I have driven past this crazy roadside stop about a million times without stopping and decided it was high time to check it out. When you pull in the driveway it rings a bell and the proprietor followed me in to open up the shop and bathroom. She warned me about the mannequin in the bathroom, which is probably a good thing because yes, it probably would have spooked me. Actually it did anyway — I asked her if she was familiar with the movie “Tourist Trap,” which she was.
That 1979 movie featured Chuck Connors as a nut who has this tourist stop full of mannequins that have a nasty habit of moving by themselves and a car load of teenagers start ending up dead. It sounds silly, but it has some really creepy moments. And as I started thinking about the fact this lady knew the film and some of the decor was reminiscent of it, I started hoping she wasn’t a serial killer.
Anyway, I shot these on the monochrome setting so I could see the results in black and white, and using a red “filter.” The red filter darkens the sky and increases contrast, but also increases noise, so even though it’s ISO 200, noise reduction in Photoshop was generously applied. The monochrome filter can be removed in your RAW processing software so you aren’t giving up the color option if you change your mind later. Which I rarely do when it comes to black and white.
Most people come home from a trip with nice photos of sunsets, beaches, and smiling tourists. I come home with travel photography of abandoned buildings, barren landscapes and roadkill. Or at least I did on this roadtrip from Tuscon to San Diego. Obviously I travel with my camera with a little different agenda than most people. I’ve always been drawn to the desert for so many reasons I don’t even understand them all. It’s one of the most beautiful places on earth… and one of the most deadly. It’s ruthless, yet there’s something about looking across that vast horizon with the sun beating down on you, but storm clouds gathering in the distance. Or slivers of late afternoon sunlight peeking through the clouds, selectively lighting the mesas. There’s a great monologue in the film “25th Hour” where Brian Cox is supposed to be taking his son, played by Edward Norton, to prison in New York. He talks to him about making a wrong turn and just driving west to find a small town for him to disappear and start over, and while the whole thing is powerful, there was one part in particular that stood out to me.
“Every man, woman, and child alive should see the desert one time before they die. Nothing for miles around. Nothing but sand, and rocks, and cactus and blue sky. Not a soul around for miles. No sirens. No car alarms. Nobody honking at you. No madmen cursing or pissing on the streets. You’ll find the silence out there. You’ll find the peace. You can find God.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
What’s better than those Mississippi restaurants that serve up comfort food made from fresh produce and home-style cooking? One that also sells the produce, quirky gifts and a little liquid sunshine with a smile.
Now, I appreciate those fancy Mississippi restaurants as much as the next gal, and the kind of gourmet food where you aren’t really sure what it is, but you know it’s supposed to impress you. But I also enjoy a slice of down-home cooking served up with friendly service, and The Tomato Place in Vicksburg, Mississippi, has garnered quite a reputation for both in these parts.
I ventured in the first time on a lark, after I had done some shopping at the local Big Blue Generic Warehouse of Goods down the street to check out the place. First of all, watch for it closely as it’s literally just an extra-wide shoulder of the highway and you can easily drive on by. Second, you may not have much parking space, as this cafe stays pretty busy all day.
But if you find it and park your booty there, you’re greeted with brightly-colored buildings and very casual outdoor seating area. There might be some homemade pork rinds cooking outside, smoking up a bit. One building is cooks only, but the other is a produce stand and a wall of freezers full of delicious and nutritious smoothies to go.
Or stay, if you choose.
Inside you’ll find sauces (try the Mississippi Fever made with real tomatoes and fresh hot peppers) and containers of rice or beans for sale, but also hats, gifts and local-themed odds and ends, like the wonderful book I discovered there, “Eat, Drink, Delta,” full of lovely photos and stories from Delta restaurants and kitchens.
And of course, the cafe.
You know they gotta have fried green tomatoes, but also some other expected classics like fresh squeezed lemonade, po’ boys, fried catfish and burgers, but prepare yourself for plenty of surprises, like the meatball plate: Three large meatballs on a bed of stone ground cheese grits, with tomatoes, and your choice of squash or green beans. Or maybe get a southern-style BLT, as in BL and FGT (Fried Green Tomatoes) in case your arteries aren’t quite clogged enough.
But all that matters is dying with a smile on your face, right?
A decidedly non-southern popular meal is the Jamaican Burger plate, with fried yams and jerk sauce. And check out this list of available side items: fried okra, mac and cheese, cheese grits, fried yams and baked beans, just to name a few.
I had the Tomato Place Pie plate, and it sounds sort of lasagna-like or even a little pizza-like, but much milder on the spice, and shouldn’t kick up the ol’ reflux. As I had the misfortune of coming on a Sunday evening after the huge rush of the day, I had to go with okra instead of green beans. And the salad was a marinated cucumbers and cherry tomatoes, and… why, I believe they threw some watermelon in there.
I have to tell you, I’m not a big raw tomato or cucumber person, but that was a very good salad, and refreshing sitting outside in the heat. Personally, I think I’d kick up the spice just a bit on that tomato pie, but it was tasty, and with all the food I had, I took a healthy portion home.
Perhaps I’ve watched one too many episodes of “Chopped,” but I “transformed” those leftovers into a nice breakfast hash the next morning, and that was mighty tasty. Alex Guarnaschelli would have been so proud. Or Geoffrey Zakarian, who I have personally dubbed, “The Silver Fox.”
I’m a lonely woman, okay. I use cable to window-shop hot guys.
Anyway, the fried green tomatoes here are very lightly breaded with mostly a cornmeal breading, and btw, if you want to make your own, this is one place you can find green tomatoes for sale. If they haven’t used them all themselves. But this appetizer here is light with a zesty remoulade sauce making it a nice start to any meal.
They have nice little indoor dining area, but plenty of outdoor seating if you can take the heat. Check out lots of photos below, and make a little trip south of Vicksburg on Highway 61 for some casual, comfort cuisine.
I’m currently on travel assignment in Norwood, Colorado, where I have been hanging out for four weeks till they can move me to the town where my client actually lives, about 20 miles away. The reason I am here instead of there is because they had to squeeze me in where they could between this and their other hotel during their busy season.
No, it’s not Thanksgiving yet. Nor is Halloween the big season. We’re talking something far more sacred in this neck of the woods at this time of year…. hunting season.
I’ve spent the last four weeks in Motel Man Cave, as pretty much the only female in a sea of testosterone and camouflage. And a dumpster full of beer cans and Swiss Cake Roll boxes.
They thought they were going to be able to move me today, but the current resident in what is about to be my room is staying one more night. So now I’m stuck here in Season Two of the “Motel Man Cave” series… Elk Season. Our new batch of contestants like to sit outside and smoke cigars outside my open windows, and discuss the various merits of different truck tires, and bass vs. trout vs. crappy.
So I decided to go out to eat. Now on any given day, my options are limited to about six options. On Mondays and Tuesdays, that number goes down due to certain restaurants taking their day off between those two days. The town’s high end Lone Cone and the artsy live music venue Two Candles were both closed, so I decided to go with the Hitchin’ Post Cowboy Saloon. I’d read reviews a lot of locals hang there, but also less than kind reviews of the food.
The latter factored heavily in my decision when I saw the special was meatloaf. I love meatloaf… GOOD meatloaf, and I knew if I was really going to embrace the “adventure” of going local that was the choice. But seeing the handful of people present for dinner, and imagining it being even slower during the day, I was picturing that meatloaf sitting around stewing all day.
I went with the half pound burger.
They caution you to be patient, because they do make their burgers to order and that half pound slab takes a while. I ordered the bacon cheeseburger, and they make a very respectable burger. It has a strong flame-broiled flavor, like a super-size whopper but not dripping with mayo and ketchup. They had options of cottage cheese, soup or tater tots instead of fries, but I went with the onion rings. Your basic frozen rings, which is what I would normally expect in a small town restaurant, but was hoping for homemade due the generally very high quality of food I’ve run into in the small towns here.
But the burger and rings were certainly acceptable, but then I decided to go with dessert, as apple and cherry pie were the daily dessert special.
Saying it’s special and being special are two very different things I’m afraid. There’s no other way to describe it but bad. Certainly not homemade, with a un-browned, limp top crust. It was served room temperature and my ice cream was covered with chocolate sauce.
As I sat there mentally critiquing it in my best Alex Guarnaschelli, try-to-be-diplomatic imitation, I found a whole new appreciation for how kind those culinary judges can be sometimes.
The restaurant and bar is huge, and there is a nook where the waitress stand is stocked with coffee cups, steak sauce… and the most craptastic western cowboy mural in town. I’m guessing this place must be hoppin’ at breakfast time, and even though it wasn’t the best meal I’ve ever had, I definitely need to try their biscuits and gravy, one of my favs.
But if it fails like that apple pie, no more Mr. Nice Guy. I’ll channel British food writer and Iron Chef judge Simon Majumdar — that guy’s the Simon Cowell of the culinary world.