Say “East Village” and most people probably think of New York City, but since the opening of the Clinton Presidential Library and the nearby headquarters of the Heifer Project International, a hip, trendy new district called the East Village has been developing in Little Rock, Arkansas east of I-30 and downtown. Perhaps the centerpiece of this district is a new coffee bar and roasters called Fidel and Company.
Fidel is a warm and welcoming spot; it’s sleek and modernistic, with plenty of glass, lighting and outdoor sunlight streaming in. There are varieties of Fidel roasted coffees, as well as Onyx coffees from Fayetteville, and plenty of inviting baked goods, both sweet and savory. There is also a lovely outdoor patio area, although it was too cold for people to make much use of it on the December day I was there.
I bought a bag of Fidel whole bean coffee to make at home, and it was great. Unfortunately, the website seems peculiarly geared to local orders for pick-up, so it does not currently seem possible to order bags of beans for mail order delivery. Hopefully, that will change in the near future.
En route to my birthday weekend in New Orleans, I decided to stop off at the natural halfway point in Jackson, Mississippi for a rest, and my phone showed me a new coffee place in Highland Village called Coffee Prose, which I had not seen on previous visits to Jackson. Incredible as it may seem, on all my various visits to Jackson since my childhood, I have never had occasion to visit Highland Village shopping center, although it is one of the oldest shopping areas in the city. I found it beautifully decked out for Christmas, and the weather was pleasant enough that people were sitting outside in the courtyard.
Coffee Prose is not easy to find from the parking lot, but it is on the courtyard, and as the name suggests, it features an array of hot and cold coffee drinks, some baked goods, and a small selection of used books. The coffee was quite good and the prices were reasonable. I didn’t find anything amongst the books that I absolutely had to have, but the concept of combining books and coffee makes sense. Fueled with caffeine, I was able to get back on my way to the Big Easy. There is a second Coffee Prose in Jackson’s Midtown neighborhood as well.
Perhaps few foods comfort us more than cookies—they hearken back to a time when our mothers baked them for us; the pleasant smell of warm, freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies can bring a special feeling of nostalgia. Unfortunately, freshly-baked cookies are not so easily accessed these days. While recent years have seen the emergence of a number of bakeries, these typically have seriously limited hours, closing anywhere from 2 or 3 in the afternoon to 5 or 6 in the evening. Getting a cookie after dinner can be a challenge, aside from a few communities that may have a branch of the recent Insomnia cookie chain.
Enter Crumbl, a new chain that hopes to revolutionize the retail cookie business. While Crumbl does not have Insomnia’s delivery option, nor its significantly-expanded hours, it offers a number of unique features. First, the cookie menu changes on a weekly basis, with only a chocolate chip and sugar cookie option remaining constant. Differing flavors are intended to be served chilled, or warmed, as is appropriate for the flavor. One cookie is truly huge; they can be bought individually, or in a box of 4, or in a party pack. They are fairly expensive, but as I said above, one cookie could easily be split by two people. Although they are soft and delicious, unlike Insomnia’s products they hold together and do not crumble easily, which is ironic, considering the name. I actually prefer Crumbl’s cookies to Insomnia’s, which, while delicious, generally have to be spooned out of their paper sleeves like cobblers.
There are a few things to be aware of with Crumbl. One is that they offer curbside pickup, but not delivery; there is an app that you can use to pre-buy cookies for pick-up. Another is that the lines can be truly outrageous at times, particularly on weekends. Finally, while some locations offer Crumbl-branded ice cream, the Memphis location does not, at least not yet. All the same, Crumbl makes a fun outing after a dinner in East Memphis. The products and flavors will not disappoint, nor does the cheerful ambiance of the place and its staff.
This was the first year at Juke Joint Fest with the new Traveler’s Hotel in downtown Clarksdale, and for the first time, there was a new performance tent across the street from the hotel in a parking lot. I had not paid a lot of attention to the location earlier, but when I walked back that way later in the morning, the Southern Soul Band was playing there. I recalled them from Como Day in 2018, when they had been a crowd-pleaser. There was a classic car show in the intersection nearby, and the crowd seemed pleased with what they were hearing. I enjoyed them as well as I headed around the corner and into the Blue Cotton Bake Shop for some coffee and baked goods.
For many years, Hernando, Mississippi has been coffee challenged; for awhile, only Big Muddy Coffee existed, and it closed at 6 PM. Later, Coffee Central opened as a small corner in a gift shop on Highway 51, but it closed even earlier at 5 PM. There was a Starbucks in the new Kroger Homeplace, but it was inconvenient and inconsistently open. But things have recently changed for the better in regard to coffee in Hernando.
On a recent visit, I noticed that Coffee Central has moved out of the gift shop (replaced by a bakery) and has acquired an old and historic house on Commerce Street near the iconic courthouse square. The new location is welcoming, and has outdoor tables on its porch, as well as plenty of table space indoors, and a party room which was in use for a birthday party during my visit. The coffee bar has added extended hours to go along with its new building, and now stays open until 8 PM.
As it did before the move, Coffee Central offers coffees from Dr. Bean, Ethnos and Onyx, baked goods, and a number of healthy food options. They are a great place to drop by after a dinner on the square.
Memphis has lots of pizza restaurants, but a hip-hop-themed pizza restaurant is a whole different thing altogether. Slim & Husky’s Pizza Beeria, a Memphis branch of a Nashville-based chain, was eagerly anticipated locally, and is located in a historic business across from the former home of the Commercial-Appeal newspaper on Union Avenue just east of downtown. The concept was founded by three friends and former football players from Tennessee State University who wanted to provide jobs, food and community to the North Nashville neighborhood where the first location was started. With locations now in Antioch, Tennessee, Sacramento, Atlanta and Memphis, Slim & Husky’s seems well on its way to becoming an institution.
The basic food concept on which Slim & Husky’s is based will be familiar to many; an individual-sized pizza concept in which customers can choose from a vast array of toppings at no extra cost. The basic idea entered the Memphis market much earlier in the form of Pyro’s Fire Fresh Pizza, but Slim & Husky’s is at once quite different; the pizzas are rectangular rather than round, and there are two different sizes, the “slim” and the slightly larger “husky.” I was also impressed with the high quality of the ingredients. There is an array of pre-planned pizza varieties, including the unique PREAM, which stands for Pizza Rules Everything Around Me; when one of these is ordered, a bell is rung and the staff chants the slogan. Customers can also plan their own pizzas from a vast array of sauces and toppings.
The other thing that really sets Slim & Husky’s apart is its embrace of hip-hop culture. The walls include paintings of such Memphis rap legends as Eightball and MJG and Playa Fly. These artists had signed their pictures on the restaurant’s opening day. The soundtrack overhead is also hip-hop; a warning on the door indicates that explicit lyrics are possible, but I have yet to hear any when I have visited. The music gives the brightly-painted restaurant a bouncy, upbeat vibe.
Finally, no dinner would be complete without dessert, and The Rollout is Slim & Husky’s dessert department, offering an astonishing array of five different cinnamon rolls. On my first visit, I tried one of the basic OG S & H House Rolls, which are basically warm, gooey, moist cinnamon rolls, and one of the Cookie Monsta rolls, which feature white chocolate sauce, Oreo cookies and peanut butter crumbles. I came away pleasantly full and imbued with a sense of fun and community.
Halloween this year fell on a Saturday, and early in the afternoon, I drove over to Backermann’s Country Market in Whiteville, Tennessee, an Amish bakery known for its fried pies and other desserts. I had hoped to buy a chocolate peanut butter pie to take back home, but to my disappointment, I found that they do not stock them, and only bake them when ordered. I ended up not buying anything, and upon my return to Somerville in Fayette County, discovered that the new coffee bar I heard about there had closed at 3 PM. So I decided to head down to Moscow and into Mississippi on my way to Como.
With my car having been in the shop for two months, this was my first opportunity to visit Como in some time, and I had heard that Micol Davis of the band Blue Mother Tupelo had opened a coffee bar there called Como Coffee Stop. As it turned out, the new coffee shop is in the former Delta Recording Service building next to the post office, which has more recently been an ice cream parlor, an arts and crafts store, and a drum lesson studio (at least in the back room). The Coffee Stop is a business born of necessity, as the COVID pandemic has canceled almost all of Blue Mother Tupelo’s shows; for now, it does not have an espresso machine, but serves brewed Community Coffee and baked goods. I enjoyed visiting with Micol, and had planned on walking down to Windy City Grille for a dinner, but my friend Sherena Boyce (R. L.’s daughter) called me and wanted to go to Tribecca Allie Cafe in Sardis.
So I drove back to Senatobia to pick her up, and we rode down to Sardis to Tribecca, which has been proclaimed some of the best pizza in the United States. After a period of time when they were closed to inside dining and allowing to-go orders only, they are now back to allowing at least limited dine-in service. The pizzas at Tribecca are unique because they are cooked over a wood fire, which imparts a special flavor to them. After dinner, we were invited by our waitress to attend the Panola Playhouse’s performance of Little Shop of Horrors next door, but Sherena did not particularly want to go, and I was tired. It was late enough that trick or treating was largely over, and so we both went home.
Many years ago, Memphis arguably had one of the country’s best Black coffee bars. Precious Cargo, in the Pinch District, was both a coffee bar and one of the best places in the city for Black spoken word, avant-garde jazz, reggae, neo-soul and fellowship. Unfortunately, a fire set it back, and though it reopened for another year or so, it eventually closed. The opening this summer, during a pandemic no less, of a new Black coffee bar called Muggin Coffee House in Whitehaven is an exciting new addition to the city of Memphis. Not only does Muggin fill a gap in the Black community of Memphis, but it is also the only coffee bar in Whitehaven that is not inside of the airport or the Graceland complex. Although the coffee bar is located in an ancient strip mall, the inside is bright and cheerful. Muggin features the usual array of hot espresso-based drinks, as well as a selection of baked goods including chocolate chip and brown butter cookies, and two frozen concoctions which are worthy of further discussion. The “Zippin Pippin” (named for a long-lost and beloved Memphis roller coaster) is a white chocolate and caramel frappe, while the “Flickin’ on Beale” is a delicious chocolate and espresso frappe. The latter, unlike the Starbucks equivalent, is not overwhelmingly sweet, with some of the sweetness cut by strong coffee, making for a perfectly refreshing summer treat. Roasted bags of whole bean coffees are available for purchase, and the different varieties have clever names, including the Miles Davis-inspired “Kinda Brew,” the Three-6 Mafia inspired “Hard Out Here For A Drip,” and the DJ Squeaky-inspired “Lookin’ For The Brewin’.” The name of the establishment cleverly combines the slang-term “muggin'” suggesting confidence and bravado, with the idea of coffee mugs. Currently, Muggin’ closes early, about 6 PM, and no live performances are currently planned, with COVID-19 concerns still in play. However, it seems likely that at some future point, Muggin’ may also be an evening spot for live performances, at least occasionally. One can certainly hope.
With travel curtailed by the pandemic, many of us who love New Orleans have been unable to travel to our favorite city this summer, but Memphians who love the Big Easy got a little bit of consolation in June with the opening of the Parish Grocery in the former Atomic Tiki Bar location. (A transition from the South Pacific to South Rampart Street is quite a transition indeed!). Despite the name, Parish Grocery is not a grocery store, but a New Orleans-style deli, with po-boys and muffulettas. The sandwiches are made with Liedenheimer bread, which is considered the gold standard when it comes to po-boys. (Gambino’s is a beloved competitor in that regard as well). On a broiling day in June, I ventured in to try a shrimp po-boy after seeing a Facebook friend check in a few days before. The building on Overton Park Avenue in the Crosstown section of Memphis is old and historic, and has the sort of look I associate with New Orleans, including the door facing the corner rather than either street. As for the shrimp po-boy, it was the authentic article and quite good. Soft drinks come in cans, but were cold and refreshing, and for a treat after the meal, they advertise New Orleans-style snowballs, but I didn’t try one, so I cannot say how authentic they are. (For the uninitiated, a New Orleans snowball and a snow cone are vastly different.) The surroundings were pleasant, and included memorabilia from the TV show Treme, as well as various musician photos and concert posters.
Indeed, I had only one complaint, in that they do not offer french fries. They are of course not alone in that regard, and there are a number of New Orleans sandwich shops that do not have fries, including the venerable Domilise’s. But I am just not a fan of cajun slaw, or German potato salad, or any of the other various salads or vegetables that are offered. A shrimp po-boy, fries and a Barq’s was staple summer fare for me in my youth at Gulfport, Mississippi. All the same, Parish Grocery offers the most authentic New Orleans experience in a Memphis restaurant. They even have bread pudding, and Zapps potato chips. Pay them a visit.
The end of Zulu is followed almost immediately by Rex, and although they follow different routes to a point, they end up coming right behind each other on St. Charles. Back up at St. Charles and Sixth, the crowds were not nearly as thick, and it was easier to photograph marching bands, such as Warren Easton from New Orleans. It also seemed easier to catch beads, and this time I managed to duck a cup rather than getting hit by it! Also, as in 2018, the Gracious Bakery and Cafe was open, giving us access to baked goods, cold drinks and coffee. However, one of the difficulties of Mardi Gras is the way that many different events conflict with one another. Doing one thing often precludes doing others; I had been invited to spend the day with Joe Maize from TBC, who was playing the drums for a Black Indian gang, the Golden Eagles, but I feared that if I spent the whole day out there with them, I would miss the parades. Even so, at 1 PM, I decided to leave the parade route and see if I could find the Indians uptown. Their parades are unscheduled, and wander through the neighborhoods as the spirit moves them, looking for rival gangs to confront ritually. They no longer fight violently as they once did; the battles are all danced, but it is still a one-of-a-kind experience. The parades are full of beauty and grandeur, but it is more of planned beauty. The Indians are something entirely different, a beauty more spontaneous and indigenous.