Greenwood Restaurants

Greenwood Restaurants

The Mississippi Delta has inspired writers, artists, and musicians. And, just as importantly, it has inspired cooks. Spend time winding along the back roads and you’ll uncover culinary jewels: roadside hot tamale stands, Greek-owned cafés that specialize in fried quail, barbecue joints that stake their reputation on ribs, and filling stations that sell slices of sweet potato pie baked by somebody’s grandmother.

Over a plate of ribs and sauce, Delta folks will tell you stories. Stories about Highway 61, the Civil Rights Movement, King Cotton, writer Walker Percy, or bluesman Robert Johnson—stories that you would never have learned if you had not sat down to eat.

In this project, you’ll meet the Pinkston family, fourth-generation owners of Lusco’s restaurant—famous for its broiled Gulf seafood and its curtained booths. You’ll also meet Pearl Johnson, a veteran practitioner of the Delta’s hot tamale tradition.


This project was funded, in part, by a grant from Viking Range Corporation.


Interviews

Cotton Row Club - Stacy Ragland - Greenwood Restaurant

Cotton Row Club

The Cotton Row Club has been a fixture in downtown Greenwood for as long as anyone can remember. Once a stable and a blacksmith shop, it eventually became a hangout for cotton factors and other businessmen sometime during the first half of the twentieth century.

Johnny Ballas

Crystal Grill – Johnny Ballas

Johnny Ballas and his father Mike Ballas pride themselves on serving the best food at the best prices, and it is certain that everyone can eat happy here.

Mabel Gelman_cropped

Gelman’s Cafe

In 1946, Myer Gelman and his brother opened Gelman’s café on Howard Street, where Myer’s wife, Mabel, worked the front of the house for seventeen years as a waitress and cashier. Their story is the story of Jews in Mississippi, but it is also the story of a time in this part of the Delta when a place like Gelman’s Café had so much regular business that they kept track of the number of cups of coffee sold in a year. As Mabel tells it, Myer created a sign of sorts out of tin, which he kept on display above the booths in the café. At the end of each day he would add to the tally, and one year they were astonished to find that they had sold more than 100,000 cups of coffee to their friends and neighbors. A lot can happen over a cup of coffee, and some of those stories are still being told. And while Gelman’s Café is long gone, Mabel’s stories remind us what it’s like to know your neighbor and be part of a community.

Giardina's - Johnny Bell - Former Employee - Greenwood Restaurants

Giardina’s – Johnny Bell

All told, Mr. Bell spent forty-seven years working with the Giardinas before he retired, and he maintains a relationship with the family to this day.

Lusco's - Andy and Karen Pinkston - Greenwood Restaurants

Lusco’s

Visiting Lusco’s is an experience like no other, for it holds within it a patina of age and an unusual array of artifacts, highlighting the uniqueness of the place and making it as much of a living history museum as it is a restaurant–a living history museum that also happens to serve great food. Its location is also part of its charm, for it has remained in a part of Greenwood that has seen far better days. But rest assured, when you visit Lusco’s you will be treated like family and leave with an experience to write home about. Look for Andy Pinkston’s name scrawled in the sidewalk out front, the framed tablecloth Willie Morris made his own, the vintage phone booth in the lobby that came from the old Klein & Blumenthal department store in Greenwood and the collection of photographs in the back hallway.

Mattie's - Mattie Smith - Greenwood Restaurant

Mattie’s Restaurant

Mattie Smith, originally from Minter City, Mississippi, began her cooking career in her grandmother’s kitchen. When she moved to Greenwood in 1984, she cooked at the cafeteria inside the local Piggly Wiggly. Soon she began to have dreams of opening her own place, and in 1997 she made that happen. What Mattie serves is soul food, pure and simple: fried chicken, catfish, neck bones, yams and collard greens. Serving breakfast and lunch during the week, Mattie has a different menu for each day, and her most popular day is Tuesday. If you come early, you can get meatloaf, chicken and dumplings and broccoli casserole. And don’t forget the bread pudding! Mattie loves what she does, and she loves her customers. And while the restaurant itself is a modest place, the big tables, soap operas playing on the television and friendly atmosphere make it place where you’ll definitely want to become a regular.

Reno's Cafe - Pearl Johnson - MS - Tamale Trail

Reno’s Cafe

Pearl’s tamales are different from most Delta-style tamales. She cooks and serves them in a tomato-based sauce. When asked if there’s a secret to making her tamales, Pearl replies, “Well, no. Not really. It’s just the idea of knowing, you know, how much stuff to use in it.”

spooneys9

Spooney’s Bar-Be-Que

Leroy Kenter, Jr., better known as “Spooney,” started barbecuing at home in Kansas City, Kansas. When he returned to his native Greenwood, he knew he wanted to have his own place and make a name for his own brand of ‘cue and sauce.