Great drive here from Birmingham. We took the longer more backroads route from Birmingham through Tuscaloosa back into Mississippi. It was technically maybe 2 hours longer than using the interstate but seemed much shorter because there was so much to see: one small church after another (picture a neighborhood street but lined with churches not homes); vast fields of cotton; big new McMansions, the occasional old beauty and many tumbledown shacks and trailers (although not as many as I remember from my last trip here 10 years ago).
Greenwood is a well-heeled town with an elegant looking spa hotel on the main strret, a great book store (Turn Row which I liked better than the more famous one in Oxford), an excellent local crafts/gift shop next door with excellent local pottery. We had a stylish lunch at the surprisingly sleek and contemporary Delta Bistro, which has white walls with colorful contemporary art. We ate surprisingly light fried green tomatoes dotted with chunks of crabmeat and excellent jalapeno catfish cakes with “comeback” sauce akin to a spicy Russian dressing. The famous Italian restaurant in town, Lusco’s, is open for dinner only. It gets rave reviews!
Heading north to the tiny town of Money, we drove over the Tallahatchie bridge (made famous by the Bobbie Gentry song) and drove past the gracious-living old home where “The Help” was filmed. (The lady at the gift shop tipped us off.). Then we stopped at an old church where blues legend Robert Johnson may be buried (“may” being the key word) and the crumbling weed-strewn wall of the remains of the drug store, Bryant’s, where the Emmett Till tragedy began. (There are very helpful historical signs in these lonesome spots).
Onto the bigger city of Cleveland where we dropped in at the famous meat market/restaurant which was setting up for what looked like a good dinner, with the tables at the opposite side of the room from the meat counter. My favorite t-shirt was in a shop next door (“Jesus loves this hot mess”) plus some “fighting okra” gear (apparently the real mascot of Delta State). (Later read that Trump has opened its first small town hotel in Cleveland. Ick.)
Next a quick stop in the worn but interesting town of Merigold where we sound the famous pottery shop (after passing by it twice) on a residential street. We were excited to find the famous juke joint Poor Monkey on the other side of Highway 61, a wooden shack with hand painted signs on the edge of a field along a tree -lined dirt road. The sign said it was open for music on Thursday only (this was a Thursday) but we soon found out that the owner died almost exactly a year ago and the place is closed indefinitely.
We stayed at a remarkable airbnb in Clarksdale, an elegant old White House run by a bohemian and charming Southern belle who grew up on a “farm” nearby. (We’re guessing it was a plantation from the presumably inherited furniture and photos inside the White House.) We stayed in a beautiful old room with a well-appointed bed, old faded lamps, and three of four walls were windows. The other two rooms weren’t occupied and the owners live elsewhere so we had this huge house to ourselves. The ground floor had an eccentric mix of old to-the-manor-born furnishings and contemporary art and photos of the belle during her modeling and design days in NY City.
Our loquacious host, sent us to a great place for dinner that we never would have found otherwise — Kathryn’s on the Lake, about a half hour outside of town on Moon Lake. Very unassuming on the outside, just a plain lakeside building, inside it had knotty pine walls, taxidermy, local art and red and white checked oilskin tablecloths. Clearly a favor of locals, four good old boys sat in one corner, another big family in another. The food was outstanding– steak filet, onion rings, a squash casserole, Kentucky Alexander (yes, I will be dieting when I get home) and excellent service.
At night, we went to Ground Zero for blues. Not the best. It was open mike night and the talent was spotty but interesting to see who gave it a go. The pros on stage were good. A weathered old black guy named “razor blade”, willowy white girl playing guitar, a white middle aged guy from England also on guitar (and particularly good!) and a young black guy on drums. We were struck again by how many Europeans were there as well as some very drunk Aussies. We were hoping to go to Red’s (a more “authentic” juke joint) but it didn’t offer music on Thursday. We did find out that unlike in the past, blues can be found almost every night in Clarksdale now. The city seems to have made a concerted effort to do this, which is good news and useful for the future. Red’s, for example, has music on Wednesdays, as well as the weekend.