Making a Comeback: Origins of a Mississippi Legend

If you’ve ever visited a restaurant in Jackson and throughout Mississippi, chances are you’ve come across the savory, tangy, teasingly spicy catchall sauce known as “comeback dressing.”

A bottle of dressing with a plate of salad nearby
The classic comeback dressing at The Mayflower Cafe. Image: Drew Dempsey

A magical finishing touch for everything from leafy greens to chicken to fish and beyond, legend has the “Kum-Bak” dressing deriving its name from patrons wanting to “come back” for more.

With its key notes of garlic and mayonnaise, another theory revolves around its potent scent “coming back” to linger after the main course is finished.

Regardless of etymology, it has remained a mainstay on Magnolia State menus well into the 21st century.

The culinary origins of comeback are as unique as the condiment itself, likely stemming from Hellenic influences brought about by Greek immigrants in the 1920s. Following a boom in the steel industry of Birmingham, families began migrating to Jackson, where they found jobs and learned the tricks of the trade in local cafes.

By the 1950s and 1960s, most of the capital city’s go-to eateries were Greek-owned and founded.

Some credit the iconic Mayflower Cafe downtown with the birth of comeback dressing, while others say Alex Dennery’s Rotisserie Restaurant is to thank.

A neon lit restaurant exterior
The Mayflower Cafe. Image: Drew Dempsey

Still, the Zouboukos family’s now-closed Elite Restaurant – a Jackson institution - also made strides for contributing their version of Mississippi’s “remoulade” sauce. Whoever claimed the title, it was assured that tables were equipped with a bottle to pour on a crisp iceberg salad, saltines, or boiled shrimp.

Now, you can find comeback sauce used in current Jackson mainstays like Walker’s Drive-In’s portobello fries with spicy horseradish comeback dressing; Hal & Mal’s garlic-y, no-fuss starter, comeback and crackers; or The Manship’s rendition of a classic comeback cobb.

Want to drum up your own container to spice up a home-cooked meal or to bring life back to leftovers? Try this recipe by Jackaon Chef Rashanna Newsome.

2 c. mayonnaise
½ c. chili sauce
½ tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. crystal hot sauce
1 tbsp. lemon juice
¼ tsp. smoked paprika
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
¼ tsp. onion powder

Combine all ingredients and mix well. Adjust salt as needed.

Amanda Wells


Amanda Wells