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!
Southern Cooking in Mississippi
Don and I decided we needed the perfect last meal!
On the last day of our trip through 9 southern states, we wanted to make sure our last meal was memorable! While Don drove down Old Highway 61 through the Mississippi Delta, I cheated with the i-phone to find a restaurant. We would have "come across" it anyway. It was right on the highway.
The Old Country Store and Restaurant
This was perfect! This old store has stood for over 130 years just outside Lorman, Mississippi. A recent paint job makes it look a little spiffier than some photos I had seen on the internet.
I was relieved to see the inside wasn't spiffed up for tourists. There were white cloths on the tables, but the floors were left worn and creaky and the shelves of sale items were more thrift shop than antique designer goods.
As soon as we entered the restaurant through the big wood doors, Lonie greeted us and nearly shooed us towards the buffet area in the back. She asked us what we wanted to drink as we reached for buffet plates. In the back we could hear the clanking of pans in the kitchen where the owner, Arthur Davis was rushing to fry up one more batch of fried chicken.
Mr. D and His Chicken
"Homemade fried chicken!" the cook hollered as he rushed towards the first buffet stand with a steaming pan of crispy chicken.
It became clear in a moment that Mr. D (as he is called) is the owner and the only one who is allowed to make the chicken. "I make it every day! I am the Chicken Cooking King!" He announced. I wondered how he kept his white Piggly Wiggly apron so clean. But in this photo it looks like there's another red apron underneath? Maybe he throws the white one on when he comes out to greet.
More Than Chicken
As you can see from my plate, there's a lot more than chicken to choose from. I even had two kinds of okra for lunch. Ribs and sweet potatoes, black-eyed peas and collards! This was an amazing feast for $11.00! The internet claimed Mr. D made the best friend chicken in Mississippi. I'm not really an authority, but it was piping hot, cripsy out and juicy in. I can't think of any better.
Ready to Dig In
Just as we sat down to sample our feast of southern cooking, we had a nice surprise!
A Story and a Song
Mr. D took a break from his cooking and came out to greet the small group of diners. He told us a little about his past. He offered a lot of thanks to his mother and his grandmother, then treated us to a song! In a sweet soulful voice he sang about his grandmother, the Queen of Cornbread! I could sure picture Mr. D standing in front of a church with his voice and stories! (To see Mr. D- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Fd2JYQC6Jo )
After we finished, we hung around for a while. There was something about the place that made you want to linger.
Of course we also were forced to linger becasue I think Mr. D is also the only one allowed to work the cash register and we hadn't paid. He was busy with some chicken for a while.
Things to See
At least there was a lot to look at. After examining the curious rolling ladder and wondering what kinds of goods used to be on the top shelves long ago, I studied the walls and doors that were covered with yellowed business cards. I so wish I could have asked more questions, but Mr. D hardly had time for chatting with all his cooking, singing and money-taking.
On our way out, we took time to visit with the sweetest cat who had greeted us when we arrived.
Nice Way to End a Trip
This dining adventure was the best way to end a 2-week road trip. This kitty was the best way to finish a 1-hour lunch break!!
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.