We stopped and peered up at the woman with the pink-brick, skirt and polka-dotted kerchief.
Looking at the structure of the building, I was reminded of some of the distorted paper mache art projects, I often produced as a kid. The lower half was also pretty amusing. The idea of eating inside a skirt... a skirt with windows. That seemed pretty appealing to someone like me, who puts more emphasis on whimsical dining than delicious dining.
But looking at these details, was allowing me to ignore the fact that we were going inside a restaurant called Mammy's Cupboard. The fact the face and arms were painted white in the 1960's, does not make me forget what this name and building represents. But we were drawn inside.
The skirt room as well as the added room in back, were pretty full when we entered. Lorna, at the desk was happy to share a little about the history of Mammy's.
We arrived in the middle of a big rush, of mostly locals and small groups of traveling ladies. The servers were bustling about with jars of sweet tea and plates of heaping food.
When things got quiet I could take a good look around and notice things, like all the different table and chair styles. The cinderblock walls and worn cement floors kept things cool. There was a window air-conditioner in the front, but I noticed our room was letting in some fresh air through a screen door. I love a screen door!
There was a reason the parking lot was full. The food was amazingly good. Don's chicken salad on homemade sourdough was mouthwatering. I got the Thursday special with roast pork loin with muscadine glaze.
That was okay, but it was the rice with brown gravy, southern green beans, and broccoli cornbread that excited me the most. We were too stuffed for dessert, but purchased some banana-caramel cake to-go and rewarded ourselves when we made it home to Houston.
One More Look
This dining experience left me confused. The food was true comfort food and the atmosphere was cozy-retro. But I felt myself sort of holding my breath, as I absorbed the surroundings one last time on the way out. I noticed a shelf with quite a collection of "mammy memorabilia".
How could this possibly be considered okay?
And there was a painting that made me stop and ponder. The water color image showed the building with its original color, back when it was also a gas station. Only the building in the painting didn't look as cartoonish as it does in real life. The artwork made the building look like a real person, carrying a tray. To me, that image was a clear reminder that there are real people behind these caricatures.
There are people who sigh about the warmth and love behind the "mammy" image, but they are almost always white. There are plenty of others who believe "mammy" is a racial slur. If my skin is white and I felt uncomfortable being in this restaurant with all the reminders of racial stereotyping, how would I feel dining at Mammy's Cupboard if my skin were dark?
I have to say, this dining adventure made me stop and think.
BBQ in the Mississippi Delta
The Crossroads in Clarksdale
This modern landmark shows the original crossroads of Highway 49 and Highway 61. Legend tells us that Delta blues king, Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil at this intersection... and The Blues was born!
Food at the Crossroads
Since we were spending the night in Clarksdale, in the birthplace of Delta Blues history, it seemed like barbecue would be a good pick for dinner.
Our host at the Shack Up Inn (we slept in a shack that was once a sharecropper's home on the Hopson Plantation) recommended Abe's Bar-B-Q. We figured it must be good since it's been serving barbeque since Abe first started the business in 1924..
A New Building
Abe's moved to this location at the crossroads in 1950. It's possible Abe's has had a little bit of a facelift since the day it opened...but not much.
I wasn't surprised that we would find some outstanding barbeque in this tiny Delta town. What did surprise me was the history of Abe himself. Abe was not from Mississippi at all. He immigrated to the US from Lebanon as a young man. I wonder how difficult it may have been for a Lebanese man to fit into a small southern town in the 1920's.
I heard that Abe's family still owns the restaurant, but you can't always assume you'll get to meet some family. So I was pretty thrilled when I met Cousin Jack, behind the counter. He was friendly and answered a few questions, but there were other customers in need. I wish I could have heard some stories about Abe back in the day. I'm sure the family has some to tell.
Chips with Barbecue Sauce
The place was pretty quiet when we first sat down. We sat in the middle room and before long the room was filled with locals. I noticed one family digging into a special treat while they waited for their order. Each family member ripped open a bag of Block and Barrel rippled potato chips, spreading the bag open like a plate. Then they squirted the homemade barbeque sauce over the top and dug in. This routine seemed to be happening at more than 1 table. Next time, I'm having some Block and Barrel chip!
Love a Cluttered Wall
I always love photos and clippings and Abe's has a lot. Not only are these clippings framed on the wall, but under the table glass as well. I also love the silly pig photos and crooked lamps and 45 records tucked here and there. Restaurant chains like Cracker Barrel have tried to copy this cluttered wall look. But I prefer the real thing!
There's quite a history to Abe's meat. He was known for his slicing technique, even with pulled pork. The pork is chopped not pulled and his knife skills have never been duplicated. He could slice meat so thin you could see through it. The initial cooking technique is unique, as well as the re-grilling done before serving.
Delta Donuts shares the parking lot. Too bad it wasn't open or we could have grabbed a few dessert donuts to go. However, we did get to sample some. When we checked out of the Shack Up in the morning, Delta Donuts was making a delivery. Some hotels have continental breakfast, but the Shack up Inn serves coffee and complimentary Delta Donuts. So good for you!
It was after 2 :00, when Don and I drove into Monroeville, Alabama. We were starved and most places stop serving at 2.
I really wanted to eat at Mel's Dairy Dream. Not because I wanted a greasy burger, but because this simple, blue & white, drive-in, sits on the very land where Harper Lee's house once sat. This is the neighborhood that inspired much of her writing for To Kill a Mockingbird.
Back to David's
But we chose David's because it had bathrooms and parking and a place to sit down...and it was open, despite the deserted appearance.
There was a retired couple finishing a late lunch and a local picking up a burger for his wife. All seemed to know our waitress who had a very amusing Alabama accent.
The paneled walls were covered with some fine collectables I recognized from the 1970's and before. I wonder who made that nifty embroidered fox and owl art on the wall? There were some other crafts and a few stuffed birds randomly displayed, not to mention some quilts and plate collections.
There were also many signs posted to announce their newest dessert, Banana Cream Pie!
I can hardly give a report on my grilled cheese and fries because I was so starved I would have loved anything. But I must say the table itself gets a good rating for having so many bottles and shakers at the ready. Tabasco and Cajun salt, A-1 Sauce and pickled peppers.
Sorry to say we did not sample the catfish.
Who Did I See?
This is who I didn't see... Harper Lee. Actually I didn't expect to see the 87 year old writer who shuns attention. I also heard her health is poor and it's unclear whether she's back living with her sister (who is 100, at least) in Monroeville or is still in NYC.
But I did talk with the waitress who is old enough to have seen To Kill a Mockingbird when it first came out in theatres. She was from Monroeville and surely had some interesting scoop. But she sort of yawned when I inquired. She claimed to not even know that Mel's was the sight of Harper Lee's old house. She said she'd seen Harper Lee's sister many times, but that didn't seem to thrill her at all.
I just finished the book Mockingbird: a Portrait of Harper Lee. Somewhere in the last few pages it happens to mention that Harper Lee frequented a catfish restaurant, called David's. Fun to know. Now that would have made for an off the charts, memorable people encounter!
The King of Boudin is Ellis Cormier. His family recipe has been serving up boudin in this building since 1950.
The restaurant opened in 1975 after being a family grocery store for 39 years. I don't think they've changed the décor since.
You can sit on a wooden bench and read all about it, in framed clippings on the paneled wall. There are photos of the grocery store on opening day in 1950. The framed grocery advertisements are pretty amusing with their prices! Coffee was 39 cents a pound and you could get 5 pounds of sugar for 49 cents on the day the store opened!
I actually learned a lot about the history of boudin as I ate my link, served on paper...for $1.89.
This special recipe that combines pork, home-grown rice, green onions and seasonings was handed down for many generations. Ellis Cormier was an Acadian (Cajun) descended from early French residents of Nova Scotia. Boudin originated long ago in rural France.
I know I'm in Louisiana when I see a gator on display. One might think this was a gimmicky decoration to greet tourists, but I'm pretty sure our fellow diners were all locals. There were folks greeting each other across the dining room and workmen in overalls. I love a place, filled with locals! Next time, we'll have to try the alligator!
The Dining Blog
This is a blog about Dining Adventures. Sometimes, I talk about food. Below, you can read how this started.
On July 4th 2011, I set a goal to try 50 culturally diverse restaurants in one year! (I knew that was possible, living in the Houston area) I spent the year pulling in friends and family to join me, on some unusual dining adventures. I met some curious people, tried some scary foods and explored places and cultures I never would have otherwise. Even though I met my goal, I learned too much to end my adventures in dining. I have continued blogging about memorable dining adventures of all kinds, near and far... and all the discoveries and funny things I've learned along the way!
Locations and types of dining adventures, are listed further down.