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.
Although the Juke Joint Festival in Clarksdale typically fills up all hotel rooms in Coahoma County, sometimes something will open up in the last day or two before the festival as people cancel their trips, and so after weeks of fruitless searching, I had been able to eventually get a hotel room at the Quality Inn in Clarksdale, and therefore didn’t have to make the drive back and forth from Memphis. But I woke up early, and decided to head downtown in search of breakfast.
In a normal year, Yazoo Pass would have been my choice for breakfast, but they had been severely affected by the pandemic, and were not open on the morning of the festival. So the only option was Our Grandma’s House of Pancakes, a decent restaurant whose staff was harried by the flood of customers. I was fortunate, because I managed to get in just before the crowd swooped in, and already had a table before things got truly gridlocked. Although it had been expected that crowds would be down this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, crowds seemed about what would be expected for a Juke Joint Festival day, and there were few masks and not much social distancing. With many people getting vaccinated and case loads declining, a lot of people and places were beginning to return to some semblance of pre-pandemic life.
I leisurely sipped a cup of strong coffee and enjoyed my bacon-and-cheese omelette, hashbrowns, biscuit and pancakes, while blues fans from all over the country filled up every other available seat in the house. It was fun, and delicious.
Heading down toward Cat Head, I ran into DJ Hustleman from Neshoba County out in front of the old Club Vegas. He had not eaten yet and wanted to get caught up with me, so I led him down to Meraki Coffee Roasters, where I knew we could get right in and enjoy at least breakfast biscuits. In that regard, I was not disappointed. I opted for a pour-over coffee, and a bacon, egg and cheese biscuit, which was delicious. Hustleman and I sat at a back table and spent some time getting each other up to date, and then I headed up to Delta Avenue to check out vendors and get ready for the first acts of the festival day. The only impact that the pandemic seemed to have was that there were fewer vendors. Even so, I found a very beautiful piece of etched wood-art in honor of the late fife-and-drum-band leader Othar Turner from Gravel Springs, outside Senatobia, and as the price was reasonable enough, I purchased it. Hustleman moved his car and then began playing his guitar on the sidewalk in front of Club Vegas. It was a great beginning to the day.
My friend and I were debating about where to meet for dinner when my Facebook timeline suddenly showed something called The Barn at Cedar Hill Farm. I had heard of the farm, but neither of us knew about the restaurant, so we made the decision to meet there for dinner and to try something new.
Cedar Hill Farm, as it turns out, is a 120-acre working farm, and although its address says Hernando, Mississippi, it is actually located in a community to the south called Love, Mississippi, which was formerly a railroad station on the Mississippi and Tennessee Railroad (now the Illinois Central). It functions as something of a tourist attraction, especially on holidays such as the Easter season. When I arrived at the spot, kids were being photographed on haystacks in front of seasonal displays, or on old tractors; other kids were being pulled around on wagons behind tractors.
The Barn is Cedar Hill Farm’s restaurant destination, born of a certain degree of desperation, as the COVID-19 pandemic cut into the farm’s ticket revenues; the restaurant consists of a vast array of outdoor tables and a large indoor dining area as well. The menu was surprisingly diverse and somewhat upscale, including grilled steaks. All guests receive complementary home-made potato chips, which are frankly addictive. They are spiral-cut and lightly fried, served with dipping sauce. My friend and I opted for catfish dinners, which were quite delicious, but after dinner, we saw and smelled the steaks being grilled outside. I will certainly be trying a steak on my next visit. Desserts come from Area 51 Ice Cream and City Hall Cheesecake, both well-known Hernando institutions.
In addition to delicious food, Cedar Hill Farm also has a small store, which sells a number of food and home gifts, including local honey and fudge, which we bought.
So for great food and fun in a pleasant environment, head out to The Barn at Cedar Hill Farm. You’ll be in Love in more than one way!
The Barn at Cedar Hill Farm
8 Love Road
Hernando, MS 38632
After a coffee at Coffee Central in Hernando one Friday night, I drove past a shopping center on Commerce Street where I noticed a new sign that read The Parish Oyster Bar and Restaurant. Within a week, I had gotten a call from my friend Ronald Grayson asking me if I had heard of the place; he actually was with the owner at the time, and told me the owner was a friend of his. Within another week, the restaurant had opened.
Just to avoid confusion, it needs to be said that there is no connection between The Parish Oyster Bar in Hernando, Mississippi and Memphis’ Parish Grocery, which I reviewed last summer, although both are New Orleans-themed restaurants in our metropolitan region. Po-boys are the primary focus of the Parish Grocery, while more upscale seafood dishes characterize The Parish in Hernando. My friend and I arrived at 3 PM and still faced a significant wait for a table, given that it was the restaurant’s first week open.
Inside, the owners have done a great job of recreating the atmosphere of New Orleans. A white-aproned man shucks oysters behind the bar, while great Louisiana music plays from the speakers. The walls feature decorative flour-de-lis patterns, and the air is full of the smell of frying seafood.
I opted for the fried shrimp with french fries, and I was quite impressed with the seasonings used in the shrimp. Furthermore, the french fries were crispy and flavorful, and there was a mountain of them. My friend was pleased with her catfish filets as well. Afterwards, neither of us had room for dessert, but the desserts sounded delicious, including creme brule and bread pudding. By far, The Parish offers the most authentic New Orleans food experience in the Memphis area, and is worth the drive to Hernando.
The Parish Oyster Bar and Restaurant
427 E Commerce Street
Hernando, MS 38632
Rarely do I venture to review chain locations, but Paciugo Gelato Cafe had caught my attention years ago in Austin, Texas and in Florida, so when I saw that one had opened in the most unlikely of places, Collierville, Tennessee, I had to drive out to check on it. After all, gelato places have kind of come and gone in Memphis over the years. Yolo offered it along with yogurt at its Overton Square location before that abruptly closed, and since then, it has largely been unavailable except for a place in Cordova that offers it on a stick.
As it turn out, the Paciugo in Collierville is not a free-standing location as were the previous ones I had encountered in other cities; rather, it is a co-branded location with a Which Wich Superior Sandwiches franchise, which really isn’t surprising, considering that both chains are headquartered in Dallas, Texas. The co-branding really doesn’t affect anything, gelato-wise. The Collierville location has a good selection of gelato flavors, and a delicious array of milkshakes. They also offer coffee drinks including affogato, the delectable mix of hot coffee and frozen gelato, and all the cold options are available in the drive-through as well as inside.
Unfortunately, Collierville is not very convenient to the rest of Shelby County, but I strongly suspect that other Paciugo/Which Wich locations may be in the works for the Memphis area. I certainly hope so.
Paciugo Gelato Cafe/Which Wich Superior Sandwiches
975 W Poplar Avenue
Collierville, TN 38017
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.
Coffee Central Squared
39 W Commerce Street
Hernando, MS 38632
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.
Slim & Husky’s Pizza Beeria Memphis
634 Union Av
Memphis, TN 38103
Food halls, sort of like food courts without the mall, have become something of a trend in other cities; for the customer, they allow people to sample many different kinds of food in one place, while, for the restauranteur, they allow lower overhead for new startups. The concept has worked well at the St. Roch Market in New Orleans, and at Cultivation Food Hall in Jackson, Mississippi, so when I heard that Puck Food Hall was opening at the 409 South Main building on the south end of downtown, I expected it would do well. Instead, it struggled from day one, and undoubtedly the COVID-19 pandemic piled on. By the time I first visited in November, it was already winding down toward an inevitable closing.
Although Puck Food Hall will close for good in December, it was still home to Dr. Bean’s Coffee and Tea Emporium and to a retail outlet for Clarksdale-based Sweet Magnolia Gelato Company on my last visit. Dr. Bean’s will be relocating to the former Lo Fi Coffee stand within Stock and Belle at 387 South Main. Sweet Magnolia Gelato will likely be leaving downtown for a location in the east county suburbs.
Here’s hoping that after the pandemic, someone will try again to bring the food hall concept to Memphis. I think with the right management and in the right location, it could do well.
New Orleans-themed restaurants have come and gone over the years in Memphis; few of them offered beignets, those delightful doughnuts we learned to love at the Cafe du Monde in Jackson Square. Fortunately, there is now a place called Ben Yay’s on the Main Street Mall in downtown Memphis that offers the best in New Orleans cuisine and the delicious beignets as well.
Located in a space that has housed several New Orleans-themed restaurants over the years including most notably Chef Gary’s Deja Vu, which closed when he passed away, Ben yay’s proclaims itself a “Gumbo Shop,” but they have an absolutely delicious shrimp po-boy, and one that is fairly authentic. Nothing fancy, of course; po-boys are not fancy food. But it is, as all good po-boys are, a thing of beauty. There are too many shrimp for the french loaf; they fall off the sandwich onto your plate, which is the mark of a good po-boy. The french fries that came with it were delicious as well.
But it is what came afterwards that sets Ben Yay’s apart. Authentic New Orleans-style beignets, covered with powdered sugar. There have been beignet places in Memphis before, including several locations of Crescent City Beignet that have since closed, and a suburban place called Voodoo Cafe in Bartlett which sells sweet and savory beignets shaped like voodoo dolls. But the beignets at Ben Yay’s give the place its name, and are the most like what you would find in New Orleans I have seen in Memphis. They are delicious, but messy, and your clothes WILL be covered in powdered sugar when you are through enjoying them. All the same, it’s worth it.
Ben Yay’s Gumbo Shop
51 S Main St.
Memphis, TN 38103
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.