Sunday, November 19, 2017

On the Road Again

A Return to Tupelo...


This Plaque outside of Johnnie's Drive-in
is about Elvis. As I've said, Tupelo is
proud of its native son
This time, I took my Mazda to Tupelo for recall-work, but that didn't mean Cliff and I would just sit at the dealership (which we did) all day. We're finally discovering that Tupelo, Mississippi, has a lot to offer, and it is a little over 35,000 people. Again, friendly, a bit more urbane than Columbus, Mississippi—at least one gets that feeling when in the larger downtown area of Tupelo. For one thing there's not that historic feel that you get in Columbus. In Tupelo the buildings have been modernized in the downtown more than they have been in downtown Columbus. Further, about that "urbane" feel, it's two things: the cafes along Main Street are numerous and funky, while others are classy, all within easy walking distance.

Tupelo is easy to navigate, in comparison to other towns of similar size, with three major freeway exchanges running north-south through the middle of town, and Main Street runs east-west and is easy to get to from the freeway. With our day divided into taking my car to the Mazda dealership and later walking the downtown, we had a busy day and evening.

Interior of Johnnie's
Drive-in—Cliff across the
room, regarding me as
I snapped his picture...
In fact, we ate lunch at Tupelo's oldest cafe, Johnnie's Drive-in. In the past, it is obvious that it was a drive-in, but it's also a diner, where we ate indoors. The cafe was established post-Great-Depression. One of the features of the cafe is its doughburger, which the waitress explained was developed during the depression and saved on beef by adding other ingredients to the meat to make it go further. It's served on a conventional hamburger bun. Nope, neither Cliff nor I tried it. Instead, we had a great old-fashioned hamburger and fries and soft drink. As with the vast majority of locally-run cafes we've visited, the staff at Johnnie's was southern friendly, talkative, and curious, and we were introduced to the owner, and he came to our table to talk awhile. He's an early Viet Nam veteran ('67-'68), and dedicates space to wounded warriors.

At dinner that night we ate at Kermit's Outlaw Kitchen, where the food is farm-to-table fresh, a fact the restaurant touts. Desserts are either made in-house or come from a local bakery; the meat is bought locally, never frozen (and...ahem...the prices show it). We had a delicious tuna steak, along with a plate of vegetables from local farmers, done up with a nice sauce of some sort. The made-fresh in-house bread pudding was delectable with whiskey and a peanut-butter sauce, topped with vanilla ice cream, which we enjoyed with freshly-brewed coffee, strong enough to get us through the night-time drive back to Columbus.

 The afternoon in downtown Tupelo was very pleasant that day. We had hit rain on our drive to Tupelo, but by just past noon, the sun was out, the breeze was gentle and we soon shed our jackets. Cliff is recovering from knee surgery, but he did well walking in the downtown area. Before dinner we also stopped in at The Crave coffee shop and bakery. That was a bit much to indulge in before dinner, but as usual it was worth it.

As I said up and down Main Street, right downtown, are lots of eateries and coffee shops, and as I indicated some of them are funky and the customers urbane. Customers seem mostly comprised of college-age students (though the closest university is 18 miles away) and young professionals and married couples. But overlaying it all is, of course, that southern accent. I've traveled in the deep south enough over the past two years to know that there's not one "southern" accent working, here. But that's another topic for another post.
We arrived at the restaurant early enough to get a table by the window and during the two-hours we spent there, the restaurant filled up quickly. They have both an upstairs and downstairs eating area, but upstairs that night were two separate parties of local businesses having a night out, so the seating quickly became an issue downstairs with even those with reservations having to wait until tables opened up.

The trip home to Columbus was an easy 70 miles on a good highway, though it turned this way and that and road construction slowed traffic for a few miles. The highway known as the Upper Natchez Trace runs near to Tupelo. The Natchez Trace Parkways in fact crosses all of Mississippi at an angle from Northeast Mississippi to Southwest Mississippi, and around Tupelo, just as it is near Columbus, the Trace is a beautiful highway, the traffic is light in most places and you're held to a steady 50 mph, which discourages heavy, high-speed travelers; and the Trace forbids commercial trucks. Here is a short video about the upper Trace. Again, the beauty of this highway astounds me.