“[At Keifer’s] you can come in a suit or you can come in jeans. Here you can just be yourself,” says Assistant Manager George Hinkle.
You can tell he means it, too. You sit wherever you can find a table, which if you’re lucky is out on the patio. The wraparound patio faces east, away from the afternoon sun, and has fans and string lights overhead. Glancing around, you see a wide variety of patrons: local college students, families, folks clearly here for the first time and yes, a few suits. There’s even a guy contentedly reading and sipping his wine.
The Making of an Icon
It’s as much about the atmosphere as it is about the food, and that’s saying something considering the loyal following it’s built up over the years. Located on the same block in Jackson’s Belhaven neighborhood since 1980, being comfortable is routine around here. Moving from across the street nearly a decade ago to make way for the adjacent hospital expansion, Keifer’s Restaurant relocated in an old house, making it feel like the neighborhood institution that it is. It’s simple and unfussy with plain chairs and plastic tablecloths. As you wander through the inside dining area, the old house beckons for you to look around each corner and into each nook almost as if you’re expecting to see friends and family. A lot of the charm here is the comfort and familiarity.
That feeling wouldn’t be possible without the strong group of loyal employees. It’s fitting that a restaurant in an old house, in a neighborhood as established as Belhaven, would call itself a family. Hinkle has worked here for 28 years, and as we chat you see his pride rising as he talks about that time. In an industry known for quick turnover and frequent changes, this is an exception. He describes Keifer’s in a tough way, proud that there aren’t often available shoes to fill. As he talks, he rattles off a handful of employees who have worked here longer than he has, almost like he’s keeping score. “Once you come on here, you tend to stay,” he says. It’s like a family. A well-fed family.
This is Greek Food.
This is Greek food, but it’s Greek in a fast, comfortable, Americanized way. Gyros are the centerpiece. The Food Network’s Cat Cora calls them the best gyros she’s ever eaten. They’re simple: just meat, lettuce and onion wrapped up and served with homemade sauce or dressing. All the usual favorites are here, all served on pita bread baked especially for Keifer’s by a bakery in Chicago. You can’t go wrong with the chicken or the beef and lamb. If you are not feeling bread, they’ll even wrap your pita with lettuce.
Gyros may headline the menu, but it’s the feta dressing that steals the show. So popular that it even has its own Facebook page. You’ll find the iconic feta dressing on many dishes at Keifer’s, but don’t miss it on the Pita Mozz, basically a pita topped with fried mozzarella cheese and your choice of several other items.
The feta dressing is the item people crave, the one “must have” for folks returning to Jackson for a visit. It’s made fresh three times weekly in 60-80 gallon batches, Hinkle tells me with pride. He says there are only a handful of people who know the secret recipe and that he’s served for years as one of three “dressing makers,” a lofty title around here. “You can do it with everything,” he says smiling.
Another specialty is cottage fried potatoes, russet potatoes sliced lengthwise and fried. The result lands you somewhere between a French fry and a potato chip. You can eat them plain or with ketchup or with more feta dressing. They are definitely large enough to share, like several other items here. A fine group meal can be made by combining several appetizers and small plates.
You’ll also find traditional Greek items like hummus, dolmas and falafel. They have a large selection of salads (just another way to enjoy the feta dressing). There is a small corkage fee if you bring your own wine and a modest selection of beers on tap. Kids are certainly welcome, though there isn’t a traditional kid’s menu. The menu is mostly fixed except for rotating soup specials. There’s also a large dessert cooler that houses traditional favorites like baklava and cheesecake.
Award-Winning Jackson Food + Atmosphere
The Best of Jackson voters consistently call these guys the best in several categories including best outdoor dining and best ethnic food. They’re busy seven days each week for lunch and dinner, and have a robust take-out option. It’s laid back enough where you don’t feel bad visiting with friends for a couple hours, but it’s also fast enough that many people swing by to grab a quick lunch bite before heading back to work.
It’s Greek food at it’s most comforting, Americanized best. It’s a Jackson staple for over 35 years. Most of all, Keifer’s is THE place to get your feta dressing. You can visit Keifer’s at 710 Poplar Boulevard in Jackson, Mississippi. Their hours are Sunday thru Thursday, 10:30AM – 10PM, and Friday and Saturday, 10:30AM – 11PM.
Story and photo by Matt Goff, Summer 2017 intern