Green. Organic. Local. Farm-to-Table. For a lot of places out there, these are just words. They’re pretty little pieces of confetti and wall art used to attract old school hippies and naive millennials alike to shops pretending like they’re more than just another place to grab a sandwich. But for the realist people in the game, these words aren’t just some quirky fad to attract business. They’re a lifestyle.
In Tupelo, there lives a man who could be called the O.G. of Organic, the Fresh Prince of Farm-to-Table, the Lord of Local Food, but you and I can just call him Mitch McCamey. Mitch is on a life mission to amass some of the most revolutionary restaurants in the country, right out of one of the most unlikely places.
It began a few years ago when he returned home to Northeast Mississippi after a decade of journeying from Boulder to Birmingham, learning from some of the greatest and most award-winning chefs in the U.S. Upon his arrival, he met up with long time friends Seth Copeland and Trish McCluney and together they created The Neon Pig. The idea was simple — a butcher shop slash organic restaurant slash local produce supplier slash place to sit and have a beer or two slash culinary revolution… Okay, so the idea wasn’t that simple, but dammit if it wasn’t the bravest thing anyone around here has ever seen. Absolutely everything is sourced locally, which means that they have to personally go find every one of their ingredients without straying much further than a county away. They have someone for cows, someone for tomatoes, someone for free-range eggs, someone for onions, someone for veggies that I didn’t even know were a thing. Oh, and did I mention that they’re a butcher shop? As in, they start with a whole cow and a whole pig and have to cut everything to perfection themselves before that delicious bacon-laced burger in front of you becomes a finished product. All of this mayhem and effort go into creating a menu of some of the greatest food that ever fed.
There’s the now famous Smash Burger, a patty made of various prime-cut steaks all ground together and topped with all sorts of delicious goodness. So good, it was given the title of Best Burger in America last year by thrillist.com. Neon Pig has specialty tacos so intricate, you’ll feel like you’re watching Michelangelo himself carving the statue of David while watching it be prepared for you. And if you don’t feel like eating right then and there, you can buy from their Willy-Wonka factory that they call a butcher shop at the back end, as well as all the farm fresh goodies that they’ve collected for the week on a produce aisle, all for you to take home and master on your own grill. The folks of Tupelo nowadays consider what Mitch, Seth and Trish have built to be a treasure among the locals — a delicacy to be shared with the rest of the world. The Neon Pig has blazed a trail, and us humble and hungry customers can’t wait to see where the path leads.
As with every great story of charging into the unknown, there can never just be one hero. Every Lewis needs a Clark, Dora needs a Boots, and every Niña and Pinta need a Santa María. So it is with the Neon Pig’s First Mate, Kermit’s Outlaw Kitchen. Simply put, Kermit’s, or K.O.K. as the locals call it, is the yang to the Neon Pig’s ying. While the Pig has a small and predictable menu, Kermit’s aptly named Outlaw Kitchen is a gunslinging Wild West where culinary creativity and organised chaos reign supreme. Every week the menu is different, and every item on the menu looks and sounds like they just kept throwing various meats and veggies into different combinations until they came up with another masterpiece. Even the drinks at the bar are staff creations, and most of the liquors they use have names taped and sharpie’d onto odd looking bottles on the shelf like something out of Professor Snape’s potion class. All of this, while still adhering to the Neon Pig’s values of locally sourced ingredients, and hand-cut meats courtesy of its flagship restaurant — it’s the most beautifully crazy thing I have ever seen in my life, like a Salvador Dalí painting or Johnny Depp’s acting in his prime.
All of this amazing food, raised and grown locally, and the insane amount of effort put into the customer’s plate may be what attracts people from all over to dine at these two incredible eateries, but the real heart of both of these places is in the effect that it has on you as a patron. These places create an atmosphere of adventure — a break from the mundane style of going out to eat where we just sit down, order what sounds familiar and proceed to check our Facebook page on our smartphone. Whether you’re with friends or family, or just hanging out with the super friendly staff at either place, the prospect of charging into the unknown with meals you never could have dreamt of in your wildest fantasies is an experience within itself — one that will make you feel like your life has been enhanced for the better for having the guts to eat local.