First official stop of our ZINK Year: Patten’s home state. We did a fair amount of resting around the house, but we did fit in lots of stops: A drive north to the Delta (Home of the Blues), then east to Oxford (Hotty Toddy, Gosh almighty), then south to Hattiesburg and Columbia. We spent our last day at the Mississippi state fair, but arrived too early for the famous biscuits. Here are a few of our highlights:
1. Donuts at Monroe’s Donuts & Bakery
We’d just eaten a big breakfast, but when we passed the sign for Monroe’s, we made a u-turn. As many of you know, I have a refined palette for donuts. After one quick bite into Monroe’s cinnamon twirl donut (pictured below, second tray from the bottom), Doughnut Plant lost its top spot in “Emily’s List of the World’s Best Donuts.” Monroe’s superiority was confirmed after devouring the moist, yet crispy (likely quadruple-fried) apple fritter. The cake donut was disappointing, but who cares about cake??? Yeast is the king and these are the best I’ve ever tasted.
2. Sleeping in a shack
With our new zero-income status, what better way to test out the hardships of budget travel than to stay in a tried-and-true shack? The Shack Up Inn is the highest rated hotel in Clarksdale, MS, despite its crooked flooring, yellowed window coverings, and decrepit porch furnishings. (See recliner below). I wouldn’t say we got the best night of sleep, but for $80 for a two bedroom shack (and the experience of living like Mississippi Delta blues musicians), I suppose it was worth it. There’s no denying it was memorable.
Partially housed in the actual cotton gin building where Riley B. King worked as a kid, this 5-year-old, $14 million museum dedicated to the king of blues is a total must-see. With artifacts and great videos, you follow through his life and music, while simultaneously getting a history lesson in sharecropping, the development of the blues, and the civil rights movement in Mississippi. The museum is in downtown Indianola, about 100 miles northwest of Jackson.
4. Touring McCarty Pottery
We took a few wrong turns in downtown Merigold, MS, until we finally found McCarty Pottery. I’d seen their pottery everywhere in Mississippi: It’s almost a requisite for locals to display one of their platters or vases, ideally in “nutmeg brown” with the signature wavy black line on the rim (a symbol of the Mississippi River). Founded by an artsy, childless couple in the fifties — Pup and Lee McCarty — this place is now run by their god son, who encouraged us to take a tour through the gardens. Here’s where things get weird and very special: On uneven patio bricks, you walk from outdoor terrace to terrace, past overgrown greenery, through work sheds and creaky, splintery gates, past driftwood sculptures and stone fountains and artist studios, until you’ve somehow made a loop back to the original barn, where Lee and Pup made their first creations with clay from William Faulkner’s property, of which he gave them personal permission to use.
5. Eating my first Chicken On a Stick
I’m not sure how I’d missed this delicacy on my previous ten trips to MS, but I was lucky enough to experience a Chicken on the Stick this go round. You’ll find these all over, but “the best are at Penn’s,” according to P’s mom. Penn’s is a local chain — we supported the one in Patten’s home town, Brandon. And while the sides weren’t all that great, the stick itself really was. Chunks of chicken are interspersed with pickle and onion on a skewer, then dipped in peppery batter and deep fried.
6. Hanging out with P’s family and friends
We drove down to Hattiesburg (90 miles south of Jackson) to visit Patten’s grandma and extended family on the Wood side. It’s always great to see them (especially the adorable, giggling children), and pig out on the Southern specialties. This time, we gorged ourselves at Mack’s West buffet. Think an overflowing plate of hushpuppies, catfish, collared greens, creamed corn, fried chicken lives (my fave!), fried green tomatoes, and chicken-n-dumplings. So good. (Thank you, Aunt Janet!)
On the last day of our trip, we ventured over to the Mississippi State Fair with Patten’s good friend Mollie and her son, Aiden, who clearly adores Patten and cotton candy.
We did and saw (and ate!) a whole lot more during our 9-day visit. Here’s the Flickr set with more pics.