Atlanta Trip to Vicksburg - Visit Vicksburg


Atlanta Trip to Vicksburg

Whenever I embark on a long road trip, I get a special thrill in having a great meal in some unassuming spot that the locals all love, but unknowing outsiders would likely drive right by. As a Mississippi native, I’m proud to say that my home state has a multitude of those spots. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in Vicksburg, a small city perched on a bluff less than an hour’s drive west of the capital of Jackson where I grew up. Though white-columned mansions, war memorials, and riverboats have been the big tourist draws for generations, I recommend it often to friends and neighbors in Atlanta as a worthy destination for serious Southern food exploration.

My enthusiasm for Vicksburg was ignited nearly a decade ago, while gathering material for a culinary travelogue that would be published a few years later: “Eat Drink Delta: A Hungry Traveler’s Journey Through the Soul of the South.” For years, I had toyed with the idea of using my lengthy background in food to delve into the storied history of the pancake-flat region where the blues began. Having just left my job as food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, I now had the opportunity.


My guiding principle was the famous line David Cohn penned more than 80 years ago that “The Mississippi Delta begins in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis and ends on Catfish Row in Vicksburg.” For logistical purposes, I reversed that course, starting my journey at the southernmost bluff — “The Red Carpet City of the South,” as its boosters like to call it —  where the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers converge. Vicksburg turned out to be the ideal place to begin my Delta education, while filling my belly with a delectable sampling of the region’s  most iconic dishes.

Catfish Row, the riverside area that was once lined with tumbledown shacks, is now occupied primarily by a children’s park with a splash fountain, a riverboat casino, and a soon-to-be museum. It was in this vicinity that I stumbled upon some real-deal soul food at LD’s Restaurant, a popular lunch spot for white-collar and blue-collar workers where I got my first taste of buffalo fish — fried to a golden-crisp and sandwiched in a bun with lettuce and tomato. Similar to whiting or carp, this river fish is often dismissed as trash, but here I learned that it’s often regarded as a beloved delicacy among those who grew up catching them for dinner. That meal was the first of many tasty reminders to ignore all preconceptions and let each bite speak for itself.

A short trek up the steep hill led me to Vicksburg’s well-preserved brick-paved main drag — Washington Street — anchored by the Highway 61 Coffeehouse, a lively meeting spot adjoining a funky folk art gallery. Over a latte and pastry, I got an earful from Daniel Boone, the silver ponytailed proprietor known for promoting blues musicians on his little bandstand and educating visitors like myself to cultural aspects of his hometown beyond hoop skirts and cannonballs.


I left with a notebook full of tips, and soon found myself at a table inside Solly’s Tamales, unwrapping the oily corn husks from a bundle of the meat-filled cornmeal dumplings prepared in a style redolent of chili spices distinctive to the Delta, and rarely found elsewhere. The first bite immediately took me back to the ones my dad brought home in a paper sack from a local vendor when I was a child, and these fully lived up to that glorious memory. Henry Solly, the son of a Cuban immigrant, began selling them from a pushcart in 1939, and bequeathed his recipe to the family of an associate who continues to adhere to that winning formula. I made a point of search out the handmade hot tamales in most every town I visited thereafter all the way to Memphis,  chronicling their stories that would form a spicy thread tying my book’s thesis together.

Much as I love the discovery of such under-the-radar places, I still dream about the boarding house-style feasts with all the trimmings that draw droves of tourists to Walnut Hills, a historic house in a leafy residential neighborhood that’s long stood as one of the state’s most renowned bastions of Deep South cooking. I didn’t mind taking a seat in one of the front porch rockers while waiting for a place at one of the big round communal tables, where friends and strangers sit elbow to elbow filling their plates with cayenne-laced fried chicken, country-style vegetables, and fresh-baked yeast rolls and corn muffins, that spin around a Lazy Susan. The hospitality was as warm and sincere as the food, and over the course of my research I returned multiple times, lingering after hours to share wonderful conversations with the owner, Joyce May Clingan, and Herdcine Williams, its longtime head cook.


Looking back over my visits, other meals come back to me: the expert gumbo and bite-size melt-in-your-mouth biscuits at Main Street Market, a former grocery store dating back to 1840; the hefty steaks topped with spicy crawfish sauce at the unapologetically retro Beechwood Restaurant and Lounge; the St. Louis-style ribs and thinly sliced barbecue pork served amid pig paraphernalia and illustrations of cotton fields at Goldie’s Trail Bar-B-Que;  the fresh fruit smoothies and cheesy tomato casserole at The Tomato Place, a colorful produce market with a Caribbean-style café and old-time general store tucked inside. I can picture the friendly faces of those who served them.


I’m happy to see that, according to Google, all of these favorites are still in business. I’m wondering if they’ve changed much. Maybe it’s time to update my research.

Susan Puckett is a Jackson, Mississippi, native and the former food editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She’s the author “Eat Drink Delta: A Hungry Traveler’s Journey Through the Soul of the South” (University of Georgia Press, 2013) and has co-authored several cookbooks with chefs, including “Turnip Greens and Tortilla: A Mexican Chef Spices Up the Southern Kitchen”  with Eddie Hernandez (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018) and the soon-to-be-released  “The Deep End of Flavor: Recipes and Stories for New Orleans’ Premier Seafood Chef” with Tenney Flynn (Gibbs Smith, 2019).

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