When a longtime Bartlett Mexican restaurant closed, I was curious what kind of restaurant would go into the space. I was quite surprised when a breakfast restaurant called Biscuits and Jams opened in the spot, and when I first attempted to try it, I found it quite crowded and open to those with reservations only.
My second attempt on a Saturday morning proved more successful, and I was quite pleased. Biscuits and Jams is a Black-owned breakfast and brunch restaurant, with live music on weekends, and quite delicious food. I ordered scrambled eggs with cheese, bacon, hash browns and biscuits; all came out in reasonable time, and were quite delicious. If biscuits is part of the name of a place, the biscuits call for higher scrutiny, and those at Biscuits and Jams measure up to the standard—they are light and airy, almost reminiscent of Parker House rolls, and quite irresistible. On Saturdays and Sundays, there is also entertainment (the “Jams” part of the name) and on the particularly morning I was there, it was merely a female singer with a guitar. Whether larger bands ever play is unclear, but I did notice a beautiful outdoor sheltered patio space that would be perfect for such a band in nice weather. Biscuits and Jams is definitely worth a visit, but it can get extremely crowded, and when it does, the restaurant occasionally restricts business to those with reservations. Reservations are taken on the website, or it might be a good idea to call ahead, particularly on weekends.
After my final performance at the Oxford Blues Festival with Duwayne Burnside, my friend and I were hungry for barbecue. Although there was a barbecue restaurant on South Lamar near the festival, we had been there before, and wanted to try a new spot. Lamar Yard, located south of Oxford on Lamar Boulevard is a new restaurant and outdoor venue which had served as the location for the blues festivals Thursday kickoff party, which we had been unable to attend.
When we arrived, a guitar duo was just wrapping up on the outdoor stage. The outdoor aspect of the place was truly huge, with plenty of picnic tables, and cheerful lights strung between a large tree at the courtyard entrance and the buildings on each side. Although we were quite late, the staff was cheerful about taking our order. I opted for two meats, pulled pork and beef brisket, which came with two sides, french fries and macaroni and cheese. Good brisket is hard to find outside of Texas, but Lamar Yard’s is quite decent, with a nice pink color and the smoke ring that should always be evident on brisket. The portion of pork shoulder was small, but it was also quite good. The french fries were OK, but the macaroni and cheese was extremely cheesy and quite delicious.
In addition to the large outdoor space, Lamar Yard has a spacious inside dining area as well, which is where we chose to eat, at least in part due to the humidity and bugs. All the same, the courtyard is available for special event rental, and would be a fun setting for a concert or a party. We found the experience enjoyable, the service attentive and the food good, and will be back.
The abrupt closure of Bankhead Bicycle Club in New Albany, Mississippi a few years back left a fine-dining gap in that town, but fine dining is back thanks to the appearance of The Rainey, an elegant new restaurant in an historic building on Railroad Avenue near the Tanglefoot Trail head. White tablecloths, wood furnishings and soft piano music all create the upscale ambiance, but fortunately, The Rainey has something for every palate and every pocketbook, from dry-aged steaks to burgers to pizza to brunch.
On my visit, I chose a bacon cheeseburger, but was pleasantly surprised by the appetizer which was brought out ahead of time. It was an entire freshly-baked loaf of absolutely delicious bread, accompanied by strawberry butter, and I absolutely had to eat all of it. My burger too was a thing of beauty, juicy with bacon and cheese and plenty of french fries, cooked exactly to my order.
While I don’t get to New Albany all that often, I cannot wait to return and try some of the more upscale offerings, like steaks. For anyone seeking good food in the area, The Rainey does not disappoint.
My friend really wanted to go to Oxford to see Larry Dodson, the former lead singer of the Bar-Kays, perform, and that of course meant getting something to eat before the performance. Oxford has over the last few years become something of a culinary destination, with a bewildering array of new restaurants popping up, many of them with an ambiance we would normally expect in a big city. Along with the growth of restaurants, hotels and condominiums has come traffic jams, particularly around the square on weekends, so I suggested that we opt for a restaurant away from the square so as to not run late for the concert.
That led us to Southern Craft Stove and Tap, a New American restaurant in the new development area at Sisk Avenue and Highway 7 in East Oxford. Although we had expected a significant wait for a table, with it being a Saturday night, to our amazement, we were able to get right in. The atmosphere was sleek and modern, the decor all done up in white, chrome and glass; nevertheless, the place still had a fairly comforting and welcoming feel, with a wood-burning oven visible in the kitchen area. Southern Craft has something for everybody, from a food standpoint, with a menu offering salads, little plates, big plates and pizzas. But it is the pizzas that caught our attention, particularly after seeing that wood-burning oven blazing away.
My friend opted for a traditional pepperoni pizza, which came with extremely large slices of pepperoni rather than the small cups we have grown used to. But I opted for something quite different, a “Gulf Pizza” that was made with a white-based alfredo sauce and covered with shrimp. The latter usually comes with onions, but I asked that they be omitted since I am not a fan of onions. Both pizzas came with the slight charring of the crust that is so enjoyable with wood-oven pizzas; the Gulf Pizza reminded me of the old Chesapeake Pizza that Bosco’s in Memphis used to have, although, if anything, this one was even better. My friend and I traded slices, so I can say that her pepperoni was also delicious. On a future visit, we will have to try other menu items, which range from street tacos, to steaks, pork and fish. Prices are remarkably reasonable for a restaurant with such an upscale ambiance. We will certainly be back.
I doubt if anyone was all that happy when Bartlett, Tennessee lost its Steak N Shake location, although it had ceased being 24-hours-a-day almost two years before. Slim Chickens had entered the Memphis market earlier with a location in Southaven, but I really did not know much about the Arkansas-based chain. I recalled seeing a location in Jonesboro on a trip up there a few years ago, and recall them being a sponsor of the King Biscuit Blues Festival. But Memphis already had a lot of chicken places. How different could this one be?
As it turned out, Slim Chickens is both similar to some of its competitors, and also quite different. It is primarily a chicken finger restaurant, like Zaxby’s, Abner’s, Guthrie’s or Raising Cane, although the atmosphere is a little more upscale than those. It also sells wings, which the others don’t, and chicken and waffles, which is quite unique at this price point. Also unlike any of the other restaurants is your choice from among a whopping 18 different dipping sauces for your wings or tenders; you get a choice of two flavors with your order. And finally, the mason jar desserts are unique and delicious; I had a brownie-flavored one. They are kept cold and ready for your order, and you get to keep the mason jar afterwards.
But another unique facet of Slim Chickens is that the restaurant carries a blues theme. Not only are they a proud sponsor of the annual King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena, Arkansas, but guitars decorate the walls, and great down-home blues plays from the overhead speakers. So eating at Slim Chickens is more than getting good food—you’re helping to support the blues as well. And it doesn’t get much better than that.
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.
Early on Saturday morning, June 19th, I headed to a restaurant called the Merry-Go-Round on North Fares Avenue in Evansville, Indiana. Fares was once Highway 41, and the restaurant was located in an area of several sketchy motels, but the number of cars around the building convinced me I was in the right place. Inside, the restaurant was a combination of antiques and Trump posters. I was not happy about that, but Evansville has few breakfast choices, and I saw that the customer base seemed relatively diverse, so I stayed.
The Merry-Go-Round goes back to at least World War II, and has a definite old-school vibe; the places sells burgers and ice cream, even if breakfast is the main reason people go. And a good breakfast it proved to be. Although the place was fairly crowded, the restaurant is large, and I had no problem getting a table.
My next step was to find a local coffee bar for a latte, so I drove over to the Honey Moon Coffee Company on Weibach Avenue, but as I arrived there, Duwayne Burnside called me and said that he wanted us all to soundcheck at 10 AM at the W. C. Handy Festival stage in Henderson, Kentucky, rather than at 11 AM as I had supposed. So I had to get my latte to go, and head south on Highway 41 across the bridge into Henderson. Fortunately, there was a blocked-off lot where we were allowed to park as performers.
The weather was extremely hot, and there were not a lot of people in the seats when I arrived, but then we were the first act to perform, and we did not go on stage until noon. To my amazement, they had a beautiful Nord keyboard on stage, and we had access to the food tent until it was time to soundcheck with Pinkie Pulliam, Charles Gage and Duwayne.
By the time we performed, there was a much larger crowd in the seats than when we arrived. The view from the stage over the crowd and out to the Ohio River was quite beautiful, and the show was fun to play. There were even some boats out on the river enjoying the show from the water. One of the things I was pleased with is that Duwayne Burnside gave the crowd authentic blues when so many of the other acts seemed more rock oriented.
Afterwards, I got my car and headed back across to Evansville. I grabbed a late afternoon lunch at Blu Burger Bar, the Evansville branch of an Indianapolis chain, located in the city’s old bus depot. The building has been lovingly and beautifully restored, and the food was outstanding.
My last stop before checking out of my hotel and leaving Evansville was at a store I had never seen before called Meijer. I vaguely remembered the name from trips to Cincinnati, but I had never been inside one. To my amazement, Meijer seems like a cross between Wal-Mart, target, Costco and Sam’s Club, all in one. The building was bright, mostly glass and chrome, and impeccably clean. I had intended to take some Double Cola back to Memphis, but Meijer didn’t have any in stock; however, they did have some Tchibo Coffee imported from Germany, and I bought that to take home.
Unfortunately, my car which had performed so well going up to Henderson and Evansville did not do as well going back. It started hesitating at times, and by the time I reached Dyersburg, the check engine light had come on. I stopped at a O’Reilly Auto Parts there, and learned that the fuel rail pressure sensor was going out. Despite difficulty, I managed to make it to the house.
Duwayne Burnside’s biggest show of 2021 was at the W. C. Handy Music Festival in Henderson, Kentucky in June, a festival which is billed as the biggest outdoor music festival in the United States. Although we were not scheduled to play until Saturday, I decided to book a hotel room in Evansville, Indiana, and drive up the day before. So after work, I headed out from Millington up Highway 51. The weather was hot and sunny, but the drive was relatively pleasant. My car gave me no problems, and I stopped at Union City for a slice of pizza and a fountain drink, and then I headed on across Kentucky and into Evansville.
I had planned on eating at an outdoor bar and grill called The Rooftop, so I could enjoy the sunset over Evansville. As it was, I arrived in the city a little later than I had intended, and the sun went down almost as soon as I was seated. The place was crowded and cheerful, with a singer-songwriter performing, and bright lights strung across the seating area. Unfortunately, I discovered that The Rooftop was more of a place to drink and listen to music than a place to eat. The food was typical bar fare, and although it was not bad, it was neither outstanding nor memorable. The main star of the show were the evening views of downtown Evansville.
After I left The Rooftop, I could not find any coffee bars still open, so I headed back across the bridge to Henderson, Kentucky and the W. C. Handy Festival. One of the reasons I had wanted to come a day early was to see the Memphis rock-and-roll/blues guitarist Eric Gales, and Duwayne Burnside and his bassist Pinkie Pulliam were already in Henderson where the festival was taking place.
Finding parking in downtown Henderson was not at all the hassle I had expected it would be, and the festival, held in a large park along the Ohio River, was easy enough to find. On the other hand, the park was so crowded that it was hard to get anywhere near the stage. Because I didn’t find any coffee in Evansville, I was amazed and thrilled to find a Java Shakes food truck directly across the street from the main festival stage. Of course the prices were not cheap, but a mocha java shake was quite refreshing, and exactly what I had been wanting. Duwayne was backstage with Eric Gales, but Pinkie and I had some difficulty in getting backstage, at least at first. Eventually we were able to get the appropriate wristbands as performers and we were able to get backstage.
Hearing Eric Gales in person was amazing indeed. Although he burst onto the scene some years ago as a rock musician, the blues is never far away from his style, and his band was interesting as well, with two drummers, one of whom was his wife. His good natured talk with the crowd and his frank discussion of his addiction and recovery caught me by surprise, and I was especially impressed with his closing speech to the crowd; he pointed out that despite race or politics, music had brought all of them together on a certain level. Eric Gales’ awesome talent is surpassed only by his deep humility. It was an honor to see him in person.
The announcement that 2021’s Juke Joint Fest in Clarksdale, Mississippi would actually be held in person and not merely virtually online was a sign that things are tentatively moving toward normalcy, and along those same lines was my discovery that Kathryn’s on Moon Lake would be open for Friday dinner on the festival weekend.
The pandemic was not kind to restaurants anywhere, but things have been unusually difficult for Kathryn’s, which is located in a remote area of rural Coahoma County between the town of Lula, the communities of Dundee and Coahoma, and Clarksdale. Situated on Moon Lake, an oxbow lake that was once the main channel of the Mississippi River, it is now cut off from the nearest big town of Lula by a closed bridge which flunked an inspection and is not scheduled for repair. The detour requires people approaching from Lula to drive significantly further to reach the restaurant now, and makes what was already a remote location even more so. However, when I arrived, I found the little restaurant crowded, for Kathryn’s is simply the best restaurant overall in Coahoma County, and the absolute best place in the Clarksdale area to order steak.
Inside, the restaurant has the feel of a Delta hunting lodge. Stuffed fish, oars and other lake-related items are displayed decoratively on the walls, along with historic articles about the restaurant and the lake. Sophisticated jazz music plays low. Tables nearby burst with laughter, and most patrons seem to know each other. The servers are mostly young teenaged girls.
Prices are not cheap, but you don’t go to a place like Kathryn’s in search of cheap. You come here for great food, and if you do, you won’t be disappointed at all. My filet mignon was perfectly cooked to order, as was my baked potato, which came just as I asked for it, with butter, bacon and cheese only. Service was very attentive; my diet coke was refilled regularly throughout my visit. After bread, potato and steak, I had no room for dessert.
This was my second visit to Kathryn’s; the first had been decent, but this visit was outstanding. Kathryn’s is truly becoming one of Mississippi’s best restaurants.
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!