The Mississippi Delta: Where To Eat In Greenville, Greenwood And Indianola

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Sure, you're familiar with Nashville and Atlanta. But what about the smaller southern cities packing just as much flavor? In The Hidden South, Chris Chamberlain takes a look at a region of the South that is most certainly worth traveling to for the food.

In her excellent dining travelogue "Eat Drink Delta: A Hungry Traveler's Journey through the Soul of the South," author Susan Puckett asserts that the Mississippi Delta begins, at least symbolically, in "the living room of Memphis" — the lobby of the famed Peabody Hotel. There's a strong argument for this since Memphis has often been referred to, only half in jest, as the capital of Mississippi, and the city does have a long history as serving as the equivalent of Oz to rural Delta denizens seeking something at the end of the cotton trails.

But for the purposes of this examination of Delta dining destinations, we'll use the more traditional geographic designation of the northwestern region of the state between the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers. Specifically, we'll concentrate on three cities that offer interesting reasons to visit for fans of good food, great blues music and flat land. Indeed the area around Greenville, Greenwood and Indianola, MS is so flat it is said that if you get lost, you can just get up on the hood of your car and see where the next town is. Conversely, if you happen to get stuck behind a truck hauling cotton during harvest season, you may never know where you are thanks to the blizzard of bolls that make for whiteout conditions.

No major interstates run through the Delta, but I-55 skirts the eastern edge. Travelers who exit at Highway 82 south of Grenada can ride that highway back through history to all three of the towns we'll be looking at, and then a turn north on the famous blues highway 61 that will point them back toward Memphis.

The first major population center you'll encounter on Highway 82 is Greenwood. This town is famous for several reasons. First of all, the surrounding area is reputed to contain not just one, but three grave sites of the King of Delta Blues singers, Robert Johnson. Not only did Johnson get around during his lifetime, but he seems to have remained itinerant even after death with purported resting places in Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church near Morgan City, the Little Zion Church burial grounds just north of Greenwood and the Payne Chapel cemetery outside of nearby Itta Bena.

Another famous resident of Greenwood is Viking Range, manufacturers of commercial and home cooking equipment since 1984. In addition to manufacturing and corporate offices in Greenwood, Viking also owns a luxury resort called The Alluvian, where guests can enjoy cooking classes, world class spa amenities and fine dining in the hotel's restaurant, Giardina's. If that name looks a little...err...ethnic for a Deep South restaurant, you might be surprised to know that the Delta has a long history of Sicilian immigrants who came to the area around the turn of the 20th century to help repair levees and work on plantations.

Joseph Giardina was a descendent of some of those immigrants who opened his eponymous restaurant in 1936 to offer local cotton merchants an elegant place to enjoy fine dining. The restaurant still serves a range of Mississippi specialties like catfish and Gulf Coast seafood alongside traditional Italian favorites. Another Italianate dining spot in town is Lusco's, opened three years before Giardina's by Sicilian immigrants Charles and Marie Lusco in a small grocery store. Individual numbered booths are still made private by curtains, which were originally drawn to conceal diners who felt the need to partake in a little bootleg hootch.

If Italian cuisine isn't on your Delta dining agenda, try Taylor Rickett's food at Delta Bistro on Main Street. This James Beard–nominated chef has been serving Cajun and creole specialties made from seasonal ingredients since 2008, and her daily specials are the reason that many of the more Luddite-minded citizens of Greenwood signed up for Facebook. Delta Bistro is a BYOB establishment, so you'll have to pack a few bottles of good vino to accompany your meal, but hopefully most folks won't be put off by the whopping $2 corkage fee.

For a more down-home dining experience, seek out LeRoy "Spooney" Kenter for some of the best barbecued ribs, chicken and goat you'll encounter in the Delta. And we do mean that you'll have to seek him out. He prepares his meats in a large smoker in front of his mother's house on Pelican Street, but his hours and serving locations are pretty irregular. Your best chance to catch Spooney and his `cue is at the Downtown Greenwood Farmers' Market on Saturdays. Or just ask a local, "Where's Spooney at today?"

The next major wide spot in the road about 30 miles down Highway 82 is Indianola, the seat of Sunflower County made famous as the home of two of the Kings of the Blues. (Albert was born there in 1923 and B.B. grew up there as a child.) Music and history fans won't want to miss The B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center, which opened in 2008.

Before, or after, your visit to the museum, drop by The Crown Restaurant downtown — where Evelyn Roughton rules the roost at the small little gift shop and tea room. Miss Evelyn greets diners and will happily point you to any of the superior catfish specialties on the menu, particularly notable in that the majority of the fish dishes are panéed instead of deep-fried as is the custom in the South. This preparation of breading the filets with seasoned flour and pan-frying, usually with a good amount of butter, allows the delicate flavors of the farm-raised catfish to come through. Evelyn will also be glad to tell you about how the Crown's specialty smoked catfish pâté won the prize for the Best Hors D'Oeuvre at the International Fancy Food Show in New York in 1990. Seriously, bring a cooler and take some home with you.

Hopefully you've saved some room or built up an appetite traveling because the last stop on this hell-bent search for the hellhound on Robert Johnson's tail is Doe's Eat Place in Greenville. Located in what might best be described as a marginal neighborhood in the bywaters just a half mile from the Big Muddy, don't worry too much about your environs. There's usually a security guard to keep watch over the parked cars, and odds are you'll encounter a crowd of people sitting in lawn chairs drinking beers from their personal coolers while they wait to get inside. Once you do enter through the kitchen, you'll pass infernally hot broilers which cook some of the finest shrimp and biggest steaks you'll ever enjoy. Nothing matches at Doe's: tablecloths, silverware, cups are all piecemeal, and you may or may not receive a menu when you sit down. No matter, the carte de cuisine is pretty basic. You can get a salad, chili, tamales, broiled shrimp and steaks.

Note the intentional choice of the conjunction in that last sentence, because you'll want them all. The steaks are ridiculously large and purposefully carved up for sharing since 3-4 people could easily fill up from one sirloin. Arriving perfectly cooked on the inside and with a delightful crust thanks to that 500° broiler, it's a good thing that the steaks are pre-portioned or fights over who gets how much might be commonplace.

The Mississippi Delta is rich in history and culinary traditions. These restaurants are just a few highlights of the region's offerings. Some of the most outstanding food in the Delta can be found in gas stations, where they serve improbably delicious fried chicken, homemade tamales and the rare Koolickle, a pickle brined in sweet red Kool Aid to contribute a unique sweet/sour taste. Let this be a starting point to your Delta trip planning, and consider Puckett's book for a more comprehensive guide. But most of all, just get thee to the Delta! You won't be disappointed.

The Alluvian

318 Howard St.

Greenwood, MS 38930


Giardna's Resatuarant

314 Howard St.

Greenwood, MS 38930



722 Carrollton Ave.

Greenwood, MS 38930


Delta Bistro

117 Main St.

Greenwood, MS 38930


The Crown in Town Restaurant

110 Front Ave

Indianola, MS 38751


Doe's Eat Place

502 Nelson St.

Greenville, MS 38701