Delta Easter and Dinner at the Blue Biscuit in Indianola @BlueBiscuit1

Photography, Restaurant Reviews, Restaurants


Easter Sunday afternoon after church proved to be an absolutely beautiful day, so I headed first down to the Blue Note on Beale Street in Memphis where my homeboy Tune had started working to try the food there, and had a bacon cheeseburger, which I can truly say is the best burger on Beale Street. Then, with nothing else to do for the day, I decided to head down into the Mississippi Delta with my camera, taking pictures and finally ending up at The Blue Biscuit, Trish Berry’s excellent restaurant in Indianola. Two things stood out about my trip overall that afternoon, one of them the extent to which many of the Delta towns’ business district are basically ghost towns, all too many of them collapsed into absolute ruins, even though the towns themselves are still inhabited. The other thing that I noticed was the groups of young people walking in many of these places, still dressed in their finest clothes. In a few of the towns, family reunions and gatherings were going on either in private yards or parks. At Drew, for the first time, I saw walls and makeshift shrines commemorating young people who had been murdered, yet Ruleville looked cleaner and more prosperous, and families had gathered in its park to enjoy the afternoon. Nearby, on the stretch of Front Street traditionally nicknamed “Greasy Street”, two clubs were jumping, the venerable Club Black Castle which I remember from WCLE radio broadcasts back in the day, and the more grown folks-oriented Main Event next door. But at the next town of Sunflower, something else was going on altogether. The town seemed abuzz with young people the moment I entered it. They seemed to be in yards, in parks and on every corner, in what seemed to be a festive mood, so I gave little thought to them as I headed downtown to start photographing old and historic buildings. Sunflower, which was an historic battleground in the Civil Rights Movement (the legendary Fannie Lou Hamer was from nearby Ruleville), is home to a Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee offshoot called the Sunflower County Freedom Project, which has taken over the row of historic buildings along the railroad downtown. However, I noticed almost immediately that Gangster Disciples graffiti had been spray-painted on the back of a stop sign, and not long thereafter, I heard police sirens heading into the downtown area. Apparently a brawl had broken out between two young women, in which bystanders had soon joined in. I parked my car outside a juke joint called Club Wide Open, as people gathered on the corner to see what was going on. “Oh, boy! Look at them run”, said a man from the club as a group of young men came running from the neighborhoods to the north toward the corner of Quiver and Martin Luther King where the fight had broken out. As I walked in that direction, I noticed pieces of hair weave strewn along the street, presumably from the fight, but as I got to the corner, I realized that the town police had sprayed pepper spray, and I caught some of it, so I prudently made my way back to my car. The remaining crowd seemed reluctant to disperse. “I want to know who jumped my muthafuckin cousin!” one young man kept yelling repeatedly, and I realized that the problems stirred up by the fight were likely to persist all night, so I got back to my car and headed on to Indianola.
It was nearly sundown when I reach Indianola, but there was just time for me to get some beautiful shots of the sun going down over Indian Bayou. The B. B. King Museum was closed, as was Club Ebony and 308 Blues Club (whose owner had been found dead earlier in the month), but the Blue Biscuit was open, and there was a decent crowd inside although there was no live music on Easter Sunday. I ordered my favorite meal there, biscuits and barbecue, which is exactly what it says it is, pulled pork placed between the halves of four buttermilk biscuits. It is truly incredible, and something that has to be tried to be believed. Afterwards, I made a drive around Indianola, but found very little going on, and called my DJ partner Bigg V to see if he knew where things were jumping off, but I couldn’t reach him either, so I started the drive back to Memphis. I considered stopping off at the Black Castle in Ruleville, but having to work in the morning, I thought better of it, and drove on into Memphis.

Bringing The Curtain Down On Beale Street Once And For All

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     The recent revival of a proposal to charge a fee to enter Beale Street is no better an idea now than it was a year or two ago when first proposed. We do not need to guess how such a fee would impact Beale Street, since Shreveport enacted a $5 fee on their John Elkington-designed Texas Street entertainment district some years ago. The impact of the fee along with weapons and ID checks led to Texas Street being a completely abandoned district. By contrast, Bossier City’s Louisiana Boardwalk across the Red River is booming, and although there is security and a dress code, there are neither cover charges nor ID and weapons checks.

     The fee proposal will offer little in the way of improvement for Beale Street, since the facts are that those fighting have largely been adults, not youths. They generally have been fighting after being kicked out of a Beale Street venue (which means they had the money to pay and were willing to pay the cover charge). Assuming that they were drunk (a likely assumption given their behavior) they also had plenty of money to purchase alcoholic beverages. Also, none of this keeps in mind the minor nature of the incidents involved. Out of thousands of visitors, four or five get to fighting.

     Kevin Kane clearly misunderstands the precarious nature of Beale. The fact is, no establishments of any kind have worked on the end of Beale nearest Fourth Street. The area has been vacant for many years now, and if business is so great that we can afford to discourage patrons from coming onto the street, why are no businesses waiting in line to occupy the extensive amount of vacant space at the east end of Beale? The former Pat O’Brien’s/Ground Zero remained vacant for well over a year before finally reopening as Dancing Jimmy’s.

     Furthermore, visitors to Beale Street are already discouraged from coming onto the street by barricades, checks for weapons, ID requirements, waiting lines and a heavy uniformed police presence, including police on horseback. Tourists undoubtedly fear for their safety when they see the police overkill, and wonder if they are entering a prison camp rather than an entertainment district. Do Beale Street merchants do such a great amount of business that they can afford to run business away?

     There are answers to the difficulties on Beale Street, but they require a direction for the street that neither the business owners nor the elected officials of Memphis seem to want to take. Here is what could be done to get Beale Street back to where it should be as a world-class destination for locals and tourists alike.

#1. Return Beale Street to a street. Barricade it on weekend nights of course, or during special events, but let it be a street. 

#2. Abolish the weapons bans (remember, it’s a street), and ID checks, and let people walk onto the street freely. If this seems insane, realize that this is how most cities run their entertainment districts. It’s the usual state of affairs on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, Delmar Boulevard in St. Louis, President Clinton Avenue in Little Rock or Lower Broadway in Nashville.

#3. Restrict liquor to the patios and decks of each establishment or within Handy Park. Remind establishments that selling alcoholic beverages to already-intoxicated patrons is a crime.

#4. Allow street performers to set up and play freely along Beale, as they used to be able to do when the street first opened in the 1980’s.

#5. Have more special events on the street, including parading bands on weekend evenings.

#6. Diversify the kinds of businesses on Beale. The persistent vacancies of the east end buildings suggest that there is a limit to how many night clubs and bars the district can support. These spaces could become more family-oriented restaurants, museums or retail stores. When the only purpose of Beale Street is perceived as alcohol, it’s no wonder that there is disorderly behavior and fighting.

#7. Put the focus of Beale Street on music, not liquor. This is not to say that establishments shouldn’t sell liquor, but surely an effort can be made to change the street’s culture, so that people say “Let’s go to Beale Street to hear some music”, not “Let’s go to Beale Street to get wasted.”

#8. Consider extending the district eastward to Danny Thomas Boulevard, and perhaps south along Hernando as well.

#9. Anchor the area with appropriate rehabilitation and reuse of the Universal Life Insurance Building on Danny Thomas and the Claiborne Temple Church on Hernando. These historic African-American sites could perhaps be museums.

    The emphasis on alcohol and the militaristic police-state atmosphere are primarily what has caused the problems on Beale Street. As strange as it may seem, the solution will not come from more restrictions, or cover charges, which would only serve to empty out the street once and for all. The answer will come from greater freedom, and a reconceiving of the street’s purpose. Let’s hope our leaders realize it before it’s too late. 

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The 4th Annual Orange Mound Block Party was held Saturday July 30 at Lewis-Davis Park at Pendleton and Deadrick, right next to Melrose High School in the heart of Memphis’ Orange Mound neighborhood. It was a beautiful day, but hot, and ultimately a day that should have been fun for everybody turned tragic because of a string of fights and a shooting. It’s really sad, and all the more since the city will undoubtedly use what happened today as an excuse to not allow the event next year.