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.
My bass-playing friend Monte Butts had asked me to come down to Tupelo and play a gig with him at the Linc Center, and when the gig was over at 9:30, I didn’t just feel like turning around and driving back to Memphis. So I used my Hangtime app on my phone, and saw where a band called the House of Funk was playing at Woody’s Steakhouse on Gloster Street. I had always thought of Woody’s as an upscale steakhouse, and not the sort of place to book a band with a name like House of Funk. But I dutifully headed over there anyway, and discovered that far in the back of Woody’s is a place called the Captain’s Den Lounge, with a stage area for bands, and there the House of Funk was, playing a delightful mix of soul and rhythm and blues, with a room full of their fans in the bar. They took an intermission, but only a brief one, and soon returned with a fiery latin instrumental, and then performed a couple of vocal originals that were actually really great songs. I was actually disappointed when their performance ended for the night.
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.
I’ve been hearing about Blue Canoe for well over a year now, and I’ve been meaning to try it for some time. The live music schedule is great, and so I always figured that I would get down there to check out a band. Oddly, that still hasn’t happened, but since I had a jazz jam session in New Albany last week, I headed to Blue Canoe first to try a Smashburger (no relation to the Denver chain of the same name). Blue Canoe’s Smashburger is a thing of beauty, with Benton’s bacon crushed up into the patty itself. I opted to add cheese to it and avoid the vegetables, and it was truly amazing, easily rivaling Oxford’s Lamar Lounge for best burger in North Mississippi. The homemade french fries are long and thin, seasoned and fried to a golden brown, likely in peanut oil. I’m not a beer drinker, but the beer menu is loaded with regional craft beers from Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Tennessee, and there is a large outdoor patio, and a stage for the live music. Some words of caution are in order, however. First, the inside seating area is fairly dark, and tends to be noisy. This is a bar atmosphere for sure, so this is not the place to bring your significant other for quiet drinks and conversation. Second, they’re not open on Sundays at all. But I will definitely be back to Blue Canoe, and I hope next time to hear a band.
From the first notes of John Murry‘s debut album The Graceless Age, we are confronted with a dichotomy- on the one hand, the tuneful, lucsious soundscapes that would suggest a sunny brightness, and on the other hand, the album’s somber recurrent themes of loss, broken lives, broken relationships, death or near-death and disillusionment. No attempt is made to resolve this dissonance, nor do the clouds ever really break in this harrowing yet somehow strangely beautiful album. The first single, “Little Colored Balloons” is Murry’s autobiographical tale of a heroin overdose that nearly killed him, while other songs seem to return to recurring themes of Tupelo, Mississippi (Murry’s hometown), San Francisco (where he now lives), or failed relationships, the latter particularly referred to in “Photographs” which has something of a Billy Bragg feel to it, and the brief epigram “Thorn Tree in the Garden.” Although Murry and his label Evangeline Records are based in the Bay Area, the album was cut in San Francisco and Memphis, using a large number of Memphis musicians. The Graceless Age is a masterful debut from John Murry, and is available for purchase here: http://www.amazon.com/The-Graceless-Age/dp/B00C2E18DA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1366230857&sr=8-2&keywords=John+Murry
I went to breakfast at Scenic 90 Cafe, but was somewhat disappointed, as they have quit serving hashbrowns and only have potatoes simmered with onions. Afterwards, I drove out to the Cordova Mall with promotional materials, but there were no urban clothing stores there, and the FYE music store could only accept the CD promos and not the posters. I was able to put up some posters at Tom’s Records on Navy Boulevard, and that seems to be the city’s main rap store. The music conference’s beach party was to start at noon at Pensacola Beach, so I drove across the toll bridge onto the island, but while there were large crowds everywhere, I didn’t see anybody from our conference out there. I had wanted to attend, because there was to be barbecue, and live performances, but Trinigal, the conference organizer called me and told me that the start time had to be pushed back two hours because nobody woke up until the afternoon. Unfortunately, I had to drive back to Memphis in the afternoon, so I couldn’t wait for the beach party to start. I decided to eat lunch at Surf Burger and then head out for Memphis, but I literally could not find any place to park, so I drove back up 9th Avenue in Pensacola to L & N Record Store near the projects, but they were still closed. Out on I-10 in Alabama, I saw a billboard for a California Dreaming restaurant at the Eastern Shore Center in Spanish Fort, so I got off the road there to eat lunch. I had a filet mignon sandwich there, and then headed out Highway 45 through Eight Mile and into Mississippi. At Tupelo, I stopped for dinner at a Santa Fe Cattle Company, which was really good, but I could not find any coffee bars open at that time of night, so I headed on to Memphis.
Album Alley/Bebop Records in Tupelo had a Select-O-Hits listening booth that was on the fritz, so the company sent me down there with a new CD changer to fix it. Fortunately, it was nice weather, and fixing the listening booth proved to be simple once I got to Tupelo, so I rolled past the other record store but found it closed since it only opened on weekends, and I soon found that the FYE was gone from Barnes Crossing Mall as well. It was about 5 PM, so after browsing briefly in Books-A-Million, I drove around the 45 bypass to East Main Street, where there was a restaurant called The Grill at Fair Park, which belongs to the Harvey’s corporation. They were fairly empty, but open, and I enjoyed a steak dinner there while watching the CNN news talking about President Obama and the worsening economy. After dinner I wanted coffee, but JoJo’s across the street had moved over onto Gloster, so I was headed that way, west down Main Street when I spotted Cafe 212, and it appeared to be open. Not only did they have great coffee, but they had something called a peanut-butter chocolate chip pie, which was undescribably good. After that, it was all I could do to stay awake back to Memphis.
Upon checking out of the Holiday Inn in Gainesville, Florida, I ate breakfast in the Red Onion Grill there at the hotel (too expensive) and then headed out I-75 toward Memphis, stopping for coffee at Valdosta. I got some frozen yogurt from a TCBY near the mall in Albany, and then I drove on into Columbus and across to Phenix City, where I stopped for lunch at the Char-Broil Steakhouse, owned by the famous charcoal grill manufacturers across the river in Columbus. I stopped briefly at Red Door June coffee in Opelika. The rest of the trip was relatively non-eventful, except for my fruitless effort to find coffee in Tupelo. The coffee bar downtown on Main Street had closed (and was supposedly moving to Gloster Street), but Uptown Coffee on Gloster was also out of business, so I gave up and headed on into Memphis.
There was no kind of breakfast anywhere in Douglasville other than Waffle House, so I went there and ate breakfast, and then, after checking out of the hotel, I drove west into Alabama. Finding gasoline was just as much of a problem in eastern Alabama as it had been in Georgia, and at Anniston, the Exxon station was compeltely sold out, so I had to drive on to Pell City, and even there, I could only get premium gasoline. I decided not to stop and eat in Birmingham, but I grew so sleepy on Highway 78 outside of Fulton, Mississippi that I decided to stop in Tupelo for a coffee at JoJo’s Java downtown. However, when I got there, a sign announced that Jojo’s was moving to the old Uptown Coffee location on Gloster Street, but I soon found that it wasn’t open at either location, at least not yet. My iPhone was showing a Starbucks location on East Main Street downtown, but I never could find it, so I gave up and drove on into Memphis. My mother and her husband had only been back a day from their own vacation to Branson, Missouri, and they were tired and worn out from their trip, just like I was from mine.