West Capitol Street is a main drag, so find it and head east toward downtown Jackson. When you approach downtown, start looking on your left for Farish Street. It's a one-way heading north. The Big Apple Inn is on the west (left) side of Farish Street past Field's Cafe and within walking distance of downtown Jackson. |
Here's the front of The Big Apple Inn, the home of the world's most unusual sandwich.
About a year ago a man told me, "Junior, there's a place in Jackson, Mississippi, that sells pig ear sandwiches."
I said, "You mean sandwiches that look like a pig's ear?"
"No," he informed me. "I mean sandwiches made with a pig's ear."
"You got to be kidding me," I said.
"Nope," he emphatically stated. "I'm not kidding."
Well, y'all, if such a place truly existed, I had to find it and taste a pig ear sandwich. But with no name or directions, I figured I'd have hell finding it. So the next trip to my daughter's in Alabama, I decided to detour through Jackson and take the large-step-for-me of renting a motel room. That way I could get an early start the next morning.
And so it came to pass that early on the morning of Monday, May 4, 1998, I asked the first person I met, "Say, you don't know of a place ‘round here that sells pig ear sandwiches, do you?"
The person, a white man, then said, "Sure. Don't know the name, but it's on Farish Street downtown." He then proceeded to direct me downtown and to Farish Street. He then added, "It's in a black section, so be careful."
I then knew that the pig ear sandwich place was going to be my kind of place.
When I walked in the door of the pig ear sandwich place, named The Big Apple Inn, of all things, the lovely sight to the right greeted me. Her name is Angel Lee, 22. She's busy making pig ear sandwiches.
Isn't she a beauty? If I thought she liked older men, I'd consider getting married again.
Angel and her brother, Gene Lee, Jr., 32, are 4th generation pig ear sandwich makers.
From left to right, here's 3 generations of pig ear sandwich makers: Gene Lee, Jr., 32; Gene Lee, Sr., 58; and Harold Lee, 81.
Harold's father started the business back in the early 30s by selling hot tamales from a tin bucket on a street corner. In 1939, they moved the business into the present building.
Farish Street is almost deserted today, but Harold said, "Back then it wasn't like it is now. There were people everywhere. Every day it looked like a festival out on that street. We sold hot tamales for 12¢ a dozen. They're $4.75 a dozen now. But you got to understand that back then chili powder and red pepper was 10¢ a pound."
Gene, Jr., entered the conversation about prices: "We fight inflation. When we first opened, pig ear sandwiches cost a dime. They cost 75¢ now. That's about a dime a decade increase," he proudly informed me.
I asked Harold, "How'd y'all start making pig ear sandwiches?"
"There was a butcher shop down the street," Harold said. "That's where we bought all our meat. One day the butcher asked us if we could use the left-over ears. I told him, ‘Yeah, we'll find a use for ‘em.'
"We cooked ‘em all kinds of different ways. We tried all kinds of different spices. We finally cooked ‘em right and spiced ‘em right and served ‘em between 2 slices of bread, and now it's history. The butcher ate one and asked, ‘How'd y'all make a sandwich so good out of a pig's ear?'
"I told him, ‘We experimented ‘til we got it right.'"
Okay, it's time to stop talking about pig ear sandwiches and to actually eat a pig ear sandwich.
That's me over on the right. That's the very first pig ear sandwich my hands ever held. If you think I have a frown on my face, well, you're right. I'm thinking, Should have driven straight to Alabama and not stopped in Jackson. Could have saved that $50 I spent on a $20 motel room. I'm thinking, Oh, God, I'm gonna have to eat this damned pig ear sandwich.
Over on the right, again, you can see me happily eating my second pig ear sandwich. The texture of the meat is like juicy bologna. The taste, well, it's sort of like a cross between ham and roast beef. Along about that moment, Angel asked, "How do you like your pig ear sandwich?"
"It's delicious," I truthfully answered.
"It's not too hot, is it?" she asked.
It tasted a little spicy-hot for me, and I like hot food. "Just right," I answered, truthfully again.
"I make them in 3 flavors," Angel informed me. "Not-Hot, Mild, and Hot. I made yours Mild."
For all you Yankees out there, I suggest that you order the Not-Hot version.
I finished my second sandwich and made my goodbyes and my exit. At the front door, prepared to step out onto Farish Street, a thought struck me. I turned, walked to the kitchen, and found Harold Lee. "Mister Lee," I said, "the name of this place--The Big Apple. That's what they call New York City. Y'all didn't name this place after New York City, did y'all?"
He gave me an Are-You-Crazy? look. Then he grinned. Then he said, "No. Back when we opened this place there were 3 big dances--the Suzy Q, the Big Apple, and the . . . the . . . Oh, I can't remember the 3rd one. I liked the Big Apple dance, so we named this place after it."
"That's wonderful," I truthfully said.
Y'all's next trip through Jackson, stop for a delicious pig ear sandwich at The Big Apple Inn. Get there early and you can eat a couple for breakfast, as I did.
Oh. Tell Angel that Junior said, Hi!