Photography by MICHAEL BARRETT
Earlier this year, the Cottonwood Public House opened in downtown Vicksburg overlooking the Mississippi River. The space is a brewery, bar, and restaurant, serving pizza, small plates, craft cocktails, and locally produced beer (some made in-house and some from other regional brewers). With high ceilings and exposed brickwork along interior walls, Cottonwood feels relaxed and open, but also intimate when lights dim and live music starts in the evening.
Manager Jon Weimords and head brewer Zack Erickson both grew up in California and met working at the restaurant Idle Hour in north Los Angeles. Weimords had done restaurant consulting work in Vicksburg and jumped when offered the chance to develop and manage the newest restaurant in Vicksburg. “Tim Cantwell, who owns the building, told me he wanted to do something casual in the space and I came and looked and said, ‘I’m sold.’ I moved here in June 2017 and we started taking hammers to the walls and ripping up flooring,” Weimords says.
Part of the building’s redesign included the installation of tanks and equipment for Erickson’s brewing operation. “Having these vessels in view from the windows generates a lot of curiosity,” he says. “It’s taken some getting used to, brewing this close to a busy street and always having people interact with me. People have been really receptive to our beers, and I’ve been blown away by the quality of what’s being brewed here and the passion people have.”
Erickson started brewing at home and is active in the Vicksburg area brewer’s guild, which sometimes meets at Cottonwood. A former video game programmer, he left that job and started working in the service industry and training at the University of California at San Diego in a brewing extension program. “In San Diego county there are more than 150 breweries; it’s a mature market. I look at Vicksburg as a place where I can have freedom and creativity, coming up with recipes and introducing people to new styles,” he says.
Functioning in part as a brew pub, Cottonwood sells their beer in house and also offers other craft beers on guest taps. They also collaborate with other breweries and feature joint creations. There is a full cocktail menu with classic options like Sazeracs and Pimm’s Cups, as well as a rotating selection of craft drinks designed by Weimords. Currently popular are the Gold Digger, featuring Mississippi-produced Cathead Pecan Vodka, Bénédictine, honey, orange, and bitters, and the Shakedown Street, with Four Roses bourbon, Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur, muddled strawberries, lemon, and honey.
In developing the food menu, Weimords collaborated with head chef and Vicksburg native Blake Parmegiani, a third generation cook whose father also helms a restaurant in the same building – 10 South, and one across the street – Roca. His grandfather, Jacques Parmegiani, ran Jacques’ Cafe in Vicksburg for more than 25 years. “This menu is Blake’s baby and he gets all the credit,” Weimords says. “He’s only 21, so he’s really young, but he’s third generation so he knows what he’s doing, and his dad is around and has always been helpful.”
Parmegiani and the rest of the kitchen staff’s talents are on full display as they prep and bake pizzas in an open area behind a long, wooden bar wrapping around the pizza oven and food window, with rows of liquor bottles and a series of taps. This design is intentional, allowing guests to see the attention given to each menu item.
Pizzas on the menu include familiar favorites like pepperoni and margherita, with a sweet tomato sauce and fresh buffalo mozzarella. There’s also a Cuban with marinated pork shoulder, shaved ham, pickled red onion, mustard, Swiss, and dressed arugula, and an option featuring wilted spinach, house made ricotta, fried chicken skin, and egg.
The pizza dough also functions as the crust of a chicken pot pie served in a hot cast iron skillet. Other small plates include a beet hummus with chickpeas and pickles (both fried), and Cottonwood’s poutine, with homemade fries, pulled pork, white cheddar cheese, and pork gravy. For dessert, there are rotating ice cream options and chocolate crepe cake.
“The idea is to be approachable but also be creative and introduce people to new things,” Weimords says. “Right now, since we’re pretty new, I’m being tame and figuring out what people like. The menu will probably become more intricate.”
Both Weimords and Erickson have been overwhelmed by the community response since Cottonwood’s opening. “Overwhelmed in the best way possible,” Erickson says. “We’ve been having a hard time keeping beer on tap, and we sold out of our first batch of beer in six days. We’ve seen an outpouring of support from other people in the brewing industry, too. If I have a problem they are there. Like I needed some yeast, and I called Lucas (Simmons) at Lucky Town in Jackson and he gave us exactly what we needed.”
Thursday through Saturday nights, Cottonwood hosts live musical performances. Musicians set up in an intimate corner past the edge of the bar and pizza setup. This part of the space feels like a music club, while the area closer to large windows with views of downtown feels more like a restaurant. There are also the large metal tanks behind rows of tables, full of fermenting beer that will soon be on tap. It’s a lot to take in, but the vibe isn’t overwhelming.
“You don’t really find old buildings like this in California,” Erickson says. “Being here in Vicksburg, and learning about the architecture and the history and being downtown in a space like this is really cool and a new experience for me. This town is gorgeous, and it’s been amazing to do something like this where people are wanting and needing this place. I get to see people light up.”
Want to go?
Cottonwood Public House is open
Monday through Friday from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.
For more information, visit their website at cottonwoodpub.com or call (601) 501-7712