Working our way from Yazoo City to Vicksburg and then north on Hwy. 61, my regular traveling crew completed a mission two years in the making last Saturday – the second half of the Mississippi Tamale Trail.
Tamales have long been a big part of the cuisine of the Mississippi Delta, dating back to the early part of the 20th century. Several years ago the Mississippi Tamale Trail was established to highlight the numerous establishments from restaurants, street corner carts, and tiny shacks that continue to produce this unique delicacy.
Two years ago, we did the northern end of the Mississippi trail with stops in Clarksdale, Cleveland, Rosedale and Greenville. All total more than eight dozen tamales were consumed on that trip at seven different stops.
Last Saturday’s trip included another six stops with one duplication – Doe’s Eat Place in Greenville where we finished off our last dozen tamales and their one-of-a-kind steak.
This trip of non-stop eating included Casey Clark, Dr. Bruce Longest, Kent Moore, James Ray and myself.
We began in Yazoo City at the Yazoo Market, but not long after arriving we learned they had moved and the new location was more a gift shop than tamale shop. Delivering the finest of Mississippi hospitality, the owners escorted us next door to Tom’s on Main, where Tom Johnson opened his restaurant just for us and served up two dozen tamales.
His tamales had a familiar taste that was confirmed when he told us he buys his from Hot Tamale Heaven in Greenville – a wholesaler for several locations. They were a winner with our group and provided a great start to our day.
From there we ventured south to Vicksburg where we enjoyed stops at “The Tamale Place” and “Solly’s,” which are somewhat connected.
Solly’s was established in 1939 but was sold to Dean McCain around 1985. We took a seat at one of the three tables in the tiny establishment and Betty Diggs, who said she had worked there for seven years, served us up a fresh dozen on paper plates. She said they were still using Mr. Solly’s orignal recipe which was part of the business purchase.
Across town on the Frontage Road along I-20 is “The Tamale Place” where Henry Solly’s great grandson Michael was cooking up tamales based on his great grandfather’s recipe.
“Ours is not a traditional Mexican tamale,” Michael said. “My great-grandfather learned the recipe from a Sicilian back in the 1920s or 30s.”
Purely a take-out place, we ordered up our dozen, which came wrapped in newspaper. We opened up the rear door of Dr. Bruce Longest’s Sequoia and all dug in with plastic forks.
I couldn’t tell a distinctive difference between the rival tamales in Vicksburg and wouldn’t hesitate to order from either place again.
From Vicksburg we traveled north to The Onward Store, just south of Rolling Fork on a lonely stretch of Hwy. 61.
It is there where the legend of the “Teddy Bear” was born. It was in 1902 when President Theodore Roosevelt attended a bear hunt but never came across a bear he could shoot himself.
Looking to accommodate the president, some of the hunting party tethered an injured bear to a pole at what is now The Onward Store and invited the president to shoot it so he could go home with a trophy. Roosevelt declined and the legend of the “Teddy Bear” was born.
Most of us on this tamale expedition had visited The Onward Store before, more fondly remembering its boudain than its tamales. Boudain was unfortunately absent from that day’s menu, so we settled for tamales only, and enjoyed them.
Greenville was our next stop where we hit “Scott’s Hot Tamales” – a small shack on the side of the highway. There was nothing small about their tamales. The ladies in the small, white, booth said they hand roll the tamales every day at their home in Metcalfe – a small town just north of Greenville.
Strictly intended as a take-out place, we set the bag of tamales on the hood of Dr. Longest’s vehicle and ripped into it. Steam poured out with an aroma that evoked a greater sense of hunger than previously existed. Scott’s were the hottest tamales of the day, both in temperature and spice, which I found to my liking.
Approaching a level of too full to enjoy a good Doe’s steak, and with hands and face sticky from tamale juice, we decided to make a b-line for Doe’s.
We walked into the kitchen and were greeted by our old friend Charles Signa, one of Big Doe’s sons who for several years operated the Doe’s in Oxford before its unfortunate closing.
He escorted us back to our table where we soon received our seventh dozen tamales on the day.
Doe’s tamales were the only ones all day not individually wrapped in corn husks. They instead use parchment paper. Otherwise, there’s not a discernible difference in taste from our other favorites along the trail.
Over the course of the two trips, I would have to say my favorite tamales are from Doe’s, Scott’s, both in Greenville, and the White Front Cafe – Joe’s Hot Tamale Place in Rosedale.
Our tamale quest was done when we left Doe’s, but not our eating. We couldn’t resist the opportunity to stop at The Crystal Grill in Greenwood for some of their famous pie. All of their pies come with what appears to be a 6-12 inch high pile of delicious meringue.
The Crystal also serves up tamales that aren’t too shabby for those interested. A tall slab of lemon ice box pie proved to be a perfect capper for this trip.
You may email Joel McNeece at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @joelmcneece