Clarksdale Mississippi gets a nod from me for the second day in a row, oddly, after I read this morning that a restaurant there bankrolled by the actor Morgan Freeman, who is a Clarksdale native, is closing after ten years in operation. My meal there was about seven years ago,come to think of it, while I was doing a writing project in the Mississippi Delta and it was clear that Madidi, the restaurant which specialized in “Americanized French cuisine” (I remember it as Southern fine dining, with prices to match) would never break even in such an impoverished place. It was clearly a labor of love. Guess the cast and crew of “The Help,” which filmed in Clarksdale, also couldn’t save it from extinction. Last I heard Freeman does have another restaurant there – a popular blues bar, pool hall and restaurant called Ground Zero (see photos above). He opened another branch in Memphis, where my son and I listened to a very good female singer a few years ago.
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And now the all-important where-to-eat suggestions for E. and friends who are taking a road trip to Clarksdale, Miss. (among other places):
– Madidi (www.madidiires.com) is a surprisingly fancy and sophisticated restaurant to find in a struggling Mississippi Delta town…until you remember that the Mississippi Delta is where actor Morgan Freeman (aka Nelson Mandela in his latest film) was raised – and still lives. He has pumped money into the area – including by bankrolling this restaurant. The food, upscale Southern, is very good but to be honest, I’d stick with some of the lower-key places, which seem more reflective of the “real” Clarksdale.
– Ground Zero – This isn’t really “real” – it’s another Morgan Freeman effort but it’s designed to look gritty that it passes muster. Ground Zero is a blues club that also serves food.
– Hicks Tamales and BBQ Shop – Noah and I tried several times to pick up a hot tamale here at the drive-through window but the line was always too slow (not long, just slow.) Supposed to be good though.
– Abes BBQ – We did get take away pork (I think) sandwiches from this hole-in-the-wall and some BBQ sauce to take back to Iowa. Very good (and quite different from our usual Gates BBQ sauce)
– Delta Amusement Blues Cafe – This is a small downtown working-guys cafe, basic greasy spoon with some local character.
– Uncle Henry’s Place (www.unclehenrysplace.com) – This is a very strange Southern inn about a half-hour outside of Clarksdale in a really faded town (so to speak) called Dundee near “Moon Lake.” We went here because of its history – it was a hangout of William Faulkner’s and owned at various times by the family of Tennessee Williams and Conway Twitty. The food was rich and pricey Louisiana fare and it was empty when we ate there (we arrived kind of late) which gave it an even more strange, faded feel.
– Ramon’s – We never made it to this place, which looked pretty low-down, but it sounded intriguing (chicken livers with spaghetti!) when I heard an NPR report on it by Jane and Michael Stern. The onion rings on the Sterns’ roadfood.com page for Ramon’s look amazing. (roadfood.com is another good source for food during your trip although be forewarned – some places will be not-so-pretty.)
My stepdaughter is heading to Memphis and beyond this spring on a road trip and I’m full of suggestions for what to do, where to eat and stay – thanks to a great road trip my son and I took in 2008 that I dubbed the “baseball, blues, and BBQ tour” based on my son’s interests, which helped determine our stops in St Louis, Memphis and Clarksdale, Mississippi.
So stay tuned Emma and all…..I’m going to dig out my journal and get you some specifics!