If we’ve learned anything over the past four years, it’s that good friends, good tamales and good music always equal good times.
Last Saturday, my regular traveling crew of Dr. Bruce Longest, Casey Clark, Brad Logan and Kent Moore made our fourth annual trek down the Mississippi Tamale Trail. We started in a famous Blues club in downtown Clarksdale, stopped by a tiny dive once visited by President Bill Clinton and John Kennedy Jr., and wound up at one of Mississippi’s most iconic restaurants.
It was a ‘greatest hits’ tour for us, all repeats from past tamale trips, but that just meant it was twice as nice.
We began at Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale. The Morgan Freeman-owned establishment is well known for its music, which was also on display during our visit due to the Sunflower Blues and Gospel Festival taking place.
We grabbed a table next to a group from Norway and ordered up two baskets of mini fried tamales served with a comeback sauce. It wasn’t our first tasting of the fried version, which really needed the accompanying comeback mixed with some hot sauce at the table. After making quick work of those, we ordered up a dozen of the real deal, wrapped in corn husks, that got our taste buds firing on all cylinders.
We were ready for more. Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait long, as our next stop was just a mile down the road.
Hicks’ World Famous Hot Tamales typically doesn’t open until 4:30 p.m. each day, but we called prior to the trip and they invited us to come on, and they opened the doors for us shortly after noon. Pictures on the wall celebrate some of their more high profile visitors, such as President Bill Clinton and JFK Jr. They obviously know a good tamale when they taste one.
Hicks’ tamales have a strong meat flavor and less corn meal taste that I love. They are incredibly sweet, especially if you top them with Hick’s classic chili. We opted to keep them plain this trip, and the sweetness was still powerful. As they explained to me, Eugene Hicks “puts a little bit of everything” in his tamales.
We left Clarksdale headed south to Rosedale to my favorite spot on the Tamale Trail – the White Front Cafe – Joe’s Hot Tamale Place. The name is easy to figure out when you pull up to the small white building not much bigger than what most would use to store a riding lawnmower in.
It’s a one-room “cafe” with a small kitchen set up on the right and a few tables to the left. Barbara Pope, sister to the original Joe, has been there every time I’ve visited (too many to count) serving up their delicious tamales she makes by hand.
The menu at the White Front Cafe is pretty easy to decipher – a dozen, a half dozen, or one bunch. That’s all they serve. I don’t know why you would want anything else. Mrs. Barbara, now over 70, scared us with her talk of possibly retiring and not knowing who will follow to keep the cafe open.
She handed us a stack of paper plates and a large pile of a dozen tamales fresh out the bubbling pot on the stove. Peeling away the corn husk you could almost taste the tamale just from the smell. These are simply too good to be lost.
Mrs. Barbara was gracious enough to make a group picture of us outside the cafe. I told her before we left I would be coming back and if she wasn’t at the cafe, I’d be coming to her house. “You come on,” she said in her soft, sweet voice.
Greenville was next on the itinerary where we rolled up to Scott’s. It’s a small shack on the side of the highway where they sell tamales from the window. The tamales are still made by the children and grandchildren of founders Aaron and Elizabeth Scott. Terry Cosie handed us our dozen which we unfolded on the hood of the vehicle and quickly devoured.
Scott’s award-winning tamales are made from beef-brisket with the perfect dash of spice. Upon first taste you can tell they are “made with tender loving care” as they’re advertised.
Our last tamale spot was our traditional destination of Doe’s Eat Place in Greenville. We always save Doe’s for last so that we can follow our dozen tamales with one of the finest steaks available anywhere. Doe’s is the only place I’ve ever tried that has great tamales that aren’t wrapped in corn husks. They instead use parchment paper. They could wrap them in newspaper for all I care, I just can’t get enough.
A road trip through the Delta wouldn’t be complete without stopping by the Crystal Grill in Greenwood for some of their famous pie. All of their pies come with at least a 6 inch high pile of delicious meringue. It didn’t disappoint.
We pulled into Bruce late Saturday night with full bellies and ideas for next year’s trip. We’ve hit every stop along the Tamale Trail, so we will have to decide if we should schedule another greatest hits tour, or venture into Louisiana for our first taste of the “Boudin Trail.”
I predict a combo adventure in our future.
Email Joel McNeece at firstname.lastname@example.org & follow him on Twitter @joelmcneece