Soul food — physical and otherwise

May 22, 2016

The Delta -- my adoptive home. I do love it.

The Delta — my adoptive home. I do love it.

Have y’all MISSED me?

Not that I’ve been gone all that long; just a weekend, and I even had a prepared post I put up for y’all (smartphones ROCK, I’m telling you) while I was gone. But I have had a fine, fine time, enjoyed good food and better music, and am proud to be home.

Spent the weekend with a bunch of friends in Clarksdale, Mississippi, where I ate copious amounts of soul food, some other food, and heard copious amounts of blues, and some other kinds of music. In other words, a weekend filled with two of the things I love most, after my family.

Bunch of us had been talking about going to Clarksdale, Mississippi, a small town maybe an hour and a half or so south of Memphis, and taking in the juke joints, as well as making excursions further south to Cleveland and Indianola to a couple of premier music museums. So we did that.

We’d planned to stay at the Shack Up Inn (check the place out; it’s all kinds of cool), but a late change of plans led us to the Delta Bohemian B&B instead. Now don’t get me wrong, I love me some Shack Up Inn, but the DB is just way cool as well, and I’ll stay there again.

I picked folks up at the airport, and after a quick stop by Interstate Barbecue, one of my top five in the barbecue pantheon in Memphis (or anywhere else, for that matter, as Memphis barbecue is superior to all others, and no, The Rendezvous is nowhere close to being in the Top 5). I thought about barbecue spaghetti, but pasta always makes me sleepy, and I had driving to do, so I opted for a pork sandwich combo instead. Chopped pork sandwich, slaw, fries, the Holy Trinity of barbecue. I discarded the bun, ate the slaw and fries. Forgot to ask for sauce on the side, as Interstate’s one shortcoming is that they have a REAL heavy hand with sauce. But I did not leave hungry.

Got to Clarksdale, and HAD to stop by the Dutch Oven, a small breakfast-lunch-bakery place owned and operated by Amish folk, because I’d called ahead and determined they were not open on Saturdays and I was NOT going to miss a chance at pie. I had chess. It was as good as Grandmama’s. I have no higher praise than that. We wandered about downtown for a while, dropped in at Cathead’s for a lineup of the weekend’s music, and dropped by the liquor store for some cold beer. Checked in at the guest house and enjoyed a beer in the back yard, accompanied by Dandy, the delightful resident pooch who does not discriminate among laps (but he likes women, and knows a dog-lover when he spots one). Took a short nap, and it was out to take in some blues at Ground Zero Blues Club, Morgan Freeman’s establishment, that night.

None of us were tremendously hungry after barbecue and midafternoon pie, so we opted to eat at Ground Zero. Perfectly adequate hamburgers. I had a BLT. Sweet potato fries were good. John Nemeth was playing, and I was not tremendously entranced. Looking at a long day and a late night the next day, we were back at the guest house and in bed before midnight.

Odd thing at Ground Zero. I expected to be one of the older listeners in the house. Not even close. Dunno if it was AARP special night, or what.

Up early; breakfast at the guest house (bagels, cream cheese and fruit, plenty of coffee) and we were southbound again, to Cleveland, home of the just-0pened-in-March Grammy museum. It’s an enterprise of Delta State University, and sits adjacent to the campus.

Photo borrowed from the web. Very cool building.

Photo borrowed from the web. Very cool building.

It was just superb. First off, a gorgeous building. Lots of cool history of the Grammys. Lots of exhibits, much of it with a Mississippi slant, and there’s a TON of great music that came out of Mississippi. I was particularly entrance with a map of Mississippi with little tiny gramophones to mark the birthplaces of Grammy winners; there’s a tremendous concentration of ’em in that magnolia-leaf-shaped strip of land along the river that makes up the Mississippi Delta. (Did you know Sam Cooke was from Clarksdale? Neither did I.) I could spend a whole day there, because there are listening stations where you can listen to EVERY Grammy winner since they started; how cool is that?

To top things off, they opened with a special traveling exhibit on the Beatles. Took me STRAIGHT back to the 1960s (Yes, I was a young child. Hush.), and carried me straight up to the late 70s. Great exhibit.

Go to this place if you get a chance. If you don’t get a chance — make one. You can combine it with other musical attractions (hang with me, here).

We left there with bagels wearing thin, and headed to a place that had been recommended for its soul food — The Senator’s Place, there in Cleveland. And soul food it well and truly was.

Lord have mercy. Neck bones. Good stuff.

Lord have mercy. Neck bones. Good stuff.

Fried chicken. Greens. Rice. Black eyed peas. Okra and tomatoes. Candied sweet potatoes, redolent with cinnamon and nutmeg. And neckbones.  Lord have mercy. Neckbones. I haven’t had neckbones since I was a kid.

If you haven’t had neckbones, think oxtail; it’s the other end of the spinal column, and pig instead of cow, but cooked about the same; braised or stewed, long and low, until it falls off the bone and is rendered supremely tender. Mama used to make backbone and dressing; these were similar in taste and texture, having had a close relationship with the black pepper shaker during the cooking process.

I’m not a greens eater, but I had a couple of bites just for propriety’s sake. But those sweet potatoes? Have mercy. I could have eaten two more servings of those sweet potatoes, and gone into diabetic coma. Lawd, lawd. I’ll go back there.

Another one borrowed from the web. I didn't take a lot of photos this trip.

Another one borrowed from the web. I didn’t take a lot of photos this trip.

Fortified, we proceeded southeast to Indianola, home and pretty close to the birthplace of BB King, purely and simply one of the greatest bluesmen ever, to visit his museum, which I somehow had not managed to visit in the three or four years it’s been open. I hate that I waited that long. It’s wonderful. Takes king from his birth near Itta Bena (is that not a cool name for a town?) through his making his name in Memphis, then nationally and internationally, and finally back to Indianola, where he was buried just a little more than a year ago.

BB King was, in addition to being one of the world’s greatest guitar players and blues composers/singers, a supremely nice man. I had the distinct pleasure of meeting him and securing his autograph some 10-12 years ago; it’s one of my proudest possessions. He asked where I was from, and as it was Crittenden County, Arkansas, where he got his start performing in a club on 16th Street in West Memphis, we immediately had old home week for about 10 minutes.

His museum is just excellent. Great capsule of the Delta blues, great look through that lens at Jim Crow, segregation, integration and the life of a touring musician playing the Chitling Circuit. (Food-related aside: I loathe chitlings. Don’t be looking for chitlings here, no matter how down-home South this blog gets.) And it’s an opportunity to listen to a mini-concert of his work, and listen to other greats (Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, too many more to mention) talk about what he meant to them.

Drive back north to Clarksdale, another beer in the back yard, and it was dinner time before our juke joint excursion that evening. I hadn’t been to Rest Haven, which always makes me think of a cemetery, in a long time. It was a choice between more barbecue (Abe’s); tamales (Larry’s) or the unique Lebanese-Italian-American hybrid that is Rest Haven.

Kibbie, grape leaves, tamales; the Rest Haven trifecta. Again, courtesy the web.

Kibbie, grape leaves, tamales; the Rest Haven trifecta. Again, courtesy the web.

Kibbie, either raw, baked or deep-fried. Grape leaves. Tabbouleh. And if that doesn’t hit the spot, there’s rib-eyes, burgers, catfish, barbecue and hot tamales; lasagna, ravioli, spaghetti and meatballs. They aim to please, and they do ’em all well.

I went with kibbie and grape leaves. Mine came deep fried, and my sole quibble is that it was a touch dry, which was quickly remedied by dredging it in the viniagrette from my salad. The grape leaves, stuffed with a combo of beef and pork, were just superb. And once again, I was stuffed to the gills.

From there, we were off on the juke joint expedition, headed to Red’s, near downtown, and just a few blocks from the Riverside Hotel, where legend has it blues great Bessie Smith died in 1937. (Truth says it didn’t happen that way, but she did die in Clarksdale, in the old “Colored Hospital,” but many noteworthy African American musicians stayed at the Riverside as they toured the Chitling Circuit for black entertainers.0

Lucious Spiller. Crappy cell phone photo. Great blues.

Lucious Spiller. Crappy cell phone photo. Great blues.

We headed to Red’s, on Sunflower in Clarksdale. Serious, old-time juke joint. Plastic drop-cloth-lined ceiling to stop the leaks. Distinct locker-room scent. Amazingly enough, a decent beer selection, no doubt added when the yuppies discovered Red’s, but you can still get a tall-boy Bud for $4. Interesting crowd, all ages of white and black folks. Great music from the Lucious Spiller Band, who did some fine blues and R&B, including some covers of Sam Cooke and Brooks Benton, as well as a screaming-hot medley of Stevie Ray Vaughn’s “Sweet Home Chicago” and “Pride and Joy.”

Dude can play, I’m here to tell you. Had a straight-up bass player, too, who never cracked a smile all night. But watch for this kid.

We had thoughts of an excursion out to Po’ Monkey’s, a “suburban” juke joint on a dirt road surrounded by cotton fields, but we wound up listening at Reds until almost 1, when we gave it up. I am, after all, not as young as I once was.

Finished off my weekend today before I dropped my folks off at the airport with a late lunch at the Beauty Shop in Memphis. Fried oyster po’boy, dressed with spinach, tomato and dill pickles. Housemade chips with chipotle aioli. Lord have mercy.

If you ‘n y’mama ‘n ’em are looking for me this coming week, you can find me in the gym, where I will be trying to work off the weekend’s excesses. With good blues in my headphones.

 

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4 Responses to “Soul food — physical and otherwise”

  1. Paul Santiago Says:

    Enjoyed it. Made me hungry for some good barbecue. Paul

  2. kayatthekeyboard Says:

    You know, if you’d come back and visit, we could take care of that….

  3. cleavelin Says:

    A friend from STL visited Memphis a couple years ago, and was very, very disappointed with Interstate. Am I reading between your lines that it is still up to its usual quality (which I’ve heard nothing but raves over; I know, I know, I still need to hit the joint)?

    FWIW, she was literally the first person in the door when it opened on a Sunday (?), so I’m wondering if that had something to do with it. Either that or… hey, even the Hall of Famers have their less than stellar outings.

    Sounds like a fun trip; I’ll have to hit a few of those sights sometime.

  4. kayatthekeyboard Says:

    I thought it was up to usual standards. I can see how the dousing with sauce — I’m serious, it’s a LOT of sauce — so much if you get a sandwich, it pools on the plate around the bun — would put some people off. The sauce is pretty sweet, too. Their meat is a little more fat than Central’s, more on the order of BarBQ Shop, and it’s always chopped, not pulled. They haven’t always opened on Sunday; that may make some difference.


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