423 Carrollton Ave.
“The Mississippi Delta is the most Southern place on earth.”
-- James C. Cobb
I have lots of reasons I love the South.
Warm weather. NASCAR. College football. Great music. Ole Miss sorority girls.
But as great as all those things are, it’s Southern cooking that gets me most excited.
The Crystal Grill here in Greenwood on the outskirts of that “most Southern place on earth”, is one of the best places to discover the delicacies of the old Confederacy such as catfish, tamales, turnip greens, gumbo and -- most important of all -- pie.
Southerners have been coming to the corner of Lamar St. and Carrollton Ave. to eat for nearly a century.
At one point during the heyday of the locomotive, railroad workers and tourists alike would come over to the Crystal Grill from Greenwood’s railroad depot across the street at all hours of the night.
“Never sleep.” That was the mantra of the old Crystal Grill when it stayed open until 4am.
Here in the 21st Century, Amtrak’s “City of New Orleans” (immortalized by Steve Goodman, Arlo Guthrie, Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash) only makes one stop per day, so the hours at Crystal Grill have reverted to conform to the more normal schedule of Southern diners.
While the hours may have shrunk over the years, the restaurant has expanded, taking up a whole city block of connected rooms filled with locals chatting about Greenwood gossip.
As an out-of-towner, you get the feeling that every last resident of this city knows the Crystal Grill is a world class dining destination -- and they all take full advantage of their good fortune.
The food options here are vast and a bit overwhelming.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the beer selection.
Coors Light. Bud Light. Miller Lite.
I opted for the Coors version of watered-down, tasteless, mass produced yellow fizz.
Unfortunately for me, Mississippi is one of the last holdouts in the craft beer revolution.
But nobody comes to the Crystal Grill to drink beer. Folks come here to eat!
I began my feeding frenzy with that quintessential Delta snack, the hot tamale.
Nobody knows exactly how a Mexican food originated as a staple here in the Delta. Most folks here are black or white.
Mexican? Not so much.
But it is safe to assume that some Mexican migrants may have found their way into the Delta to help with the cotton crop over a century ago -- and brought a recipe along that black and white Southerners have perfected into their very own Southern specialty.
You’ll find little roadside shacks selling tamales all over the Delta.
But the tamales here at the Crystal Grill are the best I’ve ever tried.
Wrapped snuggly in their corn husks, unrolling a steaming tamale is more exciting than Christmas morning.
Soft sweet corn meal gives way to a piping hot center of tender shredded beef. The entire concoction is marinated in a peppery broth, lending these tamales a subtle spicy bite that made my Coors Light taste better than it deserved.
Next came a cup of gumbo loaded with shrimp, crab meat and even a few Mississippi Gulf Coast oysters. Chock full of okra, spice and goodness, this is one of the best cups of gumbo I’ve tried in the Magnolia State.
Of course you can’t have gumbo without bread. The Crystal Grill brings out two varieties -- both equally fresh and warm from the oven -- and addictive.
The soft yeast rolls come from a decades old Greenwood recipe.
The firm but sweet corn muffins melted my pat of butter on contact.
By this point, my hunger was long gone. But my Chrystal Grill lunch was just getting started.
Classic Southern lunchroom style, the menu lets you choose a meat and two vegetables.
I opted for fried catfish, crisp and seasoned to perfection.
My dining companion scored some of the best fried chicken either of us had ever tried.
But the vegetables were the stars of the show.
Turnip greens, earthy and bitter yet sweetened with Southern love and pig fat.
As a devout follower of that school of vegetable thought, I had to try something called “fried broccoli”.
Even world renowned broccoli frowner President George H. W. Bush could eat this stuff.
It turns out that fried broccoli doesn’t involve much broccoli after all. More like a breaded and fried cheese stick with a few bits of green vegetable matter stuffed inside.
In other words, fried broccoli is delicious!
Under any other circumstance, after consuming this much food, I’d ask for the check and be on my way.
Not at the Crystal Grill. Because when you dine here, you get pie.
I’m not saying they’ll lock you up in the Leflore County Jail if you refuse to indulge, but it is included in the price of your meal.
And it indeed would be a crime against man and nature to skip out on dessert at the Crystal Grill. This place has earned a well-deserved decade’s old reputation for the best pie in the great state of Mississippi.
You get three choices: chocolate meringue, coconut meringue or lemon ice box.
You really can’t go wrong.
The lemon ice box pie was cool, sweet and tart with a refreshing lemon zest.
The chocolate meringue was a mile high tower of goodness. The meringue was delicate and sweet and elegantly yielded to my folk as it slid down toward the cool chocolate below.
If you are a chocoholic like me, you will not be disappointed. Trust me.
If ever there were a dining destination that needed to be immortalized in my vast t-shirt collection, the Crystal Grill was it.
This place represents everything I love about the South. Great food. Downhome charm. Friendly hospitality. And a patient deliberateness to appreciate the finest life has to offer.
I couldn’t help but notice the irony that as I was appreciating all that is wonderful about the old Confederacy in the form of a single meal, a controversy was raging on the news about that ultimate symbol of the South, the Confederate Flag.
Southerners everywhere are being forced by a mob of Leftists and uppity Yankees to make a choice -- abandon the symbol that has represented their homeland in some sort of futile peace offering -- or stand to defend its honor in the face of unprecedented hatred and bullying.
While it seems like most of the politicians across the South have chosen to reenact the surrender at Appomattox, it is left to the silent majority of Southerners to articulate the value of their heritage.
For many Southerners, the flag is simply an iconic symbol of home -- and everything it stands for. From sweet tea to SEC tailgate parties.
For others, there is a deeper meaning.
The flag represents resistance to an overbearing federal government that now injects itself into every nook and cranny of our lives.
Am I the only one who noticed the irony that during this same week five unelected, unaccountable robed jackasses in Washington DC just changed the 10,000 year old definition of marriage by federal fiat?
If Sherman and Grant could see what the Federal Government they fought for has become, I’d like to imagine they’d be so ashamed they’d strip off their blue uniforms on the spot and joint the “Lost Cause”.
But why is the burden of proof on Southerners to defend their flag?
Shouldn’t the debate be centered on why Leftists and uppity Yankees hate the South -- and want to stamp out everything it stands for?
To them it represents a reprehensible ideology and way of life -- one where folks get along with each other just fine over a plate of tamales and fried chicken.
Where people don’t see the need to depend upon the kindness of politicians.
Independence. Traditional values. Faith. Confident appreciation of what works.
That’s what they hate.
They hate that the South is superior to the North in every way that matters. From politics to economics to weather to football to fried chicken.
They are envious of a people that can get along fine without them.
And if you think throwing the Confederate flag into a modern day auto-da-fé in a sacrificial offering will appease them, you are wrong.
This is just the warning shot on a second Yankee invasion.
The Leftists and uppity Yankees won’t stop until everyone lives and thinks like they do.
Give up the guns and religion you cling to. Your future is food stamps, Obamacare, gay weddings and Dunkin Donuts.
That’s why places like the Crystal Grill are an endangered yet cherished reminder of what makes the South great.
And that’s why my flag is still hanging. And why I bought the shirt.
Rating: Bought the Shirt!