We’ve had a grand time, these past few months, eating our way around the Magnolia State of Mississippi. Travel, eat, travel, eat. Tough life, huh? We haven’t had much time to write about everything, but we’re putting together a great series of articles chronicling our trips with recommendations of some serious grub and cool things to do and see.
“The Zombies Live” — a bit of an oxymoron, right? Or maybe a title of an upcoming horror film? I’ll tell you what I call it: A damn good time! These guys (leaders Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone, by name) have been at it since 1961. Their first charting hit came along in 1964. And you know what? They still sound great. Sure the lads have aged a bit. And maybe picked up a pound or two since the dashing portrait above was snapped. Some called them nerdy — some called them art school geeks — I have always dug them. They were always thinking a step ahead of their musical peers and that did not always translate into commercial success.
The Hard Rock Casino – Biloxi is where it all went down
Our tickets to this Thursday night Zombies show at the Hard Rock Casino were just $25 each plus tax — and the seats were superb. Probably about 10 rows back and just a tad left of center stage. I didn’t really want to be much closer. At the risk of sounding like an old fart, it can get a little loud up there sometimes.
The average Joe might be hard pressed to name a single song by The Zombies. Time of the Season could come to mind … as it should. That recording, in my world, ranks right up there with The Beatles best work. The casual music fan of a certain vintage probably remembers tracks like Tell Her No and She’s Not There — and most likely Argent’s big solo smash Hold Your Head Up. The more hardcore vinyl junkie like your’s truly can go much deeper into The Zombies’ highly underappreciated catalog. I, for one, would be hard pressed to stop at 20 or so songs. They were indeed that special. Especially when further incorporating Rod’s time with Argent and vocalist Colin Blunstone’s solo recordings (check out his breathy Caroline Goodbye for starters) and stellar session work with the Alan Parsons Project (see Old and Wise for beginners).
The view from our seats (above) at Hard Rock – a steal at $25 + tax
A signed CD was my souvenir for the evening
The Zombies masterpiece (often discussed in the same hushed tones as Sgt. Pepper’s, Pet Sounds, and Love’s Forever Changes) is their Odessey and Oracle album. It may have only included one chart hit (the soaring Time of the Season) but it is laden with innovative, quirky, and ultimately unforgettable tunes. The themes can be somber (A Rose for Emily) and downright bizarre (Care of Cell 44). This is an album that grows on you — and then stays with you forever. I can’t recommend it enough if you consider yourself a fan of The Beatles, Beach Boys, Moody Blues, The Kinks, or Pink Floyd. I’m pretty sure you will enjoy it. Critics rave about it and it is often cited as one of the Top 100 LPs of all time. Rolling Stone ranked it #80 in their Top 500. How ’bout them apples???
If you ever get a chance to see The Zombies in concert, don’t miss them. Rod and Colin work incredible magic together. Argent can still bang on the keyboards like nobody’s business and Blunstone remains, to my ear, one of rock’s great voices. They play a great mix of the old and the new — and both founding members get plenty of time to bask in the spotlight. When they broke into Time of the Season (easily one of my all-time favorite songs), my wife Eileen and I were grinning from ear to ear. By the time the song reached its crescendo, I could have sworn our feet were floating about a foot or two off the ground. It was the same magical feeling I experienced when I first heard Booker T and the MGs perform Green Onions in person. Or the time I saw Tony Joe White singing Polk Salad Annie. Or the time I experienced the great Roy Orbison bring the crowd to its collective feet with a live take on Running Scared. It was indeed one for the ages.
Thank you, Rod and Colin. LONG LIVE THE ZOMBIES!!!
And just in case you boys ever wonder if all the bad meals, hotels, and travel are worth it, it is. Trust me … it really is.
You are making the world a brighter, more joyful place.
And what could be more rewarding than that?
Bozo’s Seafood Market and Deli has been around since 1956 — that’s longer than I have been around. But as my Granny Justice often said, “Old school is GOOD school.” That is most definitely the case at Bozo’s — they don’t clown here. Every coastal community should have such a go-to seafood dive. Sadly, few compare to the almighty Bozo!
When you’re ready to order, step right up to the little card table near the back of the dining room. A gentleman seated there will take your order and jot it down (along with your first name) on a basic white paper lunch bag. The sack is then flipped back to a red headed woman toiling away in the kitchen. The line to order was pretty short when we arrived mid-afternoon. But we’re told that lines at lunchtime can sometimes stretch all the way back to the front entry. After more than a half century of business, Bozo’s is anything but a secret in these parts.
Okay, folks — now THAT’S a Muffaletta!!!
Pork Cracklins are a popular side item at Bozo’s
Zapp’s Chips are terrific — and Bozo’s has you covered
Take a gander at this mouth-watering Shrimp Salad – amazing!
Eileen and I split a Fried Shrimp Po Boy and, as expected, it was awesome. The shrimp were plump, fresh and right out of the fryer. We ordered ours “fully dressed” and added just a splash of Tabasco before rolling up our sleeves and digging in. This decent sized, overstuffed sandwich was just $6.99. That’s a very fair price when you consider the price of fresh seafood these days. If you’re really hungry, I’d like to suggest the Shrimp Overload — a footlong po-boy stuffed with 1 1/2 pounds of fried shrimp for just $13.99. Now that’s a MEAL! If you’re more of an oyster person, try the Oyster Box with a dozen fried bi-valves, French fries, onion rings, and hush puppies for only $8.99.
This custom table is perfect for shelling shrimp or crawfish
A painting of a local fisherman (above) tells the story at Bozo’s — it’s fresh off the boat here. And it is a working man’s joint. The portions are generous and the prices more than fair. What more could you ask for? Well, besides Bozo’s opening a location in your neighborhood. They really don’t clown around here, but you will leave with a big, messy smile on your face.
Bozo’s Seafood Market & Deli –
2012 Ingalls Avenue, Pascagoula, MS 39567
(228) 762-3322; Mon-Sat 8-8; Sunday 8-6
A Facebook friend of mine tipped me to this place recently. I was in Biloxi for the afternoon and we had already enjoyed lunch, but we dropped in at Le Bakery & Cafe just before their daily closing time (5 pm). It was clear right away that this was not your typical Parisian-style bakery. This is a French bakery and cafe with a decidedly Vietnamese twist. The seafood industry (primarily shrimping) brought many Vietnamese families to this area. A brief tour around Biloxi makes that quite evident.
Just look at the picture above. How often do you find that in Paris?
The image above is just a sampling of the exotic treats you’ll find here at Le Bakery. The item to the far right was particularly interesting to me. It looked something like a homemade Hostess Twinkie with an accompanying white, milky dipping sauce. I was curious and had to try it. The young Vietnamese man working behind the counter explained that the soft, spongy pastry encased a slab of moist banana. The sauce was even more complicated. A closer look revealed something very mysterious — scary even.
It looked like little tiny eggs — bubbly, clear pellets. The Vietnamese can eat some weird stuff and my mind was taking me in some strange directions. It turned out I was looking at Vietnamese Pearls of Tapioca. Yup, you can look it up — that’s what I did. The soupy white sauce was coconut flavored and quite delicious. The “pearls” were somewhat sweet and the rubbery texture was simply bizarre. That was the most difficult part for me — the “mouth feel.” Otherwise I found this dessert to be really sublime and satisfying. This wasn’t just an afternoon snack — this was a culinary adventure.
As we departed, the employee urged us to view this colorful mural (pictured above) on the side of their cinderblock building. Glad we did — it’s a cool, colorful piece of work. So is Le Bakery & Cafe. I already want to return for lunch so I can sample their locally famous French Vietnamese-Style Po Boys (aka Banh Mi). Little places like this are community treasures for the folks who live nearby. For visitors to the casinoland of Biloxi, Le Bakery & Cafe is a gamble worth taking. Roll the dice and prepare to be surprised.
Le Bakery & Cafe – 280 Oak Street, Biloxi, MS 39530
(228) 436-0850; www.facebook.com/LeBakeryBiloxi
Preston Lauterbach is a friend of mine — going back to my days in Memphis. Great guy, he is. And he knows a thing or two about music — and good eats. I was pretty impressed when he first mentioned that he was undertaking this project. It’s a big topic. But also a topic that has not been well documented in the recent past.
All that being said, I am even more impressed by the finished project. This is a well-researched and entertaining story. Preston has a way with words. His method is hip and engaging. He educates without sounding like a professor. I buzzed through this book in no time flat. I had long thought that I was well versed when it came to this shadowy corner of rock n’ roll history. Boy, was I wrong. So many wonderful nuggets of knowledge to be found — and savored.
This is a tasty pot of musical stew – and one I would suggest you dig into.
A definitive account of the birth of rock ‘n’ roll in black America, this book establishes the Chitlin’ Circuit as a major force in American musical history. Combining terrific firsthand reporting with deep historical research, Preston Lauterbach uncovers characters like Chicago Defender columnist Walter Barnes, who pioneered the circuit in the 1930s, and larger-than-life promoters such as Denver Ferguson, the Indianapolis gambling chieftain who consolidated it in the 1940s. Charging from Memphis to Houston and now-obscure points in between, The Chitlin’ Circuit brings us into the sweaty back rooms where such stars as James Brown, B. B. King, and Little Richard got their start.
With his unforgettable portraits of unsung heroes including King Kolax, Sax Kari, and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Lauterbach writes of a world of clubs and con men that has managed to avoid much examination despite its wealth of brash characters, intriguing plotlines, and vulgar glory, and gives us an excavation of an underground musical America. 34 black-and-white illustrations
The internet buzz about the burgers at Ocean Springs, Mississippi’s Government Street Grocery is quite impressive. Lots of glowing commentary about the Grocery Burger’s deliciousness. It eventually peaked my interest — I must admit. I don’t eat a lot of burgers … especially the red meat variety. But a really well made hamburger is a hard thing to resist.
The Government Street Grocery is perhaps best known as a bar and a live music venue. It’s located in a quaint neighborhood in Ocean Springs, which is one of our favorite little Gulf Coast towns. This is a very arsty, fartsy community. World renowned artist Walter Anderson played a major role in putting Ocean Springs on the map. In fact, the Anderson Museum is a must-see attraction when you’re in this part of the world.
Where there’s cold beer, there is normally a good hamburger lurking on a nearby grill. Burgers are classic American pub food. And it is no different here on the Gulf Coast, even though the region’s fresh seafood overshadows just about everything else on local menues. With good reason, too!
I sat down with my good friend and Coastal Mississippi native Lloyd Hebert for a Friday afternoon lunch. I ordered the Grocery Burger and a side of fried okra. Lloyd opted for a Roast Beef po-boy with a steaming hot bowl of brown dipping gravy. Our waitress applauded my decision to go for the burger. She even recommended the okra. The burger was so-so … the okra was more like medi-0kra. The burger wasn’t bad. And I did finish it. But it was not unlike hundreds of burgers I have eaten before. Not a thing special or unique about it. Edible but forgettable, you might say.
The okra, to my shock and horror, was the pre-breaded, frozen junk. Now I am an okra-holic and this is JUST — NOT — ACCEPTABLE. Restaurants in the Deep South serving frozen, pre-breaded okra should be required by law to post a warning in LARGE TYPE on their menues. It’s just wrong on every level. So doggone wrong.
Summation: Government Grocery = cool, funky bar. Memorable dining it is not.
“Persian” made with potato flour from the Tato-Nut Cafe
So just when I thought we were looking at a missed opportunity, Lloyd steered me to a very cool little doughnut shop just a few doors down Government Street. It seems Tato-Nut is a remnant from the old SpudNut franchises of the 1960s. SpudNut was all over the U.S. map back in the day, but pretty much all of those stores are now a distant memory.
Tato-Nut somehow hung on — changing its name along the way, but not its special dough made with potato flour. Lloyd suggested the “Persian” (sort of a cross between a cinnamon roll and a honey bun). It was fresh, packed with cinnamon flavor, and pretty darn dee-lish. So we ended our dining adventure on a positive note after all. Good work, Lloydster!
Government Street Grocery – 1210 Government St., Ocean Springs, MS
Tato-Nut Cafe – 1114 Government St., Ocean Springs, MS
Gulf Coast Foodways is a new community of foodies on a mission to preserve and promote the rich culinary culture along the US Gulf Coast through education, events, documentaries, seminars and more. Gulf Coast Foodways will be a member driven organization and we’re currently looking for charter members and sponsors.
How exactly are we going to do all of this, you ask? Through the development of thematic maps and tours, we can drive food tourism to our region. Through video documentation, we can capture and show off the unique culinary culture of our coast. Cookbooks and published compilations of local food writings and treasured family recipes will draw attention to the traditional foodways of our area.
We plan to hold periodic meetings for members to make connections and network. These events will include guest speakers on local topics and you can always count on a good meal or two along the way. Our annual symposium weekend is now in the initial planning stage. Hotel and restaurant industry members will always benefit from the trails, meetings, and symposiums.
We’d like for you to play a key role in the creation of this tasty “gumbo.”
Your annual membership or sponsorship will:
*Help finance research projects
*Promote food-related businesses along the Gulf Coast
*Document local traditions & businesses preserving them
*Promote and grow food tourism along the Gulf Coast
*Underwrite any necessary administrative costs
In return, your benefits will include:
*Profile feature on the Gulf Coast Foodways blog: www.gulfcoastfoodways.wordpress.com
*10% off all Gulf Coast Foodways event registration
*Priority registration for events
*Discounts at participating restaurants/shops
We urge you to join this worthy cause today.
Contact Eileen or Gary Saunders at email@example.com.
***Pass this note along to your friends and LIKE us on FACEBOOK.
A mass migration from Mississippi once brought the Blues to Chicago. All these years later, the Windy City has at last repaid the Magnolia State by giving them Lil’ Italy. Lil’ Italy, serving authentic Chicago Italian food, is located just off I-10 in Ocean Springs, MS. My good friend Lloyd Hebert lives nearby and has been raving about the place for several months now.
It was a cold, blustery Chicago-style day along the Mississippi Gulf Coast and Lil’ Italy does not offer any kind of inside, temperature controlled seating. But Lloyd and I have both spent a good bit of time in Illinois and we were not to be denied this day.
The traditional Chicago Italian Beef sandwich is obviously the star of the show at Lil’ Italy. The warm, slightly spicy sliced beef was a perfect foil for the winter chill. The hot green peppers also added a fiery kick in the pants. The accompanying fries weren’t bad — but the beef was without question the first order of business.
Chicago-style Hot Dog (above) — fully dressed with neon green relish. It’s a unique flavor combo of wiener, chopped onion, mustard, sliced tomato, dill pickle slices and, of course, the poppy seed bun. It’s probably a good thing we weren’t being drug tested on this day. Cholesterol too, right?
“Gyro Gyro Gyro!” They make a good one at Lil’ Italy. Tony, the friendly owner, brought one out for us to try — on the house. What a guy! It was very tasty. The meat was fresh and appropriately seasoned. The yogurt-based sauce just right.
www.lilitaly.net – Drop by and tell Tony that DixieDining sent you!
Lloyd also took time to run me over to another of his favorite haunts. Burger Burger may be redundant, but this place is legendary in these parts. The historic joint changed it’s location about a decade back, yet it still retains the ambiance and warmth you woud expect.
The entry at Burger Burger has an old school, neighborhood tavern feel.
I still had enough room in my belly for a nice slice of Apple-Raisin pie. Lloyd had some dessert too. A burger was out of the question after our all-out assault at Lil’ Italy. My pie was an excellent choice. It was served warm and I didn’t even have to ask. Gotta love that. The crust was flaky and the pie’s interior was an ideal blend of chunky apples and fat, juicy raisins. It tasted of home and the holidays.
The Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi is a hot new tourist draw. We took a break from all the eating and spent an hour or so checking out the museum’s latest exhibits. George Ohr was widely known as “The Mad Potter of Biloxi” and his works receive due reverance here.
This image of George Ohr (above) is almost as iconic as his pottery works.
The museum was featuring a colorful collection of Warhol lithographs. Subjects included the likes of Geronimo, Howdy Doody, Mick Jagger and John Wayne. How’s that for a foursome? Lloyd tells me the new museum — a very costly project — has drawn a great deal of criticism from many locals. Especially in light of the recent economic woes driven by Katrina and the BP oil mess.
Talk about someone having a big head!
The steps that lead to — nowhere. Well, it’s fun to look at! Lloyd snapped this image of me as we climbed this eye-catching stairwell. We anticipated it leading to another art exhibit, but it just led us to an small, open-air terrace and an elevator to take us back down to earth. Strange, yes, but the terrace does offer some sweeping views of the Gulf of Mexico.
This out building on the museum grounds was decidedly less contemporary.
Admission is $10 for adults. Discounts are offered for seniors, vets and children.
I’d heard the buzz about Cortlandt’s for several weeks, I guess. Cortlandt’s just sounds Southern, doesn’t it? I mean bow tie and seersucker Southern. Truman Capote and Harper Lee Southern. Cortlandt Inge is actually an Alabama native and a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. Now some folks are terribly impressed by the latter. But frankly, I am even more impressed by the former. A massive live oak (seen above) shades the 300 block of George Street in Historic Old Mobile. It’s been there a long, long time. I trust Cortlandt’s will stick around a while too.
Cortlandt’s is actually at the corner of Savannah & George Streets in “The Little Easy.” This is one of Mobile’s most scenic neighborhoods. The stately Oakleigh mansion is just around the corner. Think the Garden District of New Orleans — it has that kind of vibe.
The main entry to Cortlandt’s dining room is pictured above. This is obviously a former home that has been deftly converted into a fine dining establishment. Fine dining, yes. But outrageous pricing and snobby atmosphere, no! I was not serenaded by chamber music as I awaited my server. Nope, it was more like The Clash, Crowded House, and The Beatles. I really liked that.
Elegant white tablecloth dining doesn’t always come with high prices. Cortlandt’s is comfortable and cheery on the inside. The decor is certainly not overdone. Tasteful food and tasteful surroundings … what a concept!
The white paper lunch menu featured several tempting selections including Gulf Coast favorites such as Shrimp and Grits or Grits and Grillades. Both were priced at about $12, which I thought was quite fair. The Mississippi Catfish Tacos (above) are offered for lunch for less than $10. The tacos come with a small house salad (this day topped with a refreshing housemade tomato vinaigrette). My decision had been made.
The sweet pickled red onions are a very nice touch atop the Catfish Tacos. The tang of the onions offered a nice counterpoint to the lightly battered mudcat filets. I normally prefer my fish tacos to be grilled, yet Cortlandt’s impressed me with these not-greasy, perfectly cooked pieces of white, flaky farm-raised fish.
Cream and Sugar (above) is another part of Cortlandt’s growing culinary empire. Located right next door to Cortlandt’s, Cream and Sugar specializes in sweets, fine coffees, teas, etc. I was thinking how lucky residents of this neighborhood truly are. To have both these places within strolling distance (people here in Mobile don’t walk, they stroll; too darn hot to walk!) was a blessing indeed.
I’d suggest you stroll on over to Cortlandt’s at your earliest possible opportunity. It is destined to become one of Old Mobile’s more civilized respites from the fast food world outside.
I have long heard of this magical elixir, but I’ve never tasted it.
Maybe that day is coming soon — I hope!
LOUISE, Miss. — Hoover Lee’s small batch honey-brown Mississippi Delta marinade imparts a flavor that reflects its maker — a dash of the Deep South with nuanced notes of Asia.
“My main thing was trying to get a sauce that tasted like roasted Cantonese duck — that type of taste,” the 73-year-old native of China says in a booming baritone with a distinctively Southern cadence.
And that blending of cultures has proved hugely popular, despite Lee’s unwillingness to market by more than word of mouth.
It’s also putting this fading farm town of about 300 people on the culinary map. Recipes and stories featuring the sauce have appeared in regional newspapers and magazines, and Southern Living magazine recently named it an editors’ pick.
“It’s surprising to me that it’s beginning to move fast,” says Lee, who has been concocting the sauce from a secret recipe and selling it out of his Lee Hong Co. general store since the early 1980s. “In the past I’ve just been dealing with local people.”
Now he even gets recognized on the street 1 1/2 hours away in Jackson.
“‘That’s Mr. Hoover, the Hoover Sauce man,'” Lee says he often overhears people say. “It was just a hobby that turned into a working hobby now. I’ve just been blessed.”
Salty and sweet
Hoover Sauce blends the saltiness of soy sauce with the sweetness of, well … Lee won’t say. Whatever it is, it works magic with chicken and baby back ribs, and he says people drive for miles to get it.
Though he has yet to sell Hoover Sauce online, Lee increasingly finds himself packing up jugs of it to ship to customers around the country and beyond. He’s sent it as far west as Hawaii and as far east as France.
“You know, the guy could make a damn fortune if he’d market it,” says Billy Ray Adams, a Hoover Sauce customer who uses it on steak, ribs, hamburgers, wings, pork, venison sausage and nearly anything else.
Lee seems about as versatile as his sauce. In a region not known for prosperity or for a tolerance for minorities in the past, he not only has run a successful business in a town where few remain, he also served as the community’s mayor and an alderman for many years.
Lee was born in 1933 in the Canton region of China, but less than a year later he and his family moved to Mississippi, where his father had run a store since 1917. Tensions between China and Japan prompted the return to the U.S.
Running the store
After a stint in the Army and graduation with a business degree from Mississippi State University, Lee returned to Louise at his father’s request to take over the family store. He decided to honor his parents after his brothers declined to return to Louise.
“I said, ‘I tell you what, I’ll come back here for five years. I’ll run it for five years,'” Lee says. “And I’ve been here ever since.”
Today, the store is one of the few remaining businesses in Louise. Several Chinese families carved out lives in the area as storeowners, but most have since moved on. The Lees stayed, saying they found a greater acceptance than others in the Delta.
Lee gave the store to his sons in 1997, but the Hoover Sauce hasn’t let him slow down. Not only won’t he say what’s in it, he makes it himself and hesitates to even show outsiders the room where he mixes it.
“Visualize,” he says. “I have a line of mixers, which I use to blend basically soy sauce plus a sweetener and other spices.”
Even his wife must mostly visualize. She’s not allowed to help make it.
“No, I just have to clean the pots and the pans,” the 70-year-old said. “He loves it. He does it all himself. I can’t even fuss about the area. He keeps it a mess, but I clean up behind him.”
Lee became interested in cooking watching his mother and sisters, and the men who cooked stir-fry at parties held by the area’s Chinese families. He began his search for the right sauce after sampling several uneven attempts at Cantonese duck.
“Some would hit the mark and some wouldn’t,” Lee said.
He refined his sauce during the 1970s, when he first got into local politics and often found himself cooking for volunteer firefighters and church gatherings. Only later, after many requests from fans, did he consider selling it.
Today, he sells it in quart-size glass canning jars and large plastic jugs for $6.95 a quart or $21.50 a gallon. He sells enough to keep him busy, but doesn’t track exactly how much he moves in a year.
The sauce draws folks such as Alan Holditch, of Jackson. Holditch mixes the marinade with honey, then spreads it on steaks while grilling. He stocks up every few months, when his job takes him to Louise.
“I’ll stop and get a gallon,” Holditch says. “We’ve got so many friends that use it, it doesn’t take me long to get rid of a gallon. Once every three or four months I’ll have to get another gallon.”
If you can’t get down to Louise, Miss., to get a jar of Hoover Lee’s sweet and salty Hoover Sauce, he suggests making a similar marinade out of bottled hoisin sauce (check the grocer’s Asian section), onion powder, minced fresh garlic and chopped fresh cilantro.
Hoover’s Chicken Drummettes
Start to finish: 40 minutes
3 pounds chicken wings
2 cups Hoover Sauce (or similar sweet-and-salty marinade)
2 cups cold water
1 cup ketchup
1 teaspoon yellow mustard powder (more or less to taste)
Place the chicken wings in a large stockpot. Add the Hoover Sauce or other marinade and cold water. If the liquid doesn’t completely cover the chicken, add more water. Bring the chicken to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 12 minutes. Remove the chicken, drain well and discard the liquid.
While the chicken simmers, make the dipping sauce. In a small bowl, whisk together the ketchup and mustard powder. Set aside.
In a large, deep skillet, heat 1 inch of oil over medium heat until it reaches about 350 degrees. Carefully add the chicken in a single layer (you may need to cook in batches) and fry until just starting to brown, turning for even cooking, about 4 minutes.
Remove the chicken and drain on paper towels. Serve with dipping sauce.
— Recipe from Hoover Lee, maker of Hoover Sauce in Louise, Miss.