Hungry Kayaker’s Take A Meal Challenge at The Delta Bistro
Three days and two nights of kayaking and camping on the river can make a person hungry. We eat well while camped on sandbars, and my homemade Campfire Sloppy Joe’s are always a pleaser. I’ve yet to hear a complaint, and it’s a dish I’ve added to my camp cooking repertoire with much frequency. Although, after 18-20 miles of paddling in a day it’s hard to know whether it’s really that good or my fellow paddlers are just incredibly hungry.
Campfire gourmet notwithstanding, after eating from the cockpit of a 14 foot Wilderness Tsunami kayak for 3 days on the Yalobusha River, nothing fills the belly or the spirits like a good sit down meal prepared by someone else. In this case, the meal was prepared by Taylor Bowen Ricketts. Taylor’s resume as a chef is extensive, but like her restaurant, it is not pretentious. An Oxford native, she has both assisted and overseen the establishment of several iconic eateries in North Mississippi, including City Grocery, Bottle Tree Bakery and Proud Larry’s.
Bowen Ricketts received her BA in Fine Arts from Ole Miss, and her latest restaurant reflects her creative eye. The Delta Bistro in Greenwood is a feast for the senses, allowing diners to relax while they soak in the eclectic and funky Delta attitude of the décor. Lighting comes in the form of repurposed Mason jars, and old chandeliers that could have been purchased at a garage sale. Burlap draperies adorn the windows and old quilt tapestries scrawled with culinary phrases hang on the faded brick walls next to juke joint inspired funky folk art. Three dimensional works by Oxford artist Marty Vinograd hang alongside creations by the chef, her husband Darby and others. Old bead board and vaulted ceilings allow plenty of natural light into the old downtown building that stands just a few hundred yards south of the Yazoo River.
Our group of 5 dirty paddlers hadn’t bathed or shaved since departing Grenada 52 miles upstream on the Yalobusha River three days earlier, yet the staff greeted us all with warm smiles and brisk, friendly service.
What’s the first thing a paddler wants upon arriving after such a journey? A cold beer, of course. While the selection at Delta Bistro is not extensive it’s well rounded. There is no wine list, but diners are allowed their own bottles, and the wait staff will set you up for a 2 dollar corkage fee. I had a bottle—okay, okay, three—of Lazy Magnolia Southern Pecan, my favorite of the Mississippi brewed beers.
The menu at Delta Bistro is complex and unique with an eye towards tradition. For starters, a simple plate of thin sliced crispy potato chips arrived with sour cream, Parmesan and malt vinegar. The turtle soup was served traditional style with hard-boiled egg. It was chocked full of thick chunks of turtle meat, a hint of sherry and just enough spice to give it a kick. It was on par with that I’ve had at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, and you don’t get more traditional than that. The appetizers announced that we were in for a treat.
After finishing the starters and a couple of beers, the entrée’s began making their way to the table. One such dish was braised veal cheeks with saffron served in thick gravy over creamy risotto. The cheeks were tender, and the risotto was heavenly.
I ordered the BBQ Elk Brisket. When my waiter set the dish in front of me the smell was incredible, and the presentation was beautiful. The elk was topped with a few lightly fried onion rings, smothered in a dark BBQ sauce and served over a bed of bright orange paprika mash. The use of color illustrates that Bowen Ricketts brings her inner artist to the kitchen.
The onion rings were crisp and light. The mash was a comfortingly creamy consistency and a perfect complement to the dark, smoky, sweet, tangy BBQ sauce. The elk meat fell apart like Granny’s Sunday pot-roast.
Thanks to the creative mind of a great chef, we toasted to celebrate our 52-mile achievement with good service and a great meal in a place that is unique and creative, but very “un-nouveau.” My wife and I then said our good-byes to our paddling partners who were headed back to Jackson. I had an interview with the local television station about my paddling project, Lucy’s Revenge, so we were lucky enough to have a good reason to stay the night.
My friends at the Alluvian provided us with a room, so we headed to our well-equipped hotel for a shower knowing that we would be back to this wonderful little restaurant by the river one day. By the next afternoon, we had decided we weren’t going to wait for another trip to Greenwood, and headed in the direction of the Delta Bistro for another round.
We were unable to fight off the urge to order the turtle soup, and ordered a bowl to share alongside a plate of fried green tomatoes and comeback. The turtle soup was a known commodity at this point. Holding true to form, the fried green tomatoes were fried to perfection with a hefty amount of cracked pepper in the crust. The homemade comeback was chunky with ingredients, and a sweet and spicy kick—one of the best comeback dressings I’ve had.
We shared a BBQ shrimp Po Boy that would have been really good anywhere. But, the chef had set my sites high at this point. The BBQ sauce tasted like it was the same as that used in the elk dish I had the day before, and didn’t match up quite as well with the shrimp. All told, still a very good lunch.
This is where I should write, “If you’re ever in Greenwood. . .” But for a meal this good, and with a vibrant downtown scene to check out, Greenwood is a good day trip or even weekend destination. When it comes to eats, Delta Bistro has something for everyone. It lacks the pretentious feel of Madidi in Clarksdale, and I know a few folks that are willing to drive the Delta for that. But, Delta Bistro is closer and has better prepared food for a fraction of the price. From burgers to fried chicken to creative and well presented entrees in a moderate price range, this is well worth the trip.
The nod Bowen Ricketts gives to traditional southern fare is to be commended, and the Delta Bistro’s sense of place lends itself well to Greenwood’s history, and the timeless river from which we arrived.
Whether by car or by kayak, I’ll be back often.
Editors Note: Keith Plunkett was kind enough to guest post on his visit to Greenwood. Hope you enjoyed how his trip was. I’ve been there and done that and regret not getting the T-shirt… It’s good stuff! Thanks for sharing, Keith!
117 Main Street
Greenwood, MS 38930