Nelson Haskin Jr. is a busy man. By day, he’s a National Guard recruiter at Camp Shelby. By night, he owns and operates one of Hattiesburg’s newest nightspots and eateries – Blu Jazz Cafe.
Blu Jazz opened its doors mid-April of this year, but Haskin is no stranger to the Hattiesburg food scene.
He got his start at Chesterfield’s when he moved to Hattiesburg to attend Southern Miss, and worked his way through the ranks during the next 14 years. He also owned Nelli’s Deli in the Cloverleaf Mall food court.
His passion for hospitality has brought him downtown.
Styled after intimate jazz clubs in New Orleans, you will find Blu Jazz nestled into the old California Sandwich Shop building next to Southbound Bagel and Coffee Shop at the intersection of Front and Mobile streets.
The Door is Open
Their always-open door allows live music to float out into the street, and welcomes customers into their cozy dining space.
Once inside, you will be treated to tasty cocktails, fresh, delicious food and friendly, welcoming table and bar service.
Blu Jazz offers a drink and food menu that is as approachable as it is tasty.
Start off with one of their specialty mixed drinks. From spiked lemonades and teas to the Blu Jazz take on rum punch and margaritas, the cocktails focus on fresh, fruity flavors.
We recommend the Cucumber Lemonade. Here, muddled cucumbers, fresh lemon, vodka and Blu Jazz’s own lemonade combine to make a lightly-sweetened, bright and refreshing drink that will probably lead to a second. Maybe a third. Wink, wink.
Customers looking for an exclusive seat with stellar service can sit at the bar. The friendly staff will take great care of you and keep those tasty drinks coming.
ALLLLLLLL the Nachos
The appetizer menu at Blu Jazz is nacho-heavy in the best possible way. They sport toppings plain and fancy, so you are sure to find one to suit your tastes. Are you a chili cheese fan? A grilled shrimp enthusiast? You’re covered.
We won’t bother asking whether or not you are a nacho lover, because – really – who isn’t? Nobody we know!
We started our meal with the Pulled Pork Nachos because they came highly recommended by a very smart person who clearly knew what he was talking about.
The generous portion arrives at your table piled high with all kinds of goodies.
Sturdy corn chips blanketed with creamy nacho cheese sauce serve as the perfect scoops for tender bites of pulled pork, dressed with a sweet, tangy sauce.
Blu Jazz’s house-made coleslaw tops the dish and serves as a cooling counterpoint to the richness of the dish. Sour cream and pickled jalapenos add zing and spice.
Are nachos your comfort food? Let Blu Jazz take care of you with this balanced dish.
Where Everybody Knows Your Name
While elbows deep in our nacho basket, we enjoyed the ebb and flow of the Blu Jazz dining room. The live music is “right” there, and the volume allows you to enjoy the show without killing your conversation.
A diverse mix of locals makes up the crowd – folks who live nearby, families with young kids in the early evening, young adults out for a night on the town as the hour gets later.
And everybody – EVERYBODY – knows Nelson.
Haskin obviously makes an effort to see to the comfort and care of his guests and creates a warm, welcoming environment sure to make anyone feel at home.
So, you’re out for a night on the town, and Blu Jazz is your first stop. Smart thinking! You’re in the mood for a filling meal that won’t weigh you down.
A salad from the Blu Jazz menu is just the ticket. The Downtown Chicken Salad will fill you up, but leave you light on your feet.
At Blu Jazz, salads start with a giant bed of curly green leaf lettuce. It’s fresh and substantial and never saw the inside of a bag.
The Downtown Chicken Salad comes topped with a shower of shredded cheese, real bacon bits, flaked almonds, dried cranberries, diced tomatoes, sliced cucumbers and perfectly toasted rounds of French bread. A little sweet, a little salty, a little crunch. Balance.
This A+ salad base gets a crown of chopped chicken – your choice of grilled or fried – lightly dressed with Blu Jazz’s Downtown Sauce. This bright, tangy sauce offers a little heat and a ton of flavor and we would like a gallon of it, please and thank you.
This full-meal salad comes topped with your choice of dressing, and we like the Vidalia Onion Vinaigrette for a sweet compliment.
If you are looking for an abundant, stick-to-your-ribs meal, the Blu Jazz menu has a lot to offer. Do you go for the Hamburger Steak with Gravy? Shrimp and Grits? You won’t go wrong with either of those, and decisions are hard. We get it.
So go directly for the Fried Catfish.
Being from the Delta, we grew up with a lot of catfish. We fished for it, ate it (a lot), and even swam in catfish ponds. (Side note, that’s pretty gross. We don’t recommend it. Lots of mud.)
Which is to say we have eaten more than our fair share of fried catfish, slaw, French fries and hushpuppies. And loved every minute of it.
Blu Jazz’s catfish basket is sublime. The portion is very generous and the fry is perfect.
The catfish filets are our favorite kind – cut thick and thin, so that the ends are crispy and the middles fat and tender. The breading is light and not the slightest bit greasy. Take a bite, and your eyes roll towards the heavens in thanks.
The sides are every bit as good as the catfish as well. No mere afterthought, the slaw is made fresh, creamy, cool and crunchy. The perfect accompaniment to the delicately-fried fish filets.
And the fries? Jesus, take the wheel! Cut thick and lightly dipped in a seasoned batter, Blu Jazz cooks their fries until perfectly crisp on the outside and pillowy-soft at the center. Surrender your self-control and go ahead and finish them already. Don’t be shy.
Let’s not forget the hushpuppies! Perfectly-sized, traditionally seasoned and fried just as beautifully as the rest of the dish. Amazing.
We’ve heard that the Fried Catfish and SHRIMP is the way to go, and when we return to Blu Jazz (we will DEFINITELY return) that’s at the top of our order. We’ve got our eye on their other home-cooked sides, as well.
A Cozy Spot Downtown
Since Haskins and his wife work full-time day jobs before opening Blu Jazz, the dining room opens at 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday for dinner and drinks. On Saturdays, they open early – 8 a.m. for brunch.
We’re hearing good things about pancakes, omelets, chicken and waffles, as well as Shrimp and Grits. If it’s anywhere near as good as dinner, Brunch is not to be missed.
New Downtown eateries are always exciting and worth the trip. Blu Jazz shines as an approachable, welcoming, delicious addition to the scene. Dig in!
Long-time Hattiesburg residents Jason and Autumn Perry have done their time in local kitchens. Jason started the menu at T-Bones and is currently in the kitchen at the Keg and Barrel. Autumn and Jason created the menu at the Thirsty Hippo and are excited to work together again on Signature restaurant features.