Mississippi Sweets — Still ‘Smokin’ Hot’ after 30 years
By Kenny Spahn
Barbecue is a revered “All American” tradition – but it’s actually quite international, and one of the most prevalent cooking methods in the world – from Australia to Korea, Israel to Brazil, South Africa to Argentina. Every culture has its own variations and methods, many dating back centuries (before America was even a concept!). But “BBQ” as we know it is truly American – yet even within America, Barbecue varies greatly by region. In North Carolina, it’s pulled pork in a mustard-based sauce, while barbecue means mesquite-smoked brisket in Texas, and burnt ends in Kansas City. Memphis loves its baby back ribs, while Hawaii digs its Kālua whole hog cooked in a traditional Imu underground pit. But one thing they all have in common: True barbecue is a specific process of slow-cooking, utilizing smoke and indirect heat instead of direct heat of the flame or grill (sorry, New Yorkers – ‘barbecue’ does NOT mean just grilling hot dogs and burgers outside!).
Barbecue is one of the most popular and common cuisines in America, yet there are surprisingly few real BBQ places in Boca / Delray, and even less that last. As you may know from my annual “Restaurant Year in Review” articles, many barbecue joints have opened over the years, but very few last more than a year or two. So it’s a rare find indeed to locate a true barbecue place in our town that remains a perennial favorite – a place like Mississippi Sweets BBQ Company on North Federal Highway. The very fact that this modest shop has stood the test of time, in its same humble abode and without much glitz or glamour for nearly three decades, proves they must be doing something right! Chances are, you’ve passed the place a thousand times over the past 30 years. And if you’ve driven by around lunchtime, you may have seen a line waiting out the door, and probably been enticed by the seductive aromas of real barbecue emanating therefrom.
According to owner Randy Smith, Mississippi Sweet’s long-term success is no real secret – it’s just following the basics: Quality, consistency, friendliness, and value. “Friendly Service” definitely gets a big check mark, as the servers seem to make every customer feel right at home, even when the place is packed (which happens frequently in this small hidden gem). No wonder Mississippi Sweets has become a local favorite, with so many long-time regular customers. In fact, most of the staff are also long-timers (including our wonderful serversAmy and Alana),andsome staff has been there over 20 years – further testament to Randy’s genuine, people-first philosophy.
Inside, the setting is just what you’d expect from a neighborhood BBQ joint: Nothing fancy or frilly, just down-home comfort and laid-back Southern charm. Three types of housemade barbecue sauce (and plenty of napkins!) are quickly brought to your picnic-style wood table. Rustic brick walls bearing nostalgic memorabilia and images of the Mississippi River life further sets the scene, while some southern rock and light country music (at a comfortable low volume!) enhances the relaxing ambiance. It’s the kind of place where everyone feels like they’re at home, and can just kick back, relax, and be comfortable. Note in particular the authentic riverboat photos, including the legendary S.S. Delta Queen, the only original overnight steamboat in the world — where I actually lived and worked for several seasons, and fell in love with Mississippi cuisine!
Get into the proper delta state of mind with a cold bottle of Mississippi Mud, a specially made dark beer (combing porter and pilsner, akin to a classic Black & Tan), served in a 32-ounce collectible ‘jug.’ Other thirst quenchers include mainstream and local craft beers, a few select wines, and traditional sweet tea. Then, on to the food! Start with a cup of authentic Brunswick Stew, a mainstay found at any southern BBQ joint worth its tongs. The hearty soup/stew is chock full of chicken, potatoes, fresh veggies, and zesty seasonings. It’s a perfect precursor to any meal, but can equally serve as a side dish, lunch, or light dinner. This stew is so heartwarming and satisfying, it might just makes you wish for a cold blustery day! The bestselling appetizer (called “Rebel Rousers” on the menu) is, however the signature Dixie Wings. One taste of these plump beauties (fresh, not frozen, all natural, hormone-free), and you’ll see why. The accompanying sauces (from very mild to extra hot, garlic, and citrus honey BBQ) are all house-made, and outstanding. My suggestion? Go for the Ribs & Wings combination basket, featuring the best of both worlds.
Taking center stage is, of course the Barbecue menu, especially the Baby Back Ribs (full or half slab). The all natural, non-GMO baby backs are specially sourced from a Danish heritage farm and butcher, then slow-cooked and smoked to a precise, tender-yet-toothsome consistency and meaty structure. They’re suck-the-bone delicious, delivering a perfect balance of savory, sweet, smoke, and unctuous porkiness. Plump Chicken, real-deal Pulled Pork (hand-pulled from the “Boston Butt” shoulder, and Texas-inspired BBQ Beef Sirloin also get the royal barbecue treatment. Can’t decide? Then try a combo, and choose any two meats, plus two sides. And at these prices ($11 – $20), you can come back often and try new combinations.
But there’s a lot more to Mississippi Sweets than just barbecue – especially the Spit-Roasted Chicken (another best seller), specially seasoned and slow rotisserie-cooked to perfection. A half chicken is served with two sides as the “Natchez Chicken” meal, and you can even get a full bird To Go for only $9.50. Note: This chicken is so popular it often sells out, so get yours early. Other “Delta Favorites” include Paddle Wheel Chicken Breast (chargrilled, blackened, or barbecued), and a farm-raised Choctaw Catfish, named after the area’s indigenous Native Americans. The generous filet will change your view of catfish – moist and delicious, with a firm-yet-flaky texture and mild taste (and a lot much better than those Mississippi River scavengers we got on the riverboat!). You can order it golden fried or blackened, which is very flavorful, but not too spicy.
As with any true southern restaurant, side dishes are just as important as the meats. The homemade Cornbread is considered mandatory reading in my class. Fresh out of the oven, it’s so moist, sweet, and downright irresistible (especially when slathered in soft butter), you’ll want to have it for dessert. Other house-made “Side Roads” include the namesake Mississippi Sweets, crispy thin sweet potatoes chips (like old school Saratoga chips made of sweet potatoes), and the obligatory baked beans, cole slaw, green beans, and mac & cheese.
Sizeable Sandwiches rule the lunch menu, but can certainly make a great light dinner. Get your BBQ on a bun with the signature Pulled Pork, Beef, or Chicken BBQ sandwich. Other sandwich options ($8-$10, with a side) include Tupelo Chicken (char-grilled chicken breast with onion, mushrooms, and jack cheese); the aforementioned farm-raised Catfish, Yazoo Chicken (with Swiss cheese and grilled onions); a great charbroiled Cheeseburger; and a spicy Talladega Red chicken breast with a creole sauce and pepper jack cheese.
Plantation Salads ($5 – $12) round out the menu, from a basic Dinner Salad, to the Cottonwood (with grilled chicken breast), and bleu-cheese studded Biloxi Bleu. Augment any salad with grilled chicken, pulled pork, or other meat for a light and healthy meal. End on a sweet note with Randy’s homemade Key Lime Pie — a cool, creamy, and perfectly sweet-tart finale to the savory southern fare (but personally, I’ll go for another piece of that Cornbread!).
Mississippi Sweets is the kind of a ‘secret treasure’ everyone hopes to find. But based on its 30-year success story and lines out the door, apparently it’s not so secret anymore, So get your ‘cue on, and experience a bit of southern magic and a local icon, right here in Boca Raton – at Mississippi Sweets!
Mississippi Sweets BBQ Company is located at 2399 N. Federal Highway in Boca Raton, FL. (561) 394-6779. Also located at 9859 Lake Worth Road in Lake Worth (561) 642-4748.
Open for lunch and dinner every day, plus take-out, delivery, and contactless curbside pick-up. All COVID 19 protocols are maintained. www.mississippisweetsbbq.com
About the Author: Kenny Spahn is a renowned food critic, culinary columnist, and restaurant authority, has published over 1,000 articles, and served as a celebrity judge in numerous culinary events. Mr. Spahn is also the CEO of Restaurant Placement Group, an exclusive recruiting, placement, and consulting firm for the Restaurant and Hospitality industry. https://www.restaurantplacement.com.