Sunday, April 24, 2016

Vegan Eats in Greenwood, Mississippi

Late last week, my colleague and friend Shara Clark asked me to accompany her on a work trip to Greenwood, Mississppi. Shara writes for Memphis Magazine, which is published by the same company that publishes the Memphis Flyer (the alt-weekly I write/edit for in my day job), and she was assigned a travel piece about Greenwood. It's about two hours south of Memphis, and it's best-known for its place on the Mississippi Blues Trail. Blues legend Robert Johnson (the musician who sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads) died in Greenwood, and he's buried there. The small Delta town is also where the movie The Help was filmed a few years back.

I had mixed feelings about promoting Mississippi at first, given that the state just passed a super homophobic law that allow businesses to discriminate against LGBT people. But just before our scheduled trip, the Greenwood City Council passed a resolution condemning the state law.
"... WHEREAS, the City of Greenwood does not sanction or tolerate discrimination against its citizens or visitors and seeks to preserve and protect the rights of all individuals and groups regardless of religion or identity
WHEREAS, the City of Greenwood is open for business and tourism, including commercial and residential development, to all law-abiding individuals and groups regardless of religion or identity ..."
That made me feel better! As a resident of another backward Southern state (Tennessee!), I know that just because a state legislature passes an awful law, it certainly doesn't mean its citizens support that law.

Anyway, there was also the issue of finding vegan food in Greenwood. I've learned that, no matter where I am in the country, I'll always find something to eat. There's always a Subway or a Taco Bell. But I was really hoping to uncover some hidden vegan treasures on Greenwood's restaurant menus. And after a bit of research, I did find some yummy things!

We headed to Greenwood on Thursday morning and arrived just in time for lunch at Delta Bistropub. At first glance, the menu doesn't seem to offer much, but there are veggie skewers and garlic fries. And there's always a Roasted and Fried Vegetable special of the day! I asked our server if the batter for the fried veggies was free of egg or dairy, and he said yes. A short bit later, this awesome plate of fried green tomatoes, fried green beans, roasted carrots, and roasted bell peppers arrived at the table.

The veggies are typically served with ranch for dipping, but they swapped out balsamic vinegar instead. I didn't use much of that though because they really didn't need any dip. I could tell the fried green beans were tempura-battered, which is often egg-free. But I was really surprised by the fried green tomatoes. So often, those are egg-battered, but I'm trusting these weren't since not only did I tell the server I didn't eat eggs or dairy, but also, Shara emailed the restaurant the day before to tell them she was bringing a vegan. And they went to the trouble to leave the ranch off my plate, so that's a good sign.

I considered also ordering the veggie skewers, but that seemed like a lot of veggies. So I went with Garlic Fries instead. I guess fries are technically veggies, but I think of them more as carbs. And carbs are good at keeping you full and satisfied for hours. These usually come with parm and shaved garlic, but I had them leave off the parm. These were pretty yummy!

We spotted a local craft beer on tap — the Mississippi Blues Trail Farmhouse Ale — so we ordered a round of those too. This was a light summery wheat-style beer.

For dinner, we hit up Lusco's, an 80-plus-year-old steakhouse with a legendary reputation. When Shara told me we were going to steakhouse, I figured I'd be eating a salad-and-fries dinner. But I was pleasantly surprised when I spotted this line on the menu: "We offer a vegetarian option for the Penne Rigate Pasta — tossed in our homemade pesto (no cheese added) or our homemade red sauce (no meat)."

Vegan pesto! That almost never happens! When we ordered, our server told me that they don't have the vegan pesto every night but that, if not, the red sauce would be an option. She checked with the kitchen, and I was in luck! They had the vegan pesto that night! If you're vegan and dining at Lusco's, I'd recommend calling ahead a day just to be sure they'll have the pesto. The lighting was very dim inside, so I had to tweak this picture to get it looking halfway decent, and it still isn't the best shot, but trust me when I tell you that this Vegan Pesto Pasta was delicious! It's served with a side salad.

The next day, Shara wanted to hit up Crystal Grill, another iconic Greenwood restaurant that's been around since the days of black-and-white photos and neon signs that advertise "air-conditioning." It's a super casual, retro diner, and as one would expect in such a place, it's seriously lacking in vegan options. They had a spaghetti and meatballs dish on the menu, and I thought maybe I could get that without meatballs. But our server informed me that the marinara also contained meat. So at Crystal Grill, I ended up with the old vegan standby of fries and salad. But at least they had Sweet Potato Fries! And the House Salad was pretty yummy and large with lots of green olives and pickles!

After lunch at Crystal Grill, we headed back to Memphis. Sure, I ate a lot of fries in Greenwood. But the highlight of the weekend was definitely the vegan pesto and fried veggies! One last thing — you simply CANNOT travel through Mississippi without picking up some boiled peanuts from a gas station. If you've never had a boiled peanut, they're a little like slow-cooked beans. Most stations have big crock pots of original and Cajun-spiced peanuts. I always get Cajun!


Susan said...

I remember that I had to go to a conference in Indianapolis right after Indiana passed that awful law last year, and I was not happy about it. But Indianapolis spoke out against it, and actually send an email to be sent to all the vets saying that they didn't support it, and lots of the businesses I saw there had signs up saying they were for equality, so that was good.

Sounds like a fun road trip! I have never seen boiled peanuts anywhere before.

Unknown said...

Thank you for coming to Greenwood and posting such a nice article about us on your blog! I hope you have a chance to come back and visit us again.

charlot said...

Glad you came down here! I am a Gluten-Free person and live in Greenwood. The restaurants are very understanding and I have had some incredible GF meals here. I'm delighted you found some vegan jewels --Please come back and join us for one of our celebrations.