Tasting my way through southern culture - a most delicious journey of food and craft cocktails.



Sunday, February 3, 2013

Oxbow: Clarksdale, Mississippi




Back in 2005, while living an hour north of Boston, Mark saw an ad in a National Geographic Travel Magazine featuring Clarksdale, Mississippi.  As a blues pianist, Mark was intrigued with the idea of visiting the home of the blues.  Legend has it that Robert Johnson, iconic father of the blues guitar, sold his soul to the devil for mastery of the instrument, on a dark night, at the crossroads of highway 61 and 49 in Clarksdale, Missisippi.  The mystique sounded more exciting than a Carribean beach, and so it was that we found ourselves, joined by another couple, spending five days at the Shack-up Inn, a beer and breakfast "resort", composed of eclectically decorated, rustic, share-cropper shacks.  Note to those of you planning to visit, it will likely be the most soulful, story laden vacation you ever take, however if you are the type inclined towards manicures and blow-outs, this may not be for you. 

After an initial discussion that sounded something like "What have we done?", as this was not your typical tourist mecca, Clarksdale began to grow on us.  We found Cathead, a local folk art gallery owned by Roger Stolle, a transplant who was passionate about local art, and who booked much of the town's music.  By night, we partied at Ground Zero, co-owned by Morgan Freeman and Bill Luckett, featuring a lively blues music scene.  Delta Amusement, charmed us in the way that only an Italian dive in Misissippi, serving the best crawfish I have ever tasted, could.  One night, we even ended up at a juke joint on the outskirts of town, surrounded by nothing but cotton fields for ten miles in any direction.  The club was run by women, who despite not serving a regular menu, insisted on frying up late-night chicken, while the band ran home for more instruments so that Mark and our friends could join the jam onstage. 

Fast-forward eight years and we are now living in Mississippi, thanks to the love affair that began with that synchronistic trip back in 2005. Clarksdale has evolved in the years since.  It still features a downtown, deteriorating around the edges, stuck in the 50s, plenty of vacant storefronts, yet nostalgically beautiful in the most raw of ways.  Tucked in amongst the crumbling facades of empty department stores and old banks, you will find a beating heart.  Bubba O'Keefe converted an old Woolworths department store into The Lofts at the Five and Dime, beneath which resides a modern coffee shop cafe, called the Yazoo Pass.  There are art galleries in town, such as the Hambone Gallery, owned by Stan and Dixie Street.  The Stone Pony Pizza joint and Rust Restaurant are recent modern additions to the culinary milieu.  Despite its struggles, we have come to expect every visit to Clarksdale to reveal something new - a new restaurant, a gallery, a new festival, a new inn or B&B, or a local entrepreneur trying something innovative.

Oxbow is the latest addition to the changing landscape in Clarksdale.  On a recent trip to the town, for the Clarksdale Film Festival, Mark stopped in to meet Oxbow owners, Erica and Hayden Hall.  Oxbow started as a funky little cafe and bistro and quickly received high praise for their signature fish tacos.  Glance at their walls and you'll find articles and references of folks singing their praises.  These include Andrew Zimmern, Travel & Leisure magazine, Delta magazine and many more -- perhaps lending credence to the adage "if you build it, they will come".  The owners have an inspired food vision of what Clarksdale needs, a town traditionally known more for fantastic BBQ at Abe's and addictive tamales at Hick's than for healthy food options.

Most recently, Oxbow has taken a market-driven transformation from their initial idea and has evolved into a gourmet, specialty food purveyor featuring local meats from Stan's Meat Market, Stone Mill artisan breads, Brown Family Dairy products and an extensive beer and prepared food selection.  The atmosphere is hip meets Delta rustic and throughout the store you will find Hayden's eclectic junk-adapted artwork.  The Hall's vision also includes a food truck and soon-to-be-scheduled in-house special events which are certain to spread the word.

If you find yourself in Clarksdale searching for the mythical crossroads, start at the crossroads of 3rd street and Delta avenue, pack a lunch from Oxbow, ask 10 people where the exact spot is, and see how many answers you get.  Probably as many as if you asked where Robert Johnson is buried.


Hayden & Erica Hall

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