetary fine.
When you’ve had your fill of beauty, venture across the street to a relatively new development, The District at Midtown. It’s a thriving complex filled with restaurants, shops, condominiums and a hotel. Developers were successful at creating an “eat-play-stay” center; a vast improvement from a decades-old men’s dorm and assorted parking lots.
One of my favorite restaurants at The District, or anywhere in Hattiesburg, really, is The Midtowner. The brainchild of Hattiesburg restaurateur Robert St. John, the restaurant serves breakfast and lunch in a nostalgic setting. When you enter The Midtowner anchoring the end of the brick center, you quickly realize St. John went “way back in time” to create his newest space. How far back? Picture a "1948's diner.” He wasn’t around in the ‘40’s, but even so, St. John always admired the aesthetics and “visceral connection” of old-school diners.
His vision was so strong that tile-layers purposely pulled up small patches of octagonal tile near the doors and booths to resemble a worn floor. Wood paneling from a bygone era lines the cozy booths. Black and white historic photos from 20th century Hattiesburg, Camp Shelby and Southern Miss’ early days line the walls. St. John accomplished his goal of creating a “neighborhood diner,” and once the food arrives, it’s evident his dedication to detail extends to the menu. Spoiler alert: The Midtowner serves some of the best fried chicken and chicken and dumplings I’ve ever tasted.
Many line up for lunches, but almost any breakfast dish imaginable is on the menu. Portions are hearty and prices are reasonable, making it the perfect spot for hungry students and coffee clubs.
There’s not enough space to list the multitude of breakfast item, but when it comes to the classics, The Midtowner has it covered. French toast, waffles, pancakes, bacon, sausage, ham, grits, biscuits and other classics share space with healthier fare like avocado toast, acai bowls and fruit. The lunch menu is filled with almost every “old school diner” dish you can imagine…and then some. Back to the fried chicken. It’s tender and juicy on the inside, crispy and golden on the outside. Picture your grandmother’s fried chicken or a platter at a church dinner on the grounds and you’ll have a close comparison. Lunch plates include your choice of meat with one, two or three vegetables and four vegetable plate. Meat choices include Mam-Maw St. John’s fried chicken, country-fried steak with brown gravy, Midtowner meatloaf, fried catfish, chopped steak and gravy, fried chicken tenders and chicken and dumplings. Vegetables like skillet corn, fried okra, turnips, butter beans, mashed potatoes and black-eyed peas perfectly with any main dish. A variety of salads is on the menu, along with creative sandwiches like the Hattiesburger and meatloaf sandwich.
The Midtowner is located at 3000 Hardy St., Suite 10 in The District in Midtown. Daily hours of operation are 7 a.m. – 2 p.m., seven days a week.
Kara Kimbrough is a food and travel writer from Mississippi. Email her at [email protected].