Restaurant Preserves History, Transforms Today’s Cuisine
(Reprinted from Eat Drink Mississippi magazine.)
One historical footnote about downtown Corinth, outside slugburgers and the Civil War struggle over an important railroads junction, bears the story of a legendary bank robbery.
Five men on horseback rode into the town in Northeast Mississippi on Dec. 7, 1874 and robbed the Tishomingo Savings Institution of between $15,000 and $20,000 in cash and bonds, plus gold watches, diamonds, rings and other jewelry.
A bank president and customer were wounded and a dog was the only fatality, shot down as the robbers fired shots as they left the bank. Historians believe the robbers were J. Frank “Kit” Dalton, brothers Cole and Jim Younger and brothers Frank and the famous Jesse James.
The legendary James brothers won’t find a bank at the same location today on Fillmore Street. They’d find culinary gold at Smith., a new restaurant which transformed a historical building and developed a menu with a unique twist on Southern fare. When Smith. opened its doors in June 2013, it was a dream come true for owners Julia and Russell Smith.
“Russell had a vision,” explained Julia, 37, who met Russell when the two were working in an Oxford restaurant and she was a student at Ole Miss.
The couple married in 2005 and two years later moved to Corinth for Russell to help with a family business, Russell’s Beef Steak House. The business carried Russell’s name, a place with its own history of char grilled steaks started by Russell’s grandfather in 1978.
Russell was out to find just the right building and he fell in love with the Rankin Printery building.
The Building Decor
“We tried to keep the building as much to the original state as possible,” noted Julia, who helps out in any way at the business, including management and party bookings.
The restaurant has the original floors and ceilings, while plaster was removed to expose beautiful old brick walls. Decorative concrete was added to the entranceway and remain the focal point in the restrooms. There is a mix of openness and private booths in the dining area to continue the restaurant theme,”fine dining done casually.” The building was built in 1869 and the printery remained in operation there form 1905 until the mid-1990s.
“I wanted it to look industrial, but functional,” noted Russell, 35 whose kitchen experience includes City Grocery in Oxford and Harvey’s in Tupelo and Starkville. “We wanted to preserve as much as possible.”
A printery sign hangs on a wall and nearby is a handwritten ledger kept on a wooden door facing.
“We want people to feel welcome,” added Julia. “A place to meet after work, or a place to go after the gym. We want to appeal to everyone.”
Local dentist Bill Bailey and business owner John Frame enjoyed lunch on a recent weekday. They are regular customers.
“I’ve never gotten anything bad,” said Bailey. “Everything is awesome.”
Bailey’s favorite dish is the Filet and he loves the crème brulees.
“I like the way they kept the building,” said Frame. “The place is a lot of fun. There is so much history.”
During his high school years, Frame was employed at Rankin. Seated in a booth, he pointed to where he “stuffed envelopes right over there.”
Frame usually orders the Black and Blue Salad, “with a double order of medium rare flank steak.”
Husband and wife Jacy and Katlin Burcham estimate they have been to Smith. “about 10 times.” Katlin usually orders The Burger (“It’s awesome,” he said) and he is fond of the huge craft beer selection.
“This has a college town feel,” said Katlin. “This is so cool for Corinth.”
The bar is upstairs at Smith. with access via the restaurant or a separate entrance. There is a full line of mixed drinks, wines, draft and craft beers and a bar menu. Like the restaurant, the Smiths tried to keep as much original as possible, right down to the cigarette burns on the floors, a reminder where poker games where once played deep into the night. There is a balcony overlooking downtown. Live entertainment is offered on weekend nights.
The menu was developed by Julia and Russell and Russell’s cousin, Chef Joel Smith, a product of Johnson and Wales University’s College of Culinary Arts in Providence, R.I. Joel’s previous stops include the Red Pony and 55 South, both in Franklin, Tenn.
The printery touch appears on the menu, pages which look like they were produced by on old Underwood typewriter and then placed on a clipboard.
Russell calls the menu traditional Southern fare with different twists, including some Cajun influence.
The Trash Wings are Russell’s favorite. “They are amazing,” he said.
He admitted he discovered them in a St. Louis bar, then added a few personal touches.
The homemade Guacamole is a close second favorite, followed by Homemade Cheese Sticks, where “homemade” is part of the name for emphasis they are not frozen store brought, but produced daily from scratch.
Smith. offers six salads, the most popular being Classic Cobb Salad, which the list of ingredients include romaine lettuce, chicken, bacon, tomato, hardboiled egg, avocado, Swiss cheese, blue cheese, plus a choice of dressing.
The Black and Blue Salad is also popular and Julia’s favorite, blackened flank steak served on top of iceberg lettuce, cherry tomatoes, red onions and blue cheese crumbles. All salads can be topped with grilled selections of chicken, flank steak, salmon, tuna or shrimp.
Russell’s classic The Burger is “flying out the door,” he said, as the man with Russell’s Beef Steak House roots know its beef. Of the eight sandwich offerings, the Fried Green Tomato Grilled Cheese, Chicken Salad Quesadilla and Lazy Chicken Sandwich are customer favorites.
Lazy Chicken is fried or grilled chicken tenders with bacon, white cheddar cheese, lettuce and smokey BBQ mayo.
One would expect grilled steaks (6 oz. Or 10 oz. Filets), Prime Rib (Joel’s Rub) and homemade pastas (Jambalaya and Pecan Chicken), but Joel and Russell also take several more entrees to the next level.
Joel’s Shrimp and Grits remain the number one dish. It’s creamy grits from Delta Grinds of Water Valley, pan-seared shrimp in a tangy, butter sauce with bacon and mushrooms, then garnished with chives.
Chicken and Waffles remain popular – fried chicken and Belgian style waffles – and the Catfish and Collards with Etouffee “is really catching on,” noted Russell.
“Once people give it a try, they’re are hooked,” he noted, as the dish includes grilled or blackened catfish (Mississippi raised, of course), braised collard greens with crawfish etouffee.
Desserts change regularly, with Bread Pudding and Mississippi Mud Cheesecake among the most sought after. Joel cooks up different crème brulees which would make New Orlenas proud. S’more Creme Brulee with graham crackers, chocolate and marshmallows has been a huge hit, noted Russell.
Russell said the Smith. menu will be changed regularly, with new items appearing about every six weeks.
Craft beer is a passion of Russell’s something reflected the selections available at Smith.
There are nine beers on draft, including Southern Pecan and Yalobusha River Ale.
There are about 20 craft beer selections, including Mississippi breweries – Lazy Magnolia, Lucky Town Brewing Co., Yalobusha Brewing Co. and Oxford Brewing Company. Expected to soon be added to the list is Southern Prohibition Brewing Company.
Response to the new eatery as been great, noted the Smiths, with a good mix of local regulars and out of town visitors. A large group of men from the Jackson area visited “just to give us a try,” noted Julia.
“We are blessed,” she added, as she credited the success to their 25 employees, including a dozen servers.
They agreed a strong ownership team adds to the success.
“She keeps me sane,” said Russell, as the couple has three young daughters. “She takes care of so much.”
“I think we are a pretty good team, don’t you think? asked Julia.
Russell smiled, “Yes, honey.”
Russell was quizzed about the significance of the dot at the end of Smith when naming his eatery.
It’s no dot com.
“It’s not Smith. It’s not Smith’s restaurant,” noted the owner. “It’s Smith, period.”
Smith.– the end of a sentence, yet the beginning of a new tradition in downtown Corinth.
(Written by Mark Boehler for eat. drink. Mississippi magazine. Reprinted with permission.)