I’m biased. I was born in Greenwood and spent most of my youth in this small Southern town. The expansive flatlands, cotton, corn, and soybean fields dotted with oversized irrigators, and the quiet calm of winding country back roads remain endearingly familiar.
But riding down Interstate 55 in late April with my friend and photographer, Bianca Phillips, I skimmed our travel agenda. She had never been before, and I was starting to feel like I hadn’t either. This trip, we’d both be tourists.
A Southern Story
Thirty minutes of scenic highway driving southwest of the Grenada exit, 130 miles from Memphis, sits the “Cotton Capital of the World.” Here, the Tallahatchie and Yalobusha rivers meet to form the Yazoo. The town’s position on the easternmost point of the fertile alluvial plain we call the Delta granted it success as a major farming, harvesting, and shipping point for cotton pre-World War II, before the industry was largely mechanized.
Greenwood was also a center of action throughout the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. During the 1966 “March Against Fear” — a 200-mile protest walk from Memphis to Jackson — civil rights leaders made their way through, and activist Stokely Carmichael delivered his famous “Black Power” speech in the town’s Broad Street Park.
Of course, the Delta has a deep connection with the blues, and Greenwood is no exception. B.B. King spent time there before he made his way to Memphis. And Robert Johnson, the Mississippi Delta Blues master who was rumored to have sold his soul to the devil at the “Crossroads,” performed in and around the town in his last years.
Modern Delta Dining
Delta Bistropub’s home at 222 Howard Street has been transformed into a sophisticated, modern dining destination, but in the 1940s, the building housed the WGRM radio studio. Today, the location is one of several stops on the Mississippi Blues Trail, its significance marked as the place where, in 1940, blues legend B.B. King (who is from nearby Itta Bena, Mississippi) performed his first live broadcast, playing guitar with the Famous St. John’s Gospel Singers of Inverness, Mississippi.
Fast forward: This farm-to-table bistro feels more like something you’d experience in Midtown Memphis than in small-town Mississippi. Sticking to its Delta roots, the restaurant features a menu of distinctly Southern dishes crafted with ingredients sourced from local farms. James Beard-nominated chef Taylor Bowen Ricketts’ offerings include black-eyed pea cakes, fried alligator, and smoked elk.
A Greenwood insider had advised me to “always get the special” wherever we dined down South because, with these, chefs “flex their muscles” and showcase their Delta-inspired best. The special of the day was a lightly battered, pan-fried catfish filet over a bed of rice mingled with slightly spicy hoppin’ Johns, all topped with fried green beans. The tender, Mississippi farm-raised fish tasted fresh from the lake, and the green beans … let’s just say I’ll be back for more.
A Sip of the South
At the Winery at Williams Landing, owners Lonnie and Debbie Bailey guided us through a tasting of the wines they make in-house. The Baileys began making small batches of wine as a hobby but moved to still-small-batch commercial production at 500 Howard Street, the former location of Greenwood’s historic Firehouse No. 1, in 2013. Lonnie’s love for and knowledge of the region shone through as he told the stories behind his Delta, Harmony, and Three Rivers series of wines — a collection of red, white, and fruit wines made using muscadines, figs, and blueberries grown nearby.
For their Delta Dew, the Baileys handpick pounds and pounds of figs from trees in their own backyard before transporting them to the winery, where the process of coaxing out the juice is more complex than with grapes. (It’s a labor of love.) The blueberries used in the Delta Blue come from the Roebuck Plantation Blueberry Farm in Sidon, Mississippi, less than five miles from the winery. The Williams Landing fruit wines are surprisingly dry and less sweet than a typical fruit wine. Same goes for the muscadine reds and whites.
From juicing and barreling to bottling and labeling, the Baileys have a hand in every step of the small-scale production process. If you make your way to Greenwood, stop here. The wine is superb, but the history lesson rivals it in enjoyability.
Toast of the Town
We popped into Giardina’s (314 Howard Street) for apéritifs. Attached to The Alluvian hotel, this upscale but modest restaurant and lounge offers fine food, an extensive wine list, and the town’s best craft cocktails in an intimate setting. Cozied up to the bar, we tried the StayCation (a refreshing, albeit sweet, mixture of Grey Goose vodka, sweet tea, lemon juice, and simple syrup) and the Delta Gem (a bright and floral blend of Grey Goose vodka, St. Germain, Domaine de Canton, lime juice, and champagne).
An acoustic guitarist strummed blues, country, and classic rock tunes across the lobby, adding a subtle soundtrack to a Southern toast. A group of silver-haired Delta belles gathered at a table behind us, but we were otherwise alone in the hotel’s bar — a nice change of pace compared to crowded, big-city cocktail hours. A peek into the restaurant side revealed diners eating in private booths, similar to (but much fancier than) the ones we’d see at Lusco’s.
Relic of the Past
Lusco’s opened at 722 Carrollton Avenue in 1933, at the end of prohibition in the U.S. but when Mississippi was still a dry state. To accommodate its early, wealthy patrons, the restaurant was designed with individually partitioned booths closed off with curtains, so guests could imbibe in private. Each booth is equipped with its own service bell, to be rung to alert the server of a need. This historic Greenwood landmark has remained mostly untouched, making for a surreal, step-back-in-time experience.
A diner-style counter sits beyond the front entrance, and the restaurant’s walls and booths are ornamented with mounted taxidermy and mementos from a bygone era.
Because the eatery is known for its seafood and steak, I ordered the New York Strip topped with “crabmeat Karen,” a huge hunk (nearly a pound) of well-seasoned beef sprinkled with healthy bits of lemony crab. Next time, I’ll try the pompano: a Lusco’s specialty, broiled whole and served with house-made fish sauce. Good news for herbivores: Bianca is vegan and enjoyed the dairy-free pesto, served over penne pasta.
Back to the Flats
Though many travellers who spend a night in Greenwood stay at The Alluvian, we opted for a night at the Tallahatchie Flats. Modeled along the lines of Clarksdale, Mississippi’s Shack Up Inn, the flats are a set of refurbished shanties moved from nearby plantations to a stretch of farmland on County Road 518 (Money Road). Each shack has its own history (one is rumored to be the abode in which Robert Johnson died), and they’re situated in the middle of a sprawling field with the Tallahatchie River flowing a few feet off the back porch.
We stayed in Nellie’s House, a wood-floored three-room cottage donated by Emily Donnell from her family’s Lakeview Plantation in nearby Swiftown, Mississippi. The period-furnished space was once inhabited by the family’s cook. Though quaint, and admittedly a little spooky at night, the flat had all the basics (yes, it now has electricity and running water, plus a fridge, stove, microwave, etc.) and a Delta extra. Upon arrival, a handheld AM/FM radio was on, tuned to WABG AM 960, a blues-heavy station that broadcasts (and has since 1959) from just up the road.
My favorite Tallahatchie Flats moment: sitting on the porch, enveloped in the darkest night I’ve seen since living in the cityscape of Memphis; the stillness of the country underneath a blanket of twinkling stars and slow-moving clouds lit by a full moon.
Pass the Cornbread
There may have been more people packed into The Crystal Grill (423 Carrollton Avenue) than we’d seen in all of the previous 24 hours. The place was abuzz with hungry diners looking for a down-home meat and two. On holiday get-togethers, my Greenwood family (hi, y’all!) traditionally orders enough of the Crystal’s famed breaded veal cutlet plates to feed a small army.
This time, I tried the brown gravy-covered hamburger steak with sides of turnip greens and silky creamed potatoes. I had to save room for a slice of the diner’s legendary pie, and since I’d heard that Iron Chef Cat Cora regularly makes the drive over from Jackson, Mississippi, for the lemon icebox, I trusted her wisdom. I’m now convinced the pie gods live here. The place has been a Greenwood institution since 1926 and is the only locally owned restaurant (aside from Mexican cuisine) that’s open on Sunday, when hungry after-church crowds pile in for a traditional Southern meal.
The Alluvian Hotel
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The Alluvian Hotel
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The Alluvian Hotel
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Courtyard at The Alluvian Hotel
The more recent revitalization of Greenwood’s downtown area started with the opening of the Viking Range headquarters in 1990 and continued with Viking’s subsequent purchase and renovation of more than 20 buildings in the historic district — most notably, The Alluvian hotel, which opened in 2003.
Greenwood native and Viking founder, Fred Carl Jr., found success manufacturing high-end ovens and cooktops, ultimately bringing distributors from across the world to Greenwood for training and new product unveilings. To accommodate the increasing number of visitors, in 2001 Viking purchased the historic Irving Hotel (built in 1917) and transformed it into the boutique hotel it is today.
With 45 rooms, five suites, and upscale amenities (Southern buffet breakfast, whirlpool baths, stainless steel fireplaces, fitness center, terrace and courtyard views), The Alluvian continues to attract guests from around the world. An oasis for Hollywood movie stars, weekend getaways, wedding parties, and business trips, the hotel is positioned at 318 Howard Street, in the center of Greenwood’s quiet historic business district.
Across the street sits the Alluvian Spa, the Viking Cooking School, and the Viking Retail Store. A variety of hotel packages including spa sessions and cooking classes are available. The Alluvian has garnered a number of awards, including Mississippi Magazine’s Best of Mississippi 2015 (Best Hotel/Resort, Best Day Spa, and Best Kitchen Shop) and a 2015 Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence Award, and has been a AAA Four Diamond Award recipient since 2006. For more information, go to thealluvian.com.
We ate and drank our way through Greenwood, but there’s more to see and do:
Shop Howard Street
TurnRow Book Co.
At this independently owned bookstore, shelves are stocked with classics and new releases across all genres, and a special section is dedicated to Mississippi Delta history and literature authored by national and regional writers. The upstairs cafe offers coffee and espresso and serves homemade soups during lunch.
The Mississippi Gift Company
This gift shop is filled with Southern-style goods, including jewelry, food, soaps, and art. Everything is Mississippi-made.
Fincher’s features a variety of products, from fine china and home accessories to fashion-forward clothing for kids and adults.
The Viking Retail Store
Viking cookware, cutlery, kitchen gadgets, and appliances are available for purchase here. Attached to the retail shop is the Viking Cooking School, where culinary classes are offered via reservations.
Alluvian Spa Boutique
Upstairs from the Viking Cooking School, the boutique sells a variety of pampering skin-care products used in the spa’s treatments. Shopping for the perfect Mississippi Delta keepsake? Here, you’ll find world-famous McCarty pottery.
Take a ride down Greenwood’s tree-lined Grand Boulevard, maneuver neighborhood streets, and meander through the rural outskirts of town to see filming locations featured in the award-winning 2011 movie, The Help.
Mississippi Blues Trail, multiple locations
Among the sites to visit are the historic WGRM radio studio and the final resting place of Robert Johnson. Though popular opinion varies as to where Johnson was buried, a tombstone and memorial marker have been erected at Little Zion M.B. Church on Money Road (near Tallahatchie Flats).
Museum of the Mississippi Delta, 1682 Highway 82 West
The museum’s collection includes agricultural, Native American, and military artifacts as well as an extensive collection of regional art.
Back in the Day Museum, 214 Young Street
This community museum explores the history of the blues, Baptist Town, and African-American culture in the Delta.
Webster’s, 216 West Claiborne Avenue
Called “an old friend in Greenwood,” this restaurant and bar originally opened in 1975 and offers Southern-inspired cuisine and live music several nights a week.