A Perfect Meal At One of America’s Oldest Restaurants

After two performances in Belzoni, I was thoroughly hungry and somewhat tired. Belzoni had only one sit-down restaurant as far as I could see, but it was closed, either due to the gridlock caused by the Catfish Festival, or perhaps closed for good. So I knew I would have to go elsewhere for dinner, and I had considered heading to Greenville, Indianola or Greenwood. Greenville was a little bit too far, and Indianola I had been to frequently, so I decided to head to Greenwood in order to try a place I had never eaten before.

Ultimately, I chose a 75-year-old restaurant called the Crystal Grill, located across from the main Amtrak railroad station in downtown Greenwood. The rain was coming down, and I almost feared that the place might be closing for the night. But fortunately, they were still open, and inside, there was a still a good-sized crowd of diners in the back dining rooms.

The atmosphere was bright and cheerful, and when I saw the menu, I was amazed at the various choices, and the relatively low prices. Ultimately, I chose a grilled redfish, with lump crab meat on top, and a baked potato with butter, bacon and cheese. Redfish is one of my favorite types of fish, and this one was so large, it nearly filled my plate. It was flaky, and delicious- the best I have had since I visited The Goode Company Texas Seafood in Houston many years ago. I had expected a normal baked potato with cheese, bacon and butter, but what I got was something quite different- the potato had been baked, then scooped out, and the butter, cheese and bacon had been mixed, then put back into the potato shells and baked again. It was quite delicious and I ate all of it.

Now thoroughly happy, I opted for the perfect finish- a slice of homemade cheesecake in a delicious graham cracker crust. When I left to go to my car, the doorman asked me how it was. I told him truthfully that I had just had one of the best meals of my life.

The Crystal Grill

423 Carrollton Av

Greenwood, MS 38930

(662) 453-6530

Catfish’s Big Day in Belzoni

I had no phone service at all while I was at Swiftown, but as I approached Belzoni, my phone started ringing. Blues musician Duwayne Burnside, for whom I play keyboards, was calling frantically from the World Catfish Festival in Belzoni because we were about to go on stage in less than a half-hour. Getting to Belzoni was no big deal, because I was only about five miles away. But what I hadn’t counted on was how gridlocked everything was because of the festival. Hayden Street, the main street of the town, was blocked off in the downtown area, and it was only with great difficulty that I was able to find a way to drive behind the stage area. Fortunately, Duwayne had talked to the festival people and I was allowed to park in the sheriff’s department parking lot at the Courthouse.

A blues artist named Mississippi Marshall was performing a solo acoustic set on the Humphreys County Courthouse steps as we unloaded our equipment. The weather was grey and overcast, but the rain had held off, and it was warm, so there was a fairly large crowd on the courthouse grounds, and even more along the downtown streets where vendors had set up tents. Marshall’s performance was followed by a Miss Catfish Pageant, and then we got to go on stage, set up our instruments and perform. As for food, there was, of course, catfish. And pretty good catfish it was too, provided by Larry’s Catfish House in Itta Bena, some 30 miles up the road.

As the Blackwater Trio went up on stage next, I took the time to walk down Hayden Street, looking at the various stores and vendors. Belzoni, like all Delta towns, had suffered hard times in the modern era, but they had experienced something of a renaissance with the advent of aquaculture, specifically farm-raised catfish. As a result, the downtown area was dotted with various catfish statues, painted in brilliant colors. But even the catfish industry had grown old in Belzoni now. Many of the statues were located in front of vacant, decaying storefronts. Even the posh digs of the Catfish Institute proved to be vacant- the institute relocated to the “big city” of Jackson some years ago. A few clothing shops were having “Catfish Festival sales” but otherwise, the downtown area seemed to be in poor shape, despite the crowds of people walking around.

Around the corner on Jackson Street, things seemed a little livelier, because of a place called Belzoni Sports Bar & Grill, which was actually the club we were scheduled to play at later in the evening. The place was a sports bar, restaurant and pool hall, and already had some people inside. A man was passing out flyers on the street for Duwayne Burnside’s performance there later in the evening.

Down the next street, which led back toward the courthouse and the main stage, I came upon a beautiful brick building, with the Coca-Cola logo worked into its facade on two sides. Although it was now being used as a daycare, I imagine that it had once been the Coca-Cola bottling plant for Belzoni.

When I returned to the courthouse, I managed to get my equipment loaded into the car, and then drove around through the neighborhood behind the courthouse along George Lee Street (the name commemorates a Black man who was murdered in Belzoni in 1955 for organizing a voter registration drive) and around to Jackson Street, where we were to play. But now the rain had begun to fall, and by the time I began to load into the club, it was pouring down.

Despite the rain outside, the little sports bar was soon jam-packed as we played. Their posters announced several upcoming blues shows, and it seems as if they are going to try to keep the live music going in Belzoni, which is a good thing. Afterwards, I got quite wet putting my instrument and amp back into the car, but I was soon on my way through the storm up Highway 7 toward Itta Bena, Greenwood, and hopefully dinner.

Slow Times In Swiftown

About halfway between Morgan City and Belzoni on Mississippi Highway 7 is a wide spot in the road called Swiftown. It consists of a couple of residential streets, a community center, a church and some abandoned business buildings.

There probably was never a whole lot to Swiftown, but clearly its better days are behind it. Still, the abandoned buildings have a rather historic look about them, and there was a remarkable quietness about the place on an early Saturday morning.

Loss And Abandonment At Morgan City, Mississippi

Just outside of a town called Morgan City, Mississippi, I spied what appeared to be a large historic home across the flat fields near the Yazoo River. It looked truly massive in the distance, so I decided to backtrack and take a drive down the side road along the river to get a closer look at it. When I arrived at the home, it seemed somewhat smaller than it had appeared from the highway, and was clearly also not as old as I had imagined, probably dating from the early 20th century. But it was still a beautiful home, facing the Yazoo River, but there was no historic marker, or any indication of its name or significance.

Morgan City itself was a small village, about six blocks by six blocks. The old commercial buildings of its main street were largely abandoned, which is not unusual for Delta towns, but Morgan City’s deterioration seemed a little more severe than some of the other communities in the region. A group of elderly Black men sat in front of the Village Grocery, the first abandoned store front that I came to. They consented to my taking a picture of the building, but were unwilling to be in it, which disappointed me, as it would have been a much more effective picture with the men in it, than just a picture of a building.

As I took pictures of the main street, it began raining lightly, and a woman asked me why I was taking pictures. I explained to her about my blog, and that I was on my way to the World Catfish Festival in Belzoni, and she said she was headed that way when she got off work.

A Forgotten Past in Sidon, Mississippi

I decided to head south out of Greenwood, past the Rising Sun subdivision, along the route of Old Highway 7, before it was relocated to Itta Bena, and duly came to a town called Sidon.

Sidon had a lot of streets, but not a lot of businesses downtown any longer. There was a post office along the railroad track, and what looked like some sort of commercial building, no longer used. Other than that, there were houses, a water tower, and a few churches. But on the outskirts of town, I also came across a juke joint called The Palace. A barbecue grill was smoking outside the club, and apparently the proprietors were getting ready for a big day. I didn’t see any indications of live music there, but it looked to be a cool if not historic spot.

Down the county road toward Morgan City, I came to a church and graveyard called Mount Zion, which did indeed appear historic. I took a series of photos there, and of the Yazoo River across the road, before I headed on toward Belzoni.

A Look at Avalon, Mississippi John Hurt’s Hometown

It is well-known that Mississippi John Hurt was from Avalon, Mississippi in Carroll County, and lived there most of his life, but for most people who travel Highway 7 between Grenada and Greenwood, Avalon is just a set of signs on the road, a crossroads, and a historic marker to Hurt. I had passed through the area a number of times, but I finally decided to venture off into what is left of the little town, which wasn’t all that much. But there were signs of a store, a gin, and perhaps a couple of large commercial buildings of some sort, along what appears to have been an older iteration of Highway 7, now closed off and little more than a track through the wilderness. Signs warn that the former town is basically private property, but I succeeded in grabbing some pictures of the place. Supposedly, there is a Mississippi John Hurt Museum in Avalon, but I saw no trace of it. Just some ruins of buildings, tall grass, mud puddles, birds and insects.

Historic Structures at Dubard, Mississippi

On an early Saturday morning, as I headed for the World Catfish Festival in Belzoni, I came to a crossroads west of Grenada on Highway 8 where there was an old company store with a sign that read “Dubard & Co.” Across the street was an old cotton gin, and there was a large and historic-looking home next to the store. I stopped there to take some photos of the historic structures, and soon learned that the community was called Dubard. It appeared to have once been a plantation or large farm, but it was awesome to see the historic structures still standing.

A check online did not yield much information about the community, but I did learn that it had once been called Dubard Station and was originally in Yalobusha County. A man named William Dubard had come to Grenada County, Mississippi from South Carolina in 1832, and the Dubard name was a prominent one in the county.

A Broad Avenue Art Walk and Coffee Cupping at Vice and Virtue

It was one of the first warm Friday evenings of the year, and the first Broad Avenue Art Walk of the year, so when I saw that there was to be a special coffee cupping event at Vice and Virtue Coffee, I decided to head down to the Broad Avenue Arts District for the evening.

My first stop was The Liquor Store, a favorite diner/bar in the area, which serves excellent breakfasts all day as well as excellent burgers. I had their superb bacon and bleu cheese burger, and then ventured out to the rest of the district.

Although rain was predicted, the sun was out, and people had come out to walk around and check out the various shops and boutiques. I love art, and I poked my head in several galleries, but art is so expensive. If I could afford it, I would love to fill my home with it.

Down toward Hollywood, I came to the main bakery for Muddy’s, which is usually not open to the public, but which had opened for the art walk and was selling some of their exquisite cupcakes. I bought one, and then continued around the corner to Vice and Virtue Coffee, where the cupping was to be held.

I had never attended a cupping before, so I did not know exactly what to expect. I learned that cuppings are the way that various coffees and roasts are evaluated, so I found that quite interesting, but I cannot say that I particularly enjoyed the process, as cuppings involve drinking coffee without cream or sweetener. I also found it hard to understand the various categories of evaluation, which involve categories on an elaborate wheel of particular flavors and aromas within individual categories. What I did learn however, is that this is how roasters arrive at the “flavor notes” that they place on coffees, such as “notes of chocolate and citrus” or what have you.

I have to say however that Vice and Virtue is a welcome addition to the city of Memphis, and produces some excellent coffee. I was most impressed with the owner and his commitment to quality coffee, and look forward to what the company will be offering in the future.

Unfortunately, while I had been in the cupping event, it had begun raining, and only with great difficulty did I manage to make it back to my car, thoroughly wet.

Surveying The Old St. Paul Cemetery, Mason, Tennessee

One evening, while sitting at a table at Bozo’s Bar-B-Q in Mason, I was looking at topographic maps of the Mason area on my phone, and I noticed that the map (which was from 1965) showed a cemetery on the St. Paul Road north of Highway 59, and I was surprised, because I had never noticed a cemetery in that area. So on a subsequent trip to Mason, I decided to drive up that road to see if I could find a cemetery there, and all I could see was a fairly dense wooded area surrounded by farmers’ fields.

Upon parking, I walked up into the woods as best I could, finding that the area had become overgrown, and that dumpers had left all kinds of old appliances and trash in the area as well. But I soon found what I was looking for- a gravestone, and then another, and then at least one more. They were hard to read, as they had been half buried in mud- apparently the area floods frequently, but I was able to make out the name “Taylor” on two of the three stones, and the word “Mother” on one of them. The one I could read the full name of belonged to “Charlie Taylor.”

Area historian John Marshall indicated to me that the cemetery had been adjacent to the original site of St. Paul Episcopal Church, a Black congregation which had moved out to a new building at Gailor near Keeling in 1965. The church still owned the old location, but many of the gravestones had been carried away by flooding, or perhaps buried in mud.

The current condition of the cemetery is disgraceful, and the area is desperately in need of clearing, cleaning and restoration. People’s loved ones are buried in this historic site, and it should be maintained.

A Busy Night for Live Music in Como, Mississippi

Sherena Boyce, daughter of the great Hill Country bluesman R. L. Boyce had told me that Deandre Walker and his band the Mississippi Boys were going to play Saturday night at a club called Como Catfish Bar & Grill in Como, so I made plans to join her and go to check them out. This was, so far as I knew, the first time for the relatively new restaurant to book live music, and my friend and I had intended to eat dinner there while enjoying the show. We soon found that we could not, because every table had been occupied by people that were there to see the show, and who would not be leaving anytime soon. So we decided we would have to grab dinner across the street at Windy City Grill and then come back.

What we didn’t know was that Windy City had booked Sean “Bad” Apple, a noted bluesman from Clarksdale, and was fairly crowded as well. However, we were able to get a table, and Sherena got a chance to perform with Sean before we finished dinner and headed back across the street to where Deandre Walker was performing.

Deandre Walker is a child of the family that has the Walker Family Singers in Como, and is a gifted young soul singer. His band, the Mississippi Boys, are first-rate also, with an incredibly funky young drummer laying the foundations. Walker typically does cover songs of many popular soul and R & B songs, but on this particular evening he also did a couple of original tunes.

With him being from Como, the little bar and grill was full to standing room only with relatives, friends and fans, and everyone had a good time. The music and fun continued until around midnight, and then everyone headed home.