Holly Springs and Marshall County, Mississippi are a frequent destination for blues tourism. Two of Mississippi’s greatest blues families, the Burnsides and the Kimbroughs are from the county, and Foxfire Ranch, the Blues in the Alley concert series, and the North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic attract blues fans, particularly during the summer months. But up until recently, tourists wanting an upscale dinner had to make their way to Oxford or to the Memphis area. That changed in July with the opening of Marshall Steakhouse on Highway 178 between Red Banks and Holly Springs.
Marshall Steakhouse is as much a destination as a restaurant, featuring a truly-massive park-like setting that includes an outside stage and plenty of seating. On the night of my visit, a bluegrass group was playing on the stage to a small crowd.
The restaurant, which had only been open a week, was incredibly crowded, with probably around fifty or more people waiting for seating. But, to my surprise, I suppose because I was only one person, I was seated immediately. It needs to be noted however that there are no small, intimate tables for two, and that parties of one or two are usually seated at the opposite end of a long table from other guests. Although Marshall Steakhouse is not cheap, they have some very reasonably-priced entrees, including two cuts of sirloin. I ordered the small sirloin, and was quite impressed with its flavor. Sirloin steaks can be tough, but this one was extremely tender, and easy to cut. The yeast bread was hot and delicious, and the baked potato was very good as well. I was also impressed by the fact that the price of my steak included all the accompaniments as well, something that is definitely not the case at a lot of steakhouses these days. I have to mention too that Marshall Steakhouse has a challenge- a 72-ounce steak with salad and baked potato that is free if a person can finish ALL of it within an hour. If not finished within an hour, it costs $89! I have not heard whether anyone has taken the challenge, and whether anyone has actually won it. As for the service, it was friendly, but fairly erratic, with lots of people being offered other people’s orders, but that is not necessarily surprising one week in. Corrections were made promptly, and everybody made happy. One thing to note, though- the Marshall Steakhouse is not a place to be caught up in your cellphone. Made entirely out of metal, the building is a true deadzone inside, and most phones get no signal. There is currently no public wi-fi. But there is plenty of decor, and large-screen televisions hanging from the walls. Besides, who stays buried in their phone at dinner anyway?
Despite its relatively small size, Tupelo often feels like Mississippi’s “other city”, with its large airport, zoo, arena, downtown and vast array of retail, restaurants and hotels.So it really isn’t surprising that Tupelo has seen a burst of new restaurant activity of late. That being said, nothing quite prepared me for the shear brilliance of Forklift, a New American restaurant that specializes in gourmet twists on Southern comfort foods. A check of the menu shows inspired creations like the “Bay of Pigs” (Cuban sandwich made with pulled pork) or “Clucks and Waffles”, a gourmet take on the African-American tradition of chicken and waffles.
On our recent visit, we were immediately impressed with the decor and ambiance of the restaurant. Forklift features a big city atmosphere that would not be out of place in New Orleans, Memphis or Jackson. It also features an outdoor patio, complete with fire-pit, that nonetheless is roofed and feels more like a part of the main dining room rather than outdoors. We chose a comfortable seat there, and when things began to get chilly after sunset, the fire-pit was started and we were quite content.
I opted for the Steak & Frites, a dish that I have enjoyed at other restaurants, but Forklift’s take on it is quite different. Sirloin is a cut of meat that can often be tough, but this steak was cooked using a sous vide method, and was as tender as a filet mignon. It was arranged on the plate in slices and looked to my friend somewhat like beef brisket. It was as delicious as any steak I have ever tried. The “frites” it came with were hand-cut fries, and were equally good.
My friend opted for the “Pork Deluxe” which is a “burger” made from ground pork rather than ground beef. It came with bacon, cheese and a tomato onion jam, but proved to be too much for her to finish at one sitting, and she took a to-go box for the rest of it.
We left feeling that Forklift is the kind of restaurant that people would expect to find in the biggest cities, and that Tupelo is fortunate to have such a place. We hope that it will be here for many years to come.
1103 W Jackson St
Tupelo, MS 38804
The Mississippi River is a kind of river known as a “meander stream”, a type of river that constantly shortens its route from its source to the sea. The coils and loops it leaves behind are known as “oxbow lakes”, and these wide and deep lakes become great places for recreation. Horseshoe Lake, some 26 miles south of West Memphis, Arkansas is such an oxbow lake, and a popular weekend resort for Memphians, whose homes and cottages line the lakeshore. However, the lake area is short on restaurants, with the exception of Highwater Landing, an unexpected casual fine dining restaurant in the back of the local convenience store and gas station, Bonds Grocery. Entering the restaurant on a Friday night can be tricky, as the grocery store closes at 6 PM, and the side entrance to the back is not always easy to spot from the road. Despite the name, Highwater Landing is not on the lake, and does not have a waterfront view. Rather, the name is a reference to the infamous Flood of 1937, which inundated the nearby town of Hughes, Arkansas, and pictures of the flood in Hughes are on the walls behind the bar. The menu consists primarily of seafood, although there are also burgers, and ribeye steaks. Ribeye is not my favorite cut of steak, but this one was excellent and worth its price. Entrees come with two sides, and I chose a loaded baked potato and tater tots, both of which were excellent. Service is friendly and efficient, and the cozy, casual atmosphere makes the experience something like having dinner at someone’s home, all the more so as most of the customers and staff know each other. A small stage area near the entrance suggests that the Highwater Landing occasionally has live music, or perhaps a DJ. It’s definitely worth the drive out to Horseshoe Lake for a weekend escape from city life, but keep in mind that the Highwater Landing is open only on Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 5:30 PM to 8:30 PM.
15235 Highway 147 S
Horseshoe Lake, AR 72348
Since the abrupt and unexpected closure of Morgan Freeman’s Madidi Restaurant a few years ago, fine dining in Clarksdale has been something like a roll of the dice. Rust came, then left, then resurfaced out at Hopson Plantation at the Shack Up Inn, Pinkbar came and went in less than a year, Yazoo Pass coffee bar added some upscale food menu items at night, but still, Clarksdale lacked a good upscale dining option, which was a problem, given the growing upscale tourist market. This year, during Juke Joint Fest, I discovered the solution, not a new restaurant, but a really old one, Kathryn’s, founded in 1937. Why had we been missing it? Because Kathryn’s is not quite in Clarksdale, even if it is in Coahoma County. Officially, its address says it is in Dundee, but it’s really closer to Lula, and where it really is located is along the shores of Moon Lake, a beautiful oxbow lake that once was part of the Mississippi River. Kathryn’s is located in a small house, and has no pretensions, but the fare inside is fine dining indeed. Steaks and seafood are the main attraction here, and the atmosphere is strangely split between chic uptown and resort, with great blues and jazz playing overhead (The owner, John Mohead, is a blues musician). There is also a wine list, and even during the festival, the place was not unduly crowded. Finding Kathryn’s however might present something of a problem. From Clarksdale, the easiest choice is to take Highway 61 north almost to the Helena junction, turning left at the Moon Lake sign just before. That road dead ends at the lake, and taking a right will lead you along the lakeshore to Kathryn’s. It’s worth the drive and the effort to find it.
Kathryn’s Fine Dining
5770 Moon Lake Road
Dundee, MS 38626
Open Thurs-Sat 6-10 PM
Chisholm Lake in Lauderdale County, Tennessee is not the kind of place you find by accident. In fact, were it not for a small sign along Highway 51 just north of Ripley, I might never have heard of it at all. But on a trip back from Dyersburg one evening, I noticed a sign for the Chisholm Lake Store Restaurant, boasting of steaks and seafood, so I had been telling myself for several years that one day I would try it, and the other evening, I finally made a deliberate trip to Ripley to do so. Once in Ripley, finding the way to get to the restaurant is not difficult, as the road is called Chisholm Lake Road, but the lake is fairly far away from the town, and it takes awhile to get there. Once you enter the state’s wildlife management area, the road narrows, and soon you see Chisholm Lake, a beautiful oxbow lake surrounded by woods that once was a channel of the Mississippi River. Here and there are isolated fishing cottages and cabins, and then at the end of the road, a small collection of cottages and one obviously commercial building surrounded by cars, the Chisholm Lake Store. Despite the name, the store is actually a restaurant and bar, with a fun, convivial spirit and sports on the flat screen TV’s. There are no menus on tables, as you actually walk up to the bar and order before getting seated. The choices are fairly limited, but steak and crab are what people come for, and the ribeye steak dinner with baked potato and a salad bar is a great deal, although keep in mind that they have no cuts of steak other than ribeyes, and they take only cash, no credit or debit cards. Because you’re literally off the beaten path in the middle of nowhere, there’s also limited phone access and no internet to speak of, but it’s worth it for the good food, fun, and views of the setting sun over the lake. The Chisholm Lake Store is open only on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. It’s probably a good idea to call ahead to confirm that they are open.
Chisholm Lake Store
23 Chisholm Lake Camp Rd
Ripley, TN 38063
Tupelo, Mississippi has always had a big-city ambiance that belies its relatively small size. It has a large regional mall, its own TV station, a zoo, a large convention center and arena and a fairly big downtown, complete with tall buildings. Now, Tupelo also has a big-city steakhouse called Kermit’s Outlaw Kitchen on Main Street downtown, opened by the same people who run the Neon Pig in North Tupelo. KOK is not just a great steakhouse with great food and an attractive ambiance, but it is also a burgeoning part of the locavore movement, a trend toward restaurants locally sourcing almost everything. A wood-burning pit downstairs fills the restaurant with an inviting aroma, and this is where steaks are grilled and shucks of corn are roasted. My expertly-cooked filet mignon was accompanied by fingerling potatoes, which were delicious, and I had substituted a husk of roasted corn (also amazing) for the vegetables. The large upstairs dining room is bright and cheerful, with local art works on the walls and plenty of windows, but there is also seating around a downstairs bar near the pit. Although I’m not a beer drinker, there is a decent selection of craft beers, many of them regional, for those who like that sort of thing. Altogether, I had a great meal and good fun at Kermit’s Outlaw Kitchen, and will certainly be back.
Kermit’s Outlaw Kitchen
124 W Main
Tupelo, MS 38804