A Delta Journey: Dawn in Rena Lara and Breakfast in Greenville

I had agreed to drop off a co-worker at work on my way out of town, so I ended up getting on the road at 5 in the morning. I had intended to grab breakfast at the well-known Blue and White Cafe in Tunica, but I found them closed, as they don’t open until 7 AM, and while there was a breakfast restaurant in Helena, Arkansas, I didn’t know a lot about them. So, after looking on my Yelp app and seeing a place called Jim’s Cafe in Greenville, I decided to head that direction, and at Lula, I got on Highway 1. The morning had been totally dark up until that point, but as I approached the community of Rena Lara in Coahoma County, beams of light began to appear just above the horizon of the flat Delta land. The Great River Road Country Store was open, and I stopped there for a soft drink before continuing down the road. Each mile brought an increase in light to the east. Dark lakes, bayous and swamps were steaming in the winter cold, and the road passed through occasional clouds of dense fog. At Beulah, the sun finally appeared, and I stopped there to take pictures of an old, decrepit general store.

When I finally reached Greenville, I came upon Nelson Street, which had a different look than when Sherena Boyce and I had seen it a few years ago. This street had of course been the Main Street for Blacks in the Delta, serving a similar role in Greenville as Beale Street had in Memphis or Farish Street in Jackson. While the redevelopment of such streets in bigger cities have become political briarpatches, in Greenville, nobody has ever really discussed redevelopment of Nelson Street in any normal sense of the term. The Flowing Fountain, its most famous blues club, had burned several years ago, and although a building was rebuilt on the site, it remains closed. Several other sports bars, clubs and cafes remain, all seemingly intended to serve the residents of the nearby neighborhoods. No tourists venture to Nelson Street anymore except to go to Doe’s Eat Place.

Downtown Greenville shocks these days by its emptiness. There were hardly any cars at all, and free parking still does not attract shoppers or visitors to the area. An old Elks Lodge on Washington Avenue was collapsing, despite its obvious historical value. It had been surrounded by a fence to protect passersby and nearby buildings. Jim’s Cafe was in the next to last block before Lake Ferguson, and was relatively crowded. Some men with northern accents were sitting at a table talking about the upcoming elections. I could not tell if they were reporters or political consultants for one of the candidates. Jim’s specializes in breakfast, and I was not disappointed. It is of course not a fancy place, but my bacon, cheese and mushroom omelette was delicious, and they gave me so many hashbrowns that they had to use a second plate for them! The biscuits were great as well.

After breakfast, I walked around the area shooting some pictures. The opening of a brewery and the Downtown Grille a couple of years ago had led me to believe that Greenville was experiencing something of a downtown renaissance. I learned on this morning that nothing could be further from the truth. The brewery closed in late 2018, and although the Downtown Grille has remained open, many other places were closed, including the former Key West Inn, which was boarded up, the adjacent Cajun Shot Gun restaurant, and the Columbus and Greenville Railroad depot, with its old kitchen equipment left outside to rot. A block to the north of Washington Avenue on Broadway was a beautiful Victorian wood-frame house which had also been abandoned and left to rot. One of the eaves had a beautiful rising sun pattern in the woodwork, and the house was clearly historic, despite the lack of a historic marker, or any effort at preservation. The current state of Greenville is tragic and depressing, especially considering the area’s deep cultural and music history, and the considerable tourism potential of the city. Clarksdale has learned how to leverage its culture and history for tourism; Greenville seems unable or unwilling to do so.

Hungry? Head to the Liquor Store!


If a person said that they were going to the liquor store to eat, you might think they were a little out of it, to say the least. But if they were in Memphis when they said it, it might make a little sense. The Liquor Store is an upscale diner and bar located in the Broad Avenue Arts District in the Binghampton neighborhood of Memphis, located in a building that for many years was indeed a liquor store. The current restaurant has a strong Cuban/Calle Ocho/South Beach vibe that is at once bright and captivating. Great Cuban music plays overhead, the restaurant’s interior is all done in white, aquamarine and red, and both the cups and staff T-shirts are emblazoned with palm trees. Despite a few Cuban items on the menu, the bulk of the offerings are more traditional. Breakfast is served the entire day, and is delicious, with many of the items locally sourced. The bacon/blue cheese burger is also as good as any burger in Memphis. As befits a place called The Liquor Store, there is of course a full bar as well. However, despite the bar and breakfast tendencies, the hours are somewhat curtailed, with the restaurant closing at 4 PM on Sundays and Mondays, and at 9 PM every other day. Still, it is a great new destination in Memphis for great food in a pleasant environment without spending a lot of money.

The Liquor Store
2655 Broad Av
Memphis, TN 38112
(901) 405-5477

Great Breakfasts and a Taste of History at The Brunswick Kitchen


I had been hearing about a new restaurant that had opened in the old Brunswick community along Brunswick Road, and I had even ventured out there after church a couple of Sundays and found it closed. Finally, I learned that the place was called The Brunswick Kitchen, and that they were only open for lunch during the week, and for breakfast until noon on Saturdays. So on the first Saturday morning in November, I made a trip out Brunswick Road and across the railroad tracks to the restaurant, which is located in a low, brick building that used to be a general store. Although there are a few parking places in front of the building, The Brunswick Kitchen routinely attracts crowds that fill up the overflow parking on the gravel lot across the street.
The restaurant’s interior is cheerful. The room is spacious, almost like a camp dining hall, and the space is filled with memorabilia and historic photos of the Brunswick community. The restaurant bustles with activity, but the staff are friendly and full of smiles, and seem more like members of a family than employees of a business. Despite the busy-ness, there is rarely a wait for a table.
As for the breakfast menu, it is nothing special, just standard breakfast fare such as bacon and eggs or omelettes, but the prices are low, and the simplest of items are prepared with loving care and exquisite attention to detail. I opted for a bacon, cheddar and bleu cheese omelette, which was absolutely amazing. It came with hash browns, which were golden brown and crispy, just as I like them, and with a biscuit, butter and grape jelly. Meals are cooked after you order, and depending on the size of the crowd, can take a bit of time to come out, but the coffee is good, and the waitstaff great about refilling your cup.
A word of caution is in order, however. The Brunswick Kitchen is NOT the place for a leisurely brunch on Saturday, as they close at noon! It is also in a fairly remote location between Bartlett and Lakeland, so from most parts of Memphis proper, it is a bit of a drive. You will have to get up early to make it there, but it is worth it. I am also told that TBK has started opening on Friday nights to serve catfish. I will have to try that next.

The Brunswick Kitchen
5197 Brunswick Rd
Brunswick, TN 38002
(901) 730-0907

Uptown with the Young Men Olympian and the TBC Brass Band


Sherena had never been to a second-line, so on our weekend trip to New Orleans, I wanted her to experience one first-hand. And by chance, we ended up going to the biggest second-line of the year, the four-hour Young Men Olympian second-line, with its five divisions and five bands. As I have discussed elsewhere in this blog, the YMO is the oldest social aid and pleasure club still existing in New Orleans, and would seem to be the largest as well. One of the divisions had hired the TBC Brass Band to play with them, so when we got to the starting point for the second-line after a leisurely breakfast at Slim Goody’s Diner on Magazine Street, we looked for TBC and quickly fell in behind them. Sherena had brought her tambourine, and though it was all new to her, she fell into the rhythm perfectly as if she had been doing it all her life. Despite the hot weather, the turnout was truly large, with hundreds of people buck-jumping behind the various bands. The division behind us had hired the New Creations Brass Band, and I met some of their members when we stopped at the Sportsman’s Lounge at Second and Dryades. When we passed by a cemetery on Washington Avenue, some young boys were actually dancing on top of tombs along the fenceline, an example of the tendency of dancers to look for elevated locations where they can be seen, although there may be further significance to dancing on graves. The act might be a defiance of death itself. But the heat took its toll on Sherena, and the large crowds made it hard for us to keep up with one another. When we got back to Simon Bolivar Street, we decided to leave the second-line and find something indoors and cooler to get into.

Railgarten: Another Austinish Kind of Place With Memphis Sensibilities


A few years ago, the Commercial Appeal newspaper compared Memphis to Austin in an article, a rather strange and forced comparison perhaps, despite the fact that both are music cities. When it comes to business, economy and culture, the two cities are nothing alike, but Memphis often seems envious of the kind of weirdness and success that Austin seems to represent. At any rate, over the last year, Memphis has witnessed the opening of two music venues that resemble the way things are done in Austin, Loflin Yard and now Railgarten. The similarities between them prove to be more than coincidence, as some of the same people are involved with both.
Anyone who has visited Austin during South By Southwest has probably been to Amy’s Ice Cream or the 24 Diner, both of which are located next to Waterloo Records at the central intersection of 6th and Lamar near downtown, and the developers of Railgarten seem to have patterned their location as a merger of Amy’s, 24 Diner and an outdoor-type music venue such as Austin’s Container Bar. The decision is an inspiring one indeed. First of all, Railgarten offers great food in their diner, breakfast items at certain hours, and gourmet burgers, including the one I had with a fried egg on top for good measure. Next door to that is an ice-cream parlor, that features homemade milkshakes as well. There is a ping-pong parlor in a building to the east, outside a volleyball court, and a lawn with fire-pits, as well as an outdoor stage made of shipping containers which incorporates the Skateland “Roller Skate For Health” neon sign from the legendary Summer Avenue skating rink of long ago. A food truck provides eats and snacks for those enjoying the outdoor music. All told, the fairly-large complex offers something for everyone.
ADDENDUM: Unfortunately, after my visit, all kinds of trouble broke out for this place. Local code enforcement, responding to complaints from the residential neighborhood north of the restaurant, hit Railgarten with “Do Not Occupy” warnings in April because of their use of shipping containers (despite the fact that the area is zoned industrial), and because they allegedly did not have a permit for live music. Further complaints to the Board of Adjustment stated that Railgarten did not have sufficient parking for a venue of its size. (It is worth noting that Austin did not have a problem with the Container Bar using shipping containers as part of its permanent building). As a result of the controversy, the backyard at Railgarten remains closed during a City Council-mandated 30-day delay before the Board of Adjustment can make a ruling as to whether it can reopen. The diner, ping-pong hall and ice cream parlor remain open under curtailed hours.

Railgarten
2166 Central Avenue
Memphis, TN 38104
(901) 231-5043
https://www.facebook.com/Railgarten/

A Prescription For A Great Breakfast at Brent’s Drugs


Once upon a time, believe it or not, you could go to the drugstore to eat. People did it all the time. Local drugstores like Triplett-Day in Gulfport had lunch counters, and so did big national chains like Walgreens. You could still eat at some Walgreens locations when I was in elementary school, but in the 1970’s and 1980’s, drugstores began getting rid of their kitchens and dining areas in order to focus on health and beauty aids, which was their core business. The occasional drug store that still had its soda fountain or lunch counter was the subject of news articles and tourist literature. But one drugstore, Brent’s Drugs in Jackson, Mississippi’s Fondren neighborhood decided to do things a little backwards. They got rid of the drugstore, and just kept the lunch counter and soda fountain, and Jacksonians are really glad they did. Breakfast is the main draw at Brent’s, and unlike the other popular local breakfast spot in Jackson, Brent’s is open on Sunday mornings too. Of course, they also serve plenty of lunch items, including burgers, and the interior of the place has been restored into a comfortable, cheery, bright space indeed. At night, the back of the store becomes The Apothecary, arguably Jackson’s best bar, and recently voted one of the South’s best bars. Finally, Brent’s is also a go-to spot for ice cream, milkshakes and floats, perfect for children of all ages…and face it, we’re all children when it comes to ice cream!

Brent’s Drugs
655 Duling Avenue
Jackson, MS 39216
(601) 366-3427
https://www.instagram.com/brentsdrugs/
https://www.facebook.com/brentsdrugs/
https://twitter.com/brentsdrugs?lang=en
http://www.brentsdrugs.com

Breakfast at the Magnolia Cafe South

The Magnolia Cafe is an Austin institution. With two locations open 24 hours a day, as their slogan says “Everybody knows, everybody goes.” They also have a sense of humor, as one can see from signs that read “Sorry, We’re Open” and “24/8”. But the Magnolia Cafe is about far more than convenience or fun. It’s also a place for great food, particularly great breakfasts that get you ready to face busy days like South By Southwest days. Both locations can get crowded, although the location on Lake Austin Boulevard seems to have the longer waits of the two. Even during SXSW it’s possible to get right in at the South location, particularly if you get there early.

11/12/08: From Charleston to Wilmington to Chapel Hill

A grey and overcast day, although the sun began to come out later in the morning. The hotel staff had recommended a breakfast place called the Bear-E-Patch, so I ate there before I made the rounds of record stores.
Monster Music and Movies is owned by the same Nashville firm that owns Pop Tunes in Memphis, but this store was nearly a block long and full of music. I noticed a new CD from the Numero group that featured the Young Disciples from East St. Louis, a group that had been formed as part of an anti-poverty program in the 1960’s, so I bought that, a new funk compilation from Soul Patrol and the new Mercury Rev CD. The girl that was working at Monster recommended that I head over to the Cat’s Music on Folly Road, but when I got there, they refused the promotional items and told me that they were closing down the store.
After walking around the harbor and taking pictures, I drove out to Loco Record Shop, and then back downtown to King Street, where there were a couple of stores. 52.5 was mostly a rock store, but there were a few jazz and rock items, and down the street was an old and intriguing store called Honest John’s Records and TV Repair. On the shelves were plenty of old LPs and a handful of old 45s, but I didn’t have time to look through them. Instead, wanting coffee, I used my iPhone to locate a place called Kudu Coffee, which was just across from the campus of the College of Charleston. In keeping with the name, the coffee house was decorated with African artifacts and artwork, and the coffee was very good. Driving further south on King, I ultimately came to the Battery, the wooded park at the tip of the peninsula featuring monuments, cannons, statues and stately mansions. Despite the wind, it was warm enough to walk around, and I took a lot of pictures, but it was much later in the day than I had intended, so at 3 PM, I headed across the Septima Clark Bridge onto Highway 17 for the drive to Wilmington.
I had driven this route in reverse a month before, going from Myrtle Beach to Charleston, but today the trip seemed to take forever, made worse by the traffic signals and endless snarls in Myrtle Beach. Once I crossed into North Carolina, I was still much further away from Wilmington than I had imagined, and by the time I arrived there, it was pitch black.
I approached Wilmington with some foreboding. From my reading, Wilmington had always been a place of riots and racial tension, the scene of the Wilmington Ten incident, so I half expected to see an old and decrepit port city of deteriorating buildings and was quite surprised to see the charming downtown with its restored buildings lit up for Christmas. Christmas choral music was drifting across the chilly night air (whether live or a tape I could never determine), and the threat of rain seemed imminent. After leaving some posters at CD Alley, I decided to walk around the corner to Port City Java for some coffee, but across the street I noticed an antiquarian bookshop, so I ducked in there and ended up buying several books about the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Then I ran back across to the coffee bar for a latte to go, and then drove eastward from downtown. What my iPhone thought was a record store in a Black neighborhood east of downtown was actually a recording studio, but fortunately, that put me closer to Gravity Records, an indie rock store that nonetheless was thrilled to get some Pastor Troy promotional items. In the store they were playing a disc by a British singer named Richard Hawley, whom I had never heard of, but whose mournful, melodic tunefulness seemed to fit the dark, foggy, chilly night.
The guys at the store warned me that the trip to Raleigh on I-40 would take about 2 hours through rural lands of absolutely nothing, and they weren’t far from right. I was ravenously hungry, but the exits along the way either featured nothing or fast food. Raleigh seemed to be a place of feast or famine, with very expensive upscale restaurants and the usual diners and fast food, but little in-between. A promising-sounding steakhouse proved to be out of business, and another proved to be $30 and up for entrees. Finally, I discovered a mall in Durham where there was a Cheesecake Factory, and I stopped there, but, noticing a Champps Americana across the walkway from the Cheesecake Factory, I decided to eat there, thinking that it would be cheaper than Cheesecake Factory. It wasn’t, and the food, while basically good, didn’t stand out.
After a dessert and coffee at the Cheesecake Factory, I drove another few miles into Chapel Hill, and had no problem finding the Sheraton Hotel. My room proved to be very luxurious indeed, and I went straight to bed.

11/01/08: Record Hunting in Forrest City/Kicking It With E-Rokk in Tha Rock

My friend E-Rokk was down from Kalamazoo, Michigan visiting his children in North Little Rock, Arkansas, so I decided to drive over there to meet him and take them to lunch. I headed west on I-40, listening to recordings of three George Antheil operas (Venus in Africa, Volpone and The Brothers) which I had downloaded from an online website.
At Forrest City, I headed over to Highway 70 where there was a flea market, and while I didn’t find any Abraham and His Sons or Ike Noble and the Uptights records, I did find a stash of Black gospel 45s, some of them from Wynne and Marianna, Arkansas, and a few on the Designer and Messenger labels out of Memphis.
I decided to stay on Highway 70 through Brinkley (the flea markets there were rather disappointing), and when I got to North Little Rock, E-Rokk gave me directions to where he was staying and I went and met him there. Since his girlfriend had to work, we took the kids with us and headed to a pizza place I had found on my iPhone called ZaZa’s Fresh Salads and Wood-Fired Pizzas on Kavanaugh Boulevard in Little Rock. The restaurant featured salads and pizzas cooked in a brick oven, as well as gelato, espresso and cappucino. We all enjoyed our pizzas, got some gelato for dessert, and then headed downtown to President Clinton Avenue to Andina Coffee Roasters where I bought some pounds of coffee to take home.
The kids were intirgued by an African drummer who was playing a djembe in front of the River Market, and then they wanted to run into a playground along the riverfront, so we walked over there, and then across the river bridge over to North Little Rock and back.
I had to get back to Memphis, so after it began to get dark, I dropped them back off at the apartment in North Little Rock and headed back toward Memphis. At West Memphis, I had seen a Huddle House and so I decided to eat dinner there, but, when I got there, I found that it was newly built and had not opened yet. So, now wanting breakfast, I settled for the Iron Skillet truckstop in West Memphis, and found that the breakfast there was really quite good.