Wing City: Hammond, Louisiana’s Top 10 Best Wings

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By Jesse Brooks

While the world was sleeping, the city of Hammond, Louisiana quietly has become a kingdom for wings. No meetings were held, and a formal declaration may not have even been made, but Hammond has become a center for the best locally made wings in the last 15 or so years.

So let’s take a look at the trailblazers putting this college town on the map with America’s favorite bar food. There are the top 10 best wings in Hammond.

10. China Wok – 1320 N Morrison Blvd, Hammond, LA 70401

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For years now, China Wok has been serving up some of the best value meals to Southeastern students living on a budget. For about $7-8 you can get a fried wings and pork fried rice box. The wings are plain but they’re lightly fried and crispy, and the friend rice makes the perfect compliment. Mix it up with any combination of soy, duck or sriracha sauce and you’ll eat like a king.

9. Big Al’s Burgers – 14605 W University Ave, Hammond, LA 70401

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Big Al’s has been a recent welcomed addition to the Hammond food scene. It features a simple menu of burgers, po boys and wings. The wings here about medium sized and not over fried. They offer familiar flavors like BBQ, lemon pepper and buffalo.

8. Salty Joe’s BBQ – 43344 South Range Rd. Hammond, Louisiana

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Hammond doesn’t have a long tradition of barbeque, but Salty Joe’s is giving it a go, and doing a pretty good job at it. The wings here are smoked, making them the only ones on our list that aren’t fried. They come in original and spicy, and their smoked method makes the wings tender with meat falling off the bone.

7. Bone-A-Fide Wings & Things – 46289 N Morrison Blvd, Hammond, LA 70401

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In recent years, Bone-A-Fide has made their presence known. They have continued to add to the menu and have many favorites that leave customers coming back for more. The recommended flavor here is lemon pepper, and be sure to grab a side of mac-and-cheese with every meal.

6. Super King Seafood – 411 West Thomas St. Hammond, Louisiana 70401

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Super King is super dope when it comes to big order boiled seafood like crawfish and crabs, but did you know they have some of the best wings in town? Super King’s hot wings are not to be confused with buffalo wings. They’re fried in an Asian style batter full of spice. Make sure grab a cold beverage with a wing and fried rice box.

5. Mariner’s Inn – 117 W Thomas St Hammond, Louisiana 70401

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Mariner’s is a Hammond staple and classic in everything they do. They are one of the city few late night spots, closing at midnight, making them a favorite with college students, service industry workers and the bar crowd. So naturally wings are a fit. Mariner’s offers one of the purest traditional buffalo wings found in Hammond.

4. Coop DeVille – 1750 W Thomas St, Ste I Hammond, Louisiana 70401

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Coop DeVille is ground zero for Hammond’s wing wave. Before them, there were not any wing specific restaurants and they set the standard with a vast menu of different flavors. Bacon and Cheddar wings are probably the most unique ones here.

3. City Empire – 1304 W. Thomas Street Hammond, Louisiana 70401

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City Empire is the newest establishments on the scene and they’ve already shown great promise. The price is great as they offer a four piece wings and friends deal for $5.00. They also close at midnight, and 3 a.m. on the weekends, making them one of the most reliable late night spots in the city. Their wings are plump, flavorful and made to order.

2. Tommy’s on Thomas – 216 W Thomas St, Hammond, LA 70401
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Known for pizza, Tommy’s has the absolute best buffalo wings in the city hands down. They’re breaded, one of the few on our list, but the batter isn’t thick. Tommy’s wings are jumbo in size and pair well with the house made ranch dressing and a cold brew. They also have a Voodoo BBQ flavor that is pretty good as well.

1. Chef’s Wings – 408 SW Railroad Ave, Hammond, LA 70403

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We are crowning Chef’s Wings as the best of Hammond because they score points across the board in wing criteria. Their wings are medium in size, never over fried and there’s a decent variety of flavors. The two best flavors here are lemon pepper and sweet red chili. Those looking for heat in their buffalo will find it here so choose your temperature carefully.

 

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REVIEW: Punjabi Dhana serves Hammond, Louisiana its first taste of Indian Cuisine

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HOT LIKE CURRY- Punjabi Dhaba Indian Cuisine is the first culinary venture of its kind in Hammond, Louisiana. Photo by Jeremy Rhodes.

By Jeremy Rhodes

Scientists say that our sense of smell holds the strongest potential of memory. I claim this to be self evident being that I wish to relive the memory of walking into Punjabi Dhaba Indian Cuisine for the first time. Hearing the appeasing songs of Indian pop music and smelling the aroma of some of the finest Indian food I have ever had brought me to a scerine place in my mind. In my ignorance I could never imagine such a culinary blessing to grace Hammond America, but fear not readers, Indian Food is closer to home than you could imagine. At first glance, Punjabi Dhaba Indian Cuisine only looks like a gas station because it is, the Best Stop 34 to be exact. Look beyond the humble interior because behind the doors lies a treat for the senses.

I was in a jovial state of mind by all the options that were presented before me. Not only was the menu concise and informative, it also gave the option of mild, medium or spicy for all the dishes. For the sake of retelling my experience to others, I decided to order the scipy version of the Butter Chicken. I chose this dish because I feel that the Butter Chicken is a good starting point for any newcomers who may never have had Indian cuisine before and I wanted to face the trust behind the infamous overbearing spiciness that is notorious with Indian Cuisine.

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Photo by Jeremy Rhodes.

In response, I say with all honesty that the Butter Chicken was an absolute delight. This dish alone could convert anyone sits on the fence of suspicion. There was a euphoric wave of joy in every spoonful I had. The cream in the dish cut the spiciness without leaving any flavor out. The dish is served with traditional brass bowls and Indian rice. With the Indian music playing behind me and the dishes steaming before me I could close my eyes and be at complete peace in the world.

I was joined by friends on this culinary conquest, to which they ordered the Chicken Vindaloo and the Palak Kofta. The Chicken Vindaloo had a savory spice found in the garlic tomato sauce. The hidden gem about this dish are the potatoes that compliment the sauce by absorbing vast amounts of flavor. Though this dish had quite a spicy kick, it is the flavor that brings out the love and tradition that cooked with it. The Palak Kofta is a vegetarian dish with a thick, hearty spinach sauce. I truly love this dish for the mixed vegetable balls that come with it shows the powerful taste possibilities vegetables can have.

I will be frank when I say that the location of this restaurant is not the best place to hold such majestic food but I sit back and think how perfectly quaint it is for Punjabi Dhaba Indian Cuisine to be found in a gas station. It is as if this restaurant challenges the adventurous eater to find them and in result find culinary bliss.

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Photo by Jeremy Rhodes.

While talking with customers around me I found that many of them were returning customers. It is as if these partitions discovered a goldmine and have fallen madly in love with what is offered. One customer, Wade Bridges, was eating here to celebrate his birthday. Bridges was very passionate about his love of Punjabi Dhaba Indian Cuisine and recalls his first time trying their food by saying, “I was super trebadacious about Indian food and I didn’t know anything about it going in. I found that it is absolutely an experience. We are from the South we know spice we can handle that, this is a completely different kind. This is flavor this is not just straight heat.” When asked about how he would sell the idea of Indian food to a person who has never had it he said, “Honestly, I am just going to continue to rave about it. How good it is and how filling it is.”

My overall thoughts on this restaurant is that this is an eatery I want to see flourish. The herbs and spices experienced here awakened tastebuds I did not know I even had. I think the consensus from fans of Punjabi Dhaba Indian Cuisine is that this place has great food. I agree with this, however, not only is this a great restaurant I also believe this is an important restaurant. Punjabi Dhaba Indian Cuisine brings a hidden gem of culture to Hammond. The south’s comfort food is about bringing three things to the table; food, smiles and community. I saw with my own eyes complete strangers talking to each other while enjoying this food. It is as if the flavors melted our guard we tend to build around ourselves. Punjabi Dhaba Indian Cuisine is a place to be adventurous, satisfied and happy.

Hwy. 51 Revisited: Granada, Mississippi

By Jesse Brooks

As Highway 51 approaches Highway 8, the route faces a crossroads again. Grenada, Mississippi. There’s a town square with local businesses sitting all in a neatly kept row. The further down the highway we go, the scene begins to look familiar. So, why come to Grenada? The answer may be the water.

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VIEWS- The edge of Granada Lake. Photo by Jesse Brooks

Grenada was formed in 1836 after the rival towns of Pittsburg and Tullahoma were joined together in a “marriage ceremony” to combine the population. Prior to the arrival of the railroad in the 1860s, Grenada’s trade operated through transportation on the Yalobusha River.

East of the river sits the present day site of Grenada Lake, a reservoir constructed to help regulate flooding along the Yazoo River Basin. The dam was built in 1954 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a $32 million price tag.
On the south end of the massive lake, Hugh White State Park, named for a Mississippi state governor, is located. The park is home to one of the best campgrounds Mississippi has to offer. This biggest attraction of the state park is fishing in Grenada Lake. Mostly popular among crappie fishermen, the lake is also plentiful with bass, bream, and catfish. Hugh White State Park is a popular destination for overnight campers. Aside from locations for RVs and tents, there are numerous sites that feature cabins with plenty of scenic views of the lake.
Families ready for a nice dinner after experiencing some outdoor life may feel called to visit the 333 Restaurant. With a $11-30 price range, the best “bang-for-your-buck” can be found at this seafood-and-steak restaurant where portions often leave out in “to-go” boxes. Mississippi Delta favorites like bacon-wrapped shrimp can be found here, either as a main course, an appetizer, or side to go with a top-rated steak. With fried catfish, fried chicken, crawfish, ribs, and much more, there are plenty selections in which to choose what your heart may desire.

As travelers get back on the highway leaving Grenada, it’s important to note the landscape is beginning to change a lot since coming up further south. Grenada is right on the edge of the delta, and the lush hill country reflects that. As the water flows, so does the migration of people for generations. As for travelers on this highway, prepare to be further soaked in the weight of the Mississippi Delta.

Hwy. 51 Revisited: Jackson, Mississippi (pt. 2)

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Pig & Pint, a bbq resturant in Jackson’s Fondren district. Photo By Jesse Brooks.

By Jesse Brooks

To experience the full range of Jackson, Mississippi’s food & drink culture, the best plan of action is to stay overnight so there’s amble time for the full experience. The Old Capitol Inn is a full service boutique hotel in the heart of downtown. The rooms are especially elegant and come at pretty affordable rates. Standard accommodation rooms cost about $99 per night, where suites and jacuzzi suites fall in the range of $145-175. The hotel also offers specials that include discounts for multiple nights or gift certificates for local restaurants. Wednesday through Saturday, the Rooftop Bar features local music and drinks. The restaurant also features a diverse menu for daily lunches.

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THEY’RE RED HOT- Hot tamales from Big Apple Inn on Farish Street. Photo by Jesse Brooks

For something authentically Jackson, there’s Big Apple Inn on Farish Street, owned and operated by Geno Lee, the great-grandson of a Mexican immigrant and son of an African-American freedom rider. The exchange of Mexican and African-American cultures around the Depression-era has resulted in tamales being as Mississippi as they are Mexican today. Since 1939, the restaurant has served tamales and the unique pig-ear sandwich. Pig-ear sandwiches are pig-ears boiled for hours dressed in slaw, spicy mustard, and served mini-burger style.

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IRISH PUB- Bangers and mash from Fenian’s Pub. Photo by Jesse Brooks.

With more than three major sites for higher education, Jackson is a college town. For some reason, Irish pubs spring out of college towns. In Jackson, one particular establishment, Fenian’s Pub, stands out. Yes, there are burgers and fries here, but also delicious, traditional pub fare such as fish-and-chips and bangers-and-mash are found here. Pub fare must be paired with good beer and Fenian’s serves the local stuff like Lazy Magnolia and Yalobusha Brewing Company’s Larry Brown Ale.

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PASSWORD- A rum old fashioned from The Apothecary at Brent’s Drugs, a speakeasy. Photo by Jesse Brooks.  

For breakfast, there’s Brent’s Drugs in the hip Fondren District. The restaurant is a renovated 1950s drug store that features traditional diner breakfast with a new twist. The old milkshake bar is fully functional. At night, a secret speakeasy bar called The Apothecary operates in the back behind a curtain where the evening’s bartenders serve up original craft cocktails.
Also found in Fondren is the Pig & Pint, a barbecue restaurant featuring all of the great tastes in pork and the best craft beers from Mississippi to Memphis. The BBQ here is smoked and slow cooked to perfection and their award-winning Pepsi-cola glazed ribs are the centerpiece of their menu. The restaurant even flashes a little of a Southwest flare with their assortment of BBQ nachos and tacos. You can dine in or dine outside on the patio with a scenic view of the Fondren district.

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GLAZED PERFECTION- You don’t want to miss the best in Jackson BBQ from Pig & Pint. Photo by Jesse Brooks.

 

Most of Jackson’s food taverns double over as fantastic bars with excellent live music that is mostly based in blues or rock-&-roll. When hopping from one place to the next, it’s best to make sure that Martin’s Restaurant & Bar, Hal & Mal’s, and the Ole Tavern on George Street are on your list. These places serve as great burger-and-beer type restaurants in the earlier hours before they prepare for late night entertainment. Most nightly shows are rarely over $5 on average.

For late night blues, visit Frank Jones’ Corner, the last club of Farish Street. Shows have been known to last until 4 a.m.!

The best that Jackson has to offer can never be accomplished in a day. Highly underrated, the city is on its way to being a culinary and nightlife destination.

Independence hoops star Melvin Baker receives first offer

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GETTING LOOKS- Melvin Baker, who recently graduated from Independence High Magnet School, has received his first offer from Coastal Alabama Community College. Photo by Matthew Roy.

By Jesse Brooks

Recent graduate of Independence High Magnet School Melvin Baker is looking to further his career in basketball, and has announced that his first is offer from Coastal Alabama Community College in Bay Minnette, just northeast of Mobile.

Last season, Coastal Alabama CC turned in a 20-9 overall record while competing in the Alabama Community College Conference. The were eliminated in the first round of the postseason by Marion Military Institute.

Baker was a standout for the Tigers at forward. He scored over 1,200 points in his varsity career and was awarded District 9-2A MVP after the season ended.

Last season, the Tigers, under Coach Ace Misita, compiled a total record of 19-6 and the squad finished as District 9-2A Runner Up. Their regular season finish qualified them for a selection in the LHSAA 2A playoffs where they were defeated in the second round by No. 3 Many 52-46.

Standing at 6-foot-6, Baker mostly saw time in the front court for Independence as he was the Tigers’ most physical player. Now that he’s eying moving on to the college level, he wants to transition into becoming a guard for more favorable size matchups. While he may be raw in some areas, what Baker can bring to the guard position is someone that can run the floor, play physical defense and shoot the three. As the Tigers’ big man, Baker often started one-man fast breaks that were initiated by a defensive rebound followed by him handling the ball up the floor for the score.

For the summer, Baker will join the roster of the Northshore Elite AAU team to sharpen his skills as he possibly waits to see if he can pick up more offers. The deadline for prospective basketball players to sign with a Division I program in the NCAA is on May 16 and the deadline for Division II is on August 1.

Players that receive an offer from a school in the National Junior College Athletic Association have 14 days to respond. The final day to sign with a NJCAA program is on August 1.

 

The best steak you’ve never had is in Pine, Louisiana

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By Jesse Brooks

If you have ever been to Pine, Louisiana you would know how the area came up with its name. It’s 10 miles out from Franklinton if you’re traveling East either way on Hwy. 10 or Hwy. 436, and the journey feels like getting lost in a deep forest, aside from the occasional farm fields that pop up seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

If you aren’t a native of Washington Parish, you may not have much reason to travel to Pine, a mostly residential community that remains unincorporated. There’s a public junior/senior high school in the area and just a few general stores beyond that. However, in the thick of the forestry lies Bourne’s Restaurant, one of Louisiana’s best kept secrets in the way of food.

Bourne’s, technically three miles south of Pine on Hwy. 62, has a traditional playbook. As far as the structure of a Louisiana restaurant goes, it checks a lot of boxes: seafood, burgers, sandwiches, chicken and Southern style desserts. In true country style, Bourne’s features a massive buffet that always features crabs, crawfish and shrimp as long as it’s in season. It also features assortments fried and baked chicken, bbq ribs, pot roast, country vegetables with dessert included. The dinner buffet runs around $17.95 per person, and is reduced to $13.95 for lunch.

As great a deal as the buffet is, many see the ribeye steak as the restaurant’s centerpiece. When you find the item on the menu, the ribeye is the only steak listed with no ounce measurement. No weight measurement is needed. All anyone needs to understand about the ribeye is that it is huge and it is not to be underestimated.

In a world that seems to be increasingly terrified to undercook food due to the bland tasting consumer that may lodge their whiny complains on Yelp later, Bourne’s is not afraid to correctly cook your beef at the temperature that is ordered. Their steaks must be marginated for a significant period of time because they are always as tender as cutting into butter.

The way they prepare the ribeye also creats a natural au jus, and every dish is served with a cup of the light gravy on the side. As far as seasoning goes, Bourne’s method doesn’t seem complicated at all. There seems to salt, pepper and maybe some garlic and onion powder in the rub. Beyond that, the approach mostly depends on a good quality cut slow-cooked in its own juice.

Mass production in the modern restaurant has resulted in a lower quality product, but the ribeye at Bourne’s conjures up memories of the great small town Louisiana steakhouses of the past. A quality piece of meat such as this one seems to be worthy of a Florida Parishes replacement of the great Bear Creek Steakhouse in Montpelier that was a powerhouse through the 1970s-90s. The preparation they use is similar to that of Doe’s Eat Place of Mississippi Delta fame.

The ribeye comes with an additional baked potato accompanied with all the fixings, including a side cup of melted butter. Dessert is also included with the purchase of the meal. The best part of it all is that the total cost of the ribeye dinner runs around $24.95, which is about $3 less than the national average, and Bourne’s is simply better than most places North of Lake Pontchartrain.

The next time you feel like taking a drive “through the woods” make a stop at Bourne’s, just East of Franklinton.

Connect with Bourne’s here on Facebook. 

Hwy. 51 Revisited: Hazlehurst & Crystal Springs, Mississippi

By Jesse Brooks

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THE START- The City of Hazlehurst has a memorial in honor of bluesman Robert Johnson, who was born in the town about half an hour south of Jackson, MS. Photo by Jesse Brooks

The stretch of highway spanning between Brookhaven and Jackson might be the most unassuming looking duration of Mississippi countryside before reaching the network of roadways the state’s capital city has to offer. There are trees and country roads for miles. The approaching neighborhoods are taking life one day at a time while it seems not much ever changes. Ask anyone on the street, and they might not know that the events that occurred in Hazlehurst and Crystal Springs, Mississippi, around the turn of the 20th century would change America forever.

Hazlehurst earned its name from railroad engineer Col. George C. Hazlehurst, who has another railroad town named for him in Georgia. Post-Civil War commerce along the train route served as the biggest period of growth for the city. By 1872, Hazlehurst’s growth eventually led to the city becoming the county seat of Copiah County, as it remains today.

Just as blues musicians like Bo Diddley in McComb and Little Brother Montgomery in Kentwood and later Brookhaven were mobilized by the railroad, the same effect was happening to the blues musicians of Hazlehurst and nearby Crystal Springs a little further north.

Though the blues routes in these towns were becoming common, there is one trait that separates them from the others: claims of the devil.

In African-American folklore around the turn of the 20th century there were claims in some rural areas that someone could meet the devil at a crossroads to gain anything they desired for a price: their soul.

Around the start of his career in 1914, an early blues guitarist named Tommy Johnson from Crystal Springs saw a marketing opportunity and started boasting that he had sold his soul to become a musical master. He often became “possessed” and put on a sinister persona, something very taboo amongst black and white audiences of the day. Johnson pushed the limits like an early version of a shock-rocker.

Years later a young African-American man born in Hazlehurst in 1911 named Robert Johnson would have the satanic myth attached to his name as well. However, unlike Tommy, the rumor was something Robert never asked for.

The details of Robert Johnson’s life are scarce, but he ended up becoming one of the most influential musicians of all time. Though largely unknown for decades, interest in his life and music rose after British rockers The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and Eric Clapton all cited him as an important influence as a songwriter and guitarist.

Johnson was born poor in Hazlehurst and the search for work had the family on the move. As a young boy he was sent to Memphis where he received some primary schooling in his youth. It is said that Johnson loved music at a young age but didn’t have much access to formal instruments. As a young man, Johnson eventually did enough farm work to buy himself a guitar. Some rural African-Americans in the late 1920s believed it was a sin to play secular music, and when his first wife Virginia Travis died in childbirth when he was 18, some said it was a divine punishment. Travis’ family blamed Johnson for her death.

A conflicted Johnson, at a “crossroads” of life, made a choice to leave town. He wanted to become a musician. He loved music and hated low-paying, back-breaking farm work. He began making the rounds in the delta trying to impress established artists like Son House, who said Johnson’s playing sounded like “chicken scratch.”

Dejected, but determined, Johnson returned to his birth town of Hazlehurst to look for his birth father, Noah, whom he had never known. While Johnson was in Hazlehurst, he met a man named Ike Zimmerman at a general store. Zimmerman offered Johnson guitar lessons and a roof over his head in exchange for hired help. For months the two practiced at night in the Beauregard Cemetery just south of Hazlehurst near Highway 51. Today the cemetery is still there and sits in an undisturbed neighborhood with no tourist markings. The location was confirmed in 2008 when Bruce Conford discovered a daughter of Zimmerman’s and documented their story in Living Blues Magazine.

Johnson’s nights in the graveyard made him a unique talent. He returned to the delta a more sophisticated songwriter and guitarist than most of his peers. His playing was cleaner than most in the delta, and his songwriting was full of thought-provoking metaphors as he reflected on his conflicting inner struggle of good-vs-evil. Perhaps bitter, Son House, to the day he died, could only claim that Johnson was as good as he was due to a deal with the devil.

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PRACTICE SPACE- The Beauregard Memorial Cemetery located north of Wesson is where Ike Zimmerman gave guitar lessons to Robert Johnson. Photo by Jesse Brooks

Johnson became a mythical legend. He had the type of fame that would have eventually pulled him out of rural poverty, but shortly before he was set to make his New York City debut at Carnegie Hall in 1938, he mysteriously died in Greenwood at age 27. Some accounts say it was a possible poisoning, and others claimed it was the final divine punishment for selling his soul.

Johnson’s legend inspired generations of music and he is credited as the “Godfather of Rock-&-Roll” for his complex music and mythical presence in history. The legend lives on through the Mississippi Music Museum, organized by the state’s leading music historian Dr. Jim Brewer, at Hazlehurst’s Amtrak station and the Robert Johnson Museum in Crystal Springs, run by his remaining heirs. The admission for both museums is free to the general public, and they start with Johnson as an inspiration. What’s left of Johnson’s birth home can be found behind the Copiah County Economic Development Center. There have been plans to renovate the home, but the city currently does not have the funds for the project.

ONE FOR THE ROAD- The Skeetburger Snack Shop just outside of Wesson is a little place with a big menu. Specials change daily and constant favorites are their big sized burgers and all meat potatoes. Photos by Jesse Brooks

Hungry travelers on the way in can enjoy food near Johnson’s old haunts at a neighborhood joint called Skeetburger Snackshop. In a tiny wood building in between Wesson and Beauregard sits a beautiful place that offers up chicken, ribs, chili-cheese fries, but most importantly the skeetburger. The recommended double skeetburger with cheese features two types of cheeses between two juicy all-beef patties made on an old-school flat-top grill. Skeetburger is an amazing roadside stand like the kinds that used to cover miles of highway.

Close to home along the same highway sits the location of a magical place that launched so much of America’s music. It is important that we don’t let that connection go and make this highway our own as Johnson did.

Hwy. 51 Revisited: Brookhaven, Mississippi

By Jesse Brooks

When traveling through Brookhaven, Mississippi, it is easy to see why the town claims its official slogan as “A home seeker’s paradise.” When approaching the city limits on Highway 51, the first view in is that of stunning and beautiful old homes filling up block after block of neighborhoods just before reaching the downtown area. It is simple, quiet, and clean. Driving through Brookhaven, there’s a gained sense of elegance, not to be confused with a more arrogant term like “luxurious.” Many of the homes look like they have been perfectly preserved since the day they were built.

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Lincoln County Historical and Genealogical Society Museum

Brookhaven was first established as a trading post in Choctaw Indian territory the year after Mississippi received statehood, which was in 1818 by businessman Samuel Jayne, who named the settlement after his hometown of Brookhaven, Long Island, New York. The railroad arrived by the 1850s and launched a new economy based on lumber like many communities now residing on the circuit that connected New Orleans with cities of the North.

As the lumber industry prospered through railroad expansion, so did Brookhaven. The town’s population around the beginning of the Civil War in 1860 was around 996 and experienced a 62 percent increase ten years later in 1870 for a total of 1,614 after the railroad reopened after wartime. The Nalty family rose during this time as John B. Nalty ran two Brookhaven sawmills: Pear River Lumber Co. and East Union Lumber and Manufacturing Co. Nalty invested many other sawmills along the route, including the Hammond Lumber Company of Hammond, Louisiana. As the businesses were passed on through the family, the Nalty’s invested and settled in the communities where they were located. If Brookhaven appears similar in city planning or home architecture to Hammond, the fact that the Nalty family built the original homes in both towns would be one of those reasons.

The lumber industry is also what would eventually give Brookhaven its place in American music history. Lumber towns were a place that African-American musicians of early jazz and blues could tour and find an audience, as well as work at sawmills themselves.

Kentwood born jazz and blues pioneer Little Brother Montgomery (born in 1906 as “Eurreal Wilford Montgomery”) found a home in Brookhaven for a period as he passed through sawmill towns. Montgomery was self-taught in New Orleans style jazz and blues and created his own “lumber circuit” in the cities of Vicksburg, Canton, Gulfport, New Orleans, Jackson, and McComb before he decided to make Chicago a permanent home.
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A Mississippi State Blues Trail Marker in honor of Little Brother Montgomery is placed outside of the sawmill where he worked. Photo by Jesse Brooks.

In the 1930s Montgomery wrote an instrumental called “Crescent City Blues”, and twenty years later the melody was borrowed for a song of the same name written by Gordon Jenkins and Beverly Mahr. In 1955, Johnny Cash reworked the song in a country and rock-&-roll manor as a new artist at Sun Studios in Memphis as “Folsom Prison Blues.”

Montgomery’s role in the evolution of American music is undeniable, and should not be ignored. A Mississippi Blues Trail Marker is placed at the Godbold Transportation Center (Amtrak station) honoring Montgomery’s life. Behind the station is the lumber yard where he used to work.

Anyone wanting to come face-to-face with Brookhaven’s rich history can visit the Lincoln County Historical and Genealogical Society Museum. It is open 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on Tuesday-Thursday and admission is free to the general public. The museum’s home is the former site of the B’nai Sholom Jewish Temple, founded in 1896. The museum documents the history of the town and the history of Jewish settlers in Brookhaven.

In a nod to two of Mississippi’s biggest staples, blues and barbecue, Magnolia Blues and BBQ in Brookhaven offers up everything that is Mississippi barbecue. Pulled pork, chicken, baby back ribs, burgers, everything you can name and more is found here. Many crowd in on weekends for the live music and bar food to get their fill on grooves, locally brewed beer, and loaded BBQ nachos. The bar even hosts an open mic night on Wednesdays for anyone brave enough to bare their soul.

Brookhaven’s two biggest periods of growth were immediately after the Civil War and at the peak of the lumber age in the early 1900s. Remarkably the small city has mostly held a steady period of growth since that time. Brookhaven is as steady as the trains that still make their daily trips through town. It is self-reliant. More importantly, for dwellers of the past and present, it is home.

Hwy. 51 Revisited: McComb, Mississippi

By Jesse Brooks

McComb, Mississippi is the kind of town that seems to get by on day-to-day business. It doesn’t beat its chest to declare that it is better than somewhere else or decorate itself as something flashy. However, the best way to describe McComb is welcoming. You can walk into a public place or a locally owned business, and people smile and greet you. They ask you how you’re feeling and talk directly to you like they’ve known you for years.

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Though McComb may sound like a typical sleepy Southern town, history suggests that it wasn’t always that way. Like so many towns that reside on Highway 51, it exists because of the expansion of the Great Northern Railroad, known today as the Illinois Central Railroad. The city was founded in 1872 after Henry Simpson McComb decided to move the railroad’s maintenance shops to the area. Railroad employment caused a city to form and blossom.

Over the turn of the century, McComb at times went through periods of unrest. The Illinois Central Shopman’s Strike of 1911 brought violence to the city over a period that lasted nearly a year, and the strikes were eventually disbanded due to a lack of success. McComb suffered extreme violence against African-Americans throughout the 1960s, including 11 bombings after the federal government passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Congress passed the Voting Rights Act in 1965 the following summer and African-Americans in the South finally received protection at the polls.

However, in eras of great struggle often something beautiful is born. The railroad became a facilitator for the exchange of great ideas, and musicians and artists from McComb began to make their mark on the world.

A Mississippi blues trail on Highway 51 begins in McComb, and it starts in a big way with “The Originator” himself, Bo Diddley. Born in McComb in 1928 and named Ellas Bates, Diddley’s songwriting is considered a key element in the popular transition from blues to rock-&-roll. Diddley introduced a five-accent Afro-Cuban rhythm to blues and country music known today as the “Diddley Beat.” The beat is a cornerstone in modern rock, pop and hip-hop music. A blues trail marker in his honor is located at the city railroad station.

McComb is also the birthplace of New Orleans gut bucket bluesman Lil Freddie King. The guitarist, who still performs regularly in the Big Easy at age 77, is mentioned on an official state blues trail marker near the railroad station.

McComb’s railroad station also serves as its official railroad museum. Inside is a full explanation on the town’s founding and development, as well as documentation of railroad life. The museum is open on Monday through Saturday at 12-4 p.m., and admission is free.

For weary travelers looking for a feeling equal to coming to a grandmother’s house on a Sunday afternoon, The Dinner Bell is perhaps McComb’s biggest attraction. Since moving to its present location in 1959, the restaurant has held an esteemed reputation in producing all of the essentials in Southern cuisine. Remarkably, though the business has changed owners over the decades, everything seems virtually unchanged. Dining is set up family dinner style, and several dinner parties share a place at a revolving Lazy Susan table that features mainstays like fried chicken, green and lima beans, yams and banana pudding. The table’s choice of food already seems endless enough, but weekends offer even more options. The Dinner Bell is a lunch only institution that opens on 11 a.m. on Tuesday-Sunday and closes at 2 p.m. It’s best to arrive early and not procrastinate on the opportunity.

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HOME COOKIN’- The Dinner Bell in McComb, MS is more than a restaurant. It’s an institution. Photo by Jesse Brooks.  

 

McComb has other dining options available in downtown such as Topisaw General Store for lunch and The Caboose, a more upscale restaurant and steak house.

New businesses are coming to McComb’s downtown, and the streets can be pretty busy mid-day. Economists say that America is going through an “urban renaissance,” and McComb seems to be set on being a part of the movement as former city buildings like the Palace Theater are being renovated for the purpose of regular multi-use. For the first time, the Palace Theater was used as the venue of the McComb Blues Music and Arts Festival in 2016.

McComb doesn’t demand your attention but it appreciates it. It may not be loud, but it fights and it has fought forward through times of unrest and economic ups and downs. What McComb can teach the rest of small town America is how to hold on to your local identity. In McComb, there are some things that will never change, and that is what makes it strong.

Hwy. 51 Revisited: A roadtrip experice

By Jesse Brooks

Welcome to Highway 51 Revisited. From now through the course of the next couple of weeks I will take you on a journey on Highway 51 that starts in Tangipahoa Parish and ends in Memphis. This is a chronicle of summer trip I took in 2016. This highway tells a story, and each week I will tell you the story of various stops along the way.

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I have a confession to make: I have only been to Walt Disney World once in my life, and that is something I am more than okay with. Growing up, all of my family’s vacations were taken in the summer since both of my school-teaching parents would be home with us for the next three months. We didn’t grow up with a ton of money, and Disney World became one of those ultimate vacations goals that maybe we would reach “one day.” Don’t worry. One day, when I was a teenager, we made it to Disney World. It was okay.

While we put long lines and mouse souvenirs on hold, my parents became masters in the art of the short-run road trip many summers before.

Whether we were exploring or going through routine, Highway 51 was always essential in our lives growing up. I remember trips to come face-to-face with living history at Confederate Camp Moore in the Village of Tangipahoa and special dinners at Middendorf’s on the highway far South in Manchac. I also remember going to Sullivan’s Drive-In in Amite for malts for a moment’s escape from the abuse of the Louisiana summer heat. When the wanderlust hit us hard enough we went into Mississippi to drive through towns we had never heard of before when we were kids. There was a feeling of discovery we gained watching the landscape and local cultures change right before our eyes. We would stop at every roadside attraction and read every historical marker. Little by little, we were picking up pieces of the story of America.

Even on longer trips where we travelled by interstate, we would be sure to take detours toward the highways so we would not miss the main-streets of the towns we passed. If we purchased anything, particularly food, it had to be local. I remember my father telling me that it was the local diners, butchers, department stores, and groceries that were the original personality of America. If any of it still remains in this age of corporate interstate commerce then we should never ignore it. These institutions are the pride of their communities.

I’ve always applied that philosophy to my own communities. I’ve felt connected to everything along Highway 51 as if it were more than road and the histories of each town were pieces of a puzzle. The road has been like a vein carrying the life blood of my existence.

I named this series similar to Bob Dylan’s famed album Highway 61 Revisited because he must have shared a similar emotional attachment to the highway that connected his hometown of Duluth, Minnesota, to New Orleans. Like Dylan chronicling the mystic of blues legends, writers, and historical events of his highway through his music on the album, I will attempt to do the same on my highway that shares a similar, yet mildly advertised, history through this series.

I will bring you to towns that gave America the expansion of the railroad through blood, sweat, and tears. I will bring you to drive-ins that refuse to fold up shop. We’ll see the birthplace and the grave of a man said to have sold his soul to the devil in exchange for musical abilities. We’ll also visit the home of a literary genius that changed American literature as we know it. I will tell you about a place that expanded three American-made genres of music and set the soundtrack of the world.

These stories are the story of America, thriving on the life-vein we call home. Most of all, these stories make up the story of us.

Our first chapter starts in McComb, MS. Click here to travel further down the road with us.