Tiny town is now a mecca for adventurous eaters

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Photo by Melanie Thortis

Cameron Minninger buys a plate lunch from Chef David Raines at the Flora Butcher.

FLORA — In the year that The Flora Butcher has anchored a corner of Main and Carter, maybe as much information as meat has crossed its counter.

Owner/chef/butcher David Raines opened The Flora Butcher in summer 2016, concentrating on the Wagyu beef his father raises in north Louisiana. The shop has since become a go-to for those keen on premium meats and local sourcing, supplying restaurants and walk-ins with custom cuts, fresh sausages and more.

Photo by Melanie Thortis

Chef David Raines is The Flora Butcher

“It seems like I have to explain what we do here every day, at least once,” as new people drop by, Raines says. “They just want to know what Wagyu is.”

Raines’ Wagyu beef, the Japanese breed prized for its tenderness, flavor and feathery marbling, comes from the same black Tajima strain of cattle behind Kobe beef (a trademark designation by geography and strict guidelines in Japan). The breed is smaller, with less yield, making the beef more expensive to produce, but Raines’ ranch-to-shop pipeline keeps the cost down.

Questions are welcome. “It’s fun, because I get to talk cooking with a lot of people,” he says, from sharing culinary tips to giving details on the cuts. “It’s like teaching a little mini class every few minutes.

“It’s been very well-received, I have to say, when we have all the answers, because they have a lot of questions.” The Johnson & Wales grad, with an international chef career in his background, is a ready source. A novice at tri-tip? He can take out the guesswork with four different ways to cook it. Making deer sausage at home? Raines can give pointers on grinders and casings.

Photo by Melanie Thortis

Sausage available at The Flora Butcher

There have been a few surprises. “We sell a lot more pork than I would have thought,” he says. Beef bacon and beef sausage satisfy those who eschew pork. “But we get these milk-fed pigs from a guy in Wesson, Miss., that are just phenomenal, and we make our own sausage.” Between beef, pork and lamb, they’ll have 13 different kinds of sausage at any given time, as well as boudin, tasso, head cheese and their own andouille.

Ask Raines for a rundown and prepare to salivate: sage pork sausage brightened with ginger or blueberry maple pork breakfast sausage (“It just tastes like you need a pancake, like, right now!”). Beef sausage can handle stronger flavors, such as mushroom and gouda, a spicy smoked chorizo or a barbecued one with the sweet heat of pineapple and jalapeno.

Photo by Melanie Thortis

Chef David Raines talks with customers outside The Flora Butcher.

“Nobody walks out of here without a steak and then a few sausages to cook on the grill while they’re eating their steak.”

Blue plate specials won a favorite spot, too. Even with an either-this-or-that lunch option, they dish up 40-80 a day; the only seating is a few spots outside in the heat.

Pharmaceutical reps will get requests from doctors’ offices, he says, “They’ll call us and say, ‘I’m on my way, I need 20 Wagyu meatloaves.”

The Flora Butcher needed its big building, affordable in Flora, for wholesale and storage, but retail traffic has been twice what they projected. Restaurant customers extend from Livingston and metro Jackson to the Gulf Coast and dozens more in New Orleans. Raines aims to open a casual dining restaurant, with Flora Butcher meats, perhaps in Jackson or Madison soon.

Small town draw

The Flora Butcher is one more entity on Flora’s farm-to-table front, already fertile with hydroponic farm Salad Days, organic-inspired Two Dog Farms, honey-producing Mississippi Bees and more. There are local folks, too, raising goat and lamb, such as in a project with grandkids or for a catering business, Raines says. “I think we’ve attracted some of the people that are a little more adventurous culinary-wise.”

Photo by Melanie Thortis

Downtown Flora

Flora Mayor Les Childress, now in his third term, has seen growth in his town, with people relocating, kids returning to family land, folks upgrading older homes and building new ones, investors from both within and outside the community.

Photo by Melanie Thortis

Jamie Langdon and her son, Kentlee, enjoy a plate lunch from The Flora Butcher recently.

“We are the small town of Madison County,” he says, with its under-2,000 population ripe with retirees, young families and everything in-between.

“We’re kind of, in a way, still an ag community, to some degree,” he says. Many residents like living on three to five acres, with a horse or other livestock, “and have that country atmosphere.” Proximity to the fertile Big Black River Basin, plus rolling hills that make great pasture, add to the area’s natural resources.

The annual Flora Car Show downtown drove investment as well as spectatorship last year. “We actually had somebody come to the car show … and, walking down Main Street, saw a building that was for sale, and they bought the building,” he says. Optometrist Dr. Bobby Pankey now has an office on Main Street.

This year, the eighth annual Flora Car Show, held on the Saturday of Halloween weekend, could have 145-150 cars lining the street, says co-organizer Randy May at J&R Auto.

Flora’s true Main Street is a charming draw on the one hand, and the straight shot of four-lane U.S. 49 is appealing on the other. Commuters to the Nissan Plant, and in the future Continental Tire, pass through town. Mississippi 22 funnels drivers right along his historical Main Street downtown.

How many blocks is it, again? “It’s just one,” Childress says, “but it’s both sides of the road.”

Drive time

A pleasant Sunday drive of yore happens now on Saturdays for Jacksonians headed for a small-town fix and specialty shopping in Flora. Used to be, it was a ghost town, Raines says.

Photo by Melanie Thortis

A city employee mows the city cemetery grass in downtown Flora.

“When I got here, I never saw anybody wandering the streets on a Saturday, looking around, but now, you see that,” he says. “They come to Flora, they get lunch, they get some meat, we’ll put it in the cooler, they’ll walk up and down the street, they’ll go to the Corner Market, they’ll go to that little knickknack store that opened across the street … and just look around a little bit.”

Photo by Melanie Thortis

Downtown Flora

It’s one of The Flora Butcher’s busiest days. “People walk in and they’ll see their neighbor, like from right down the street. They both live in Eastover (in Jackson), but they drive out and, ‘Oh look! We’re both here at the same time!’

“It’s cool to see Main Street kind of hopping on Saturdays.”

Two doors down, artist Sanders McNeal, whose “Sow and Son” painting hangs in The Flora Butcher, is converting a former H&R Block into Studio on Main, and targeting an opening celebration in mid-December. The small-town feel, with plein air painting mere minutes away and sidewalk strollers able to look in and watch her work, “is just the kind of ambiance that you look for as an artist,” she says.

The Flora Butcher adds to the town’s culinary trend, building for years. “People visit our restaurants from everywhere,” Childress says, noting the downtown draws of Bill’s Creole and Steak Depot and the Blue Rooster. Railroad Pizza Co. on Main Street joined the mix last year, but it’s still repairing after tornado damage last April. Childress continues a list that also includes a family-owned Mexican restaurant, a Penn’s and a Bumpers. “People visit here from lunch hour from Clinton, Madison. It is a short drive, when you get to thinking about — it’s only 15, 20 minutes.”

“There’s just been good food here for a long time. People just haven’t been through to notice till recently,” says Rick Lang, at GPI Printing on Main.

“They’re starting to notice now, and a lot more folks are coming out this way.”

Photo by Melanie Thortis

The Flora Butcher in downtown Flora