Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Delta Dining

Meet someone interesting or unique or just flat out weird with a Southern drawl and chances are that they are from Mississippi. Mississippi is the great cultivator of personalities and characters. A place with a wide range of history, people, and land which form something greater than the sum of its parts. To truly appreciate the place from which these characters are grown one needs to take a trip through the Mississippi Delta environs. We hightailed it out of town on  a Friday intent on making it to Yazoo City, and Ubon's, in time for lunch.

The Beeve, late as always, arrived just as a bowl of blackberry cobbler hit the table. But prior to that we polished off a plate of juicy pulled pork, pork sausages whose casings were as crispy as cracklings, brisket, and a mahogany colored quarter of chicken. There were also well spiced beans and a potato salad which was closer to mashed potatoes, but no less delicious. But allow me a moment of silence for that cobbler, which was the color of spilled black ink, tart and buttery sweet.

A few more hours up the road and we were checking into the Alluvian Hotel in charming downtown Greenwood. There is a fantastic bookstore just up the street called TurnRow Books. A drink in the bar, shower, and we were ready to go worship at the church of Lusco's. How best to explain Lusco's. The tendency is to compare places elsewhere to a place in New Orleans and add a qualifier. "It's like R&O's add the vibe of Tipitina's" or "Take Galatoires and remove the stuffiness".  Both descriptions fail because Lusco's is a restaurant that belongs solely to Mississippi.

You are greeted in the restaurant by a storefront and a stuffed squirrel smoking a cigarette. Yes, you read that correctly. You will hear voices and laughter peering but see no faces. This is because most of the tables at Lusco's are set in private rooms with curtains and buzzers which allow you to hide and summon respectively. It creates the feeling of being a blind person at a rocking party. They only sell beer, but you are welcome to bring in wine and alcohol and they will sell you mixers or open the wine for you. Corkage is a paltry $3, a plate of limes or lemons runs about $1, and a bottle of tonic is $2. You do the math, you come out on top.

A big plate of blond colored, battered onion rings led the way. They wouldn't sell me a vat of their blue cheese dressing or divulge the recipe, but I was willing to pay. Then fried chicken and pompano, the latter a whole fish scored and charred doused with a lemon butter sauce. I do not say this idly: this is the best fried chicken in Americana. The crust is flecked with black pepper, a squeeze of lemon on top transforms the chicken into a lemon pepper salty bite of bliss. This fried chicken should be in the Louvre.

Saturday morning, we set out for the Downtown Greenwood Farmer's Market to score a cheddar and chive sausage biscuit which outshone the hype. But in the corner of the lot an old beat up rig, manned by Spooney, puffed away delivering tender ribs wiped down with a well-balanced sauce. "I can't believe I am eating ribs for breakfast," said Lindsay. I couldn't tell whether she said this with enthusiasm or disdain, but this was the best breakfast I'd ever had.

Then a drive up to Clarksdale where we visited the Blues Museum, ate fried hot tamales (ehh), and fried pickles (fantastic) and sipped cold beer at Ground Zero Blues Club. Then a swing into Hick's Quality Foods for tamales overstuffed with beef chili and swimming in a fiery sauce. They serve tamales from a drive-thru at Hicks and before we even hit the highway, Lindsay was saying, "Don't even think about it."

Then on down to Cleveland and its quaint and well-preserved downtown. We looked in vain for a Fighting Okra t-shirt, settling instead for a half dozen tamales from Delta Fast Food. Half grocery store, half pool hall, half lunch spot, Delta Fast Food's tamales were thicker and creamier with a higher ratio of masa to chili. They were also spicier and our favorite of the trip.

There was another meal at Crystal Grille in Greenwood which was mostly forgettable save for the lemon ice box pie. But the next morning we headed northeast to the town of Grenada to seek out a biscuit from the Biscuit Pit. As we stood around deciding on what to get, they made us as aliens. "You aint from around here, are you?" asked the lady rolling out dough.

We ended up with a few sausage biscuits with cheese, one with country ham, one with fried pork tenderloin, and one with fried chicken. The sausage and cheese was perfect, and was just the snack we needed to send us back home. There are many more places in the Delta to explore, and we will on our next trip. Turns out, the people up here aren't that strange after all.


fmcgmccllc said...

Love Lusco's and the pompano.

Kyle Gordon said...

I grew up on the fringes of the Delta in Vicksburg, half of my family still lives in Yazoo City, and it's still hard to explain the delciousness and the significance of Delta tamales to people from here. Make a trip to Ubon's during the Holidays next time, and wash all the bbq down with a Egg Nog Milkshake from Hastee Tastee (also on Jerry Clower Blvd).

Fat Harry said...

Truly some classics up there. Glad to hear the good report from Lusco's. Next trip I recommend the catfish hoagie from The Hollywood in Robinsonville, MS, which is a standard bearer. The Delta is in such a steep decline that I hope people get to continue to enjoy these places.

candice said...

Lusco's fell quite flat the one time I went there, but everyone else seems to like it.

Also the lunch specials involving catfish at the crystal grill are where it's at. (Also vegetables involving cheese.)

Anonymous said...

Get the tamales in Greenville from Maia's Famous Hot Tamales next trip. Best in the Delta.