Greenwood, MS: Why This Little Gem Is An Ideal Adult Getaway
Story by 360 Atlanta Traveler
Greenwood, MS is a small town with HUGE charm. From a “Best in the South” hotel to a cooking school with world-renowned appliances to a James Beard nominated chef restaurant to impeccable (and affordable!) shopping opportunities, it is quite the gem.
Add to that a host of Blues legend legacies, famous filming locations, and memorable Civil Rights moments and you know – you just have to go. I recommend an escape here without kids, as we did. You can find the details below.
Getting To The Delta
Greenwood, MS is almost a straight-shot west from Atlanta, right over the border in Mississippi. Looking on a map, you’ll find that it’s almost exactly South of Memphis (about 130 miles).
It took us about 5.5 hours to drive there from our home in the city, but it was an easy jaunt – especially if you’ve got the right tunes. Be sure to jam with this Mississippi Delta Road Trip playlist from Spotify!
As you may have guessed, Greenwood is in the Mississippi Delta. My parents grew up in the Delta, so this part of the South is familiar to me. If you’re new to it, you might be asking what makes it different.
Technically, it’s a region in Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas that lies between the Mississippi River and the Yazoo River. But it’s more than that…much more. It’s been called The Most Southern Place on Earth.
Before the Civil War, it was one of the richest cotton-growing areas in the US, built on the backs of Black slaves. While the area is considerably different today, we don’t overlook the ugliness of the past…but we do embrace the wonder inspired here.
It’s where the Civil Rights Movement gained a foothold. It’s where the Blues were born. It’s where Rock and Roll was created, and it’s where fried chicken, fried catfish, Delta hot tamales and cornbread were perfected.
The group next to ours, cooking up a storm. And don’t judge the mask situation, we were all enjoying a few glasses of wine during her instructions. You can’t drink a Pinot Grigio with your mask up correctly. – photo courtesy of 360 Atlanta Traveler
Cooking Class with Viking
One of the highlights of our recent weekend in Greenwood was a cooking class with Viking! Viking is the “gold standard” for kitchen appliances and culinary equipment, which are made in Greenwood!
They offer a plethora of different classes, but be sure to sign up early. We had to register about 3 months in advance, which I understand is pretty standard.
For about 3 hours one evening we “toured” Europe by making beef wellington, spinach souffle, lobster bisque soup, and crab artichoke dip. If it sounds divine, let me tell you it tasted even better! C’était parfait!
During the class, Dan and I were paired with another Aunt/Niece couple (and 2 other groups of 4 were in the same class). We used the Viking products to cook (and OMG I am in love with the Viking cookware. Seriously, I’ve started a mason jar fund to get me some of these pans!) – following a recipe and direction from the teacher.
After the appy course was in the oven, our teachers popped a few bottles of red and white wine (sodas and beer were also available), and within no time we were basically BFFs with the other two women in our group.
We noshed on the appy as we cooked the rest of the dinner, then all sat together as a group to eat – and boy did we eat. There was SO MUCH FOOD that you might have had to roll me out. I can’t recommend this class more!
Turnrow Book Company filled with amazing books…plus art and a coffee shop. – photo courtesy of 360 Atlanta Traveler
If there was one thing I loved loved loved about Greenwood, it was the shopping. There were so many amazing stores here, and everyone I visited was better than the last.
I know that in the decade you’ve been with me as I write this blog, there is only one other time I’ve mentioned the shopping (Blue Ridge, GA) so you know I must be serious when I say how great it was, right? Let’s look at some specifics.
Viking Retail Store: Even if you’re not taking a cooking class, you can at least stop into the retail store for awesome kitchen gadgets, the cookware, great gifts, and more.
Mississippi Gift Company: This adorable store sells all things Mississippi – all locally made – and it was voted the best gift store in the state. There is jewelry, homeware, pottery, food goods. Also, this is where I dropped most of my cash – I could not resist bringing home a few goodies!
Russell’s Antiques: So much silver! We saw a special pair of scissors that exist only to cut grape stems…and the glass wear was gorgeous.
Turnrow Book Company: This place was named one of the most beautiful independent bookstores in America, and it’s easy to see why. You’ll also find a number of signed, first editions. And the gallery and cafe upstairs are so fun!
Delta Boutique: Great garden pots and decor, cute clothing and shoes (oh those leopard-print booties are still calling my name). The prices were super affordable, too.
Howard & Marsh Exchange: If I had to pick a favorite store, this would be it! It’s a high-quality vendor market with home decor, accessories, antiques, art, pillows, bedding, lighting, candles, lots of gifts and much more. We picked up fantastic bronze birds and a great pottery sink.
Fan and Johnny’s is THE place to eat in Greenwood. Chef Taylor Bowen Ricketts is a James Beard Semifinalist for Best Chef South and one of the most celebrated female chefs. Just be sure to make a reservation in order to eat here!
The menu changes everyday, with Southern specials you will love. We started with charred cauliflower that was literally the BEST I have ever tasted in my life.
I enjoyed duck confit ravioli as my main meal, and Dan devoured his Korean-style smoked ribs with Sriracha cauliflower and spicy pistachios. Y’all, I wanted to lick the plate…I didn’t. I was on my best behavior…but it was perfectly delicious.
Don’t miss dessert…the bread pudding is delivered in a cast-iron skillet, and is pure bliss.
You noticed I didn’t mention their cocktails? At Fan & Johnny’s (and several other Greenwood restaurants) the locals know you “brown bag it.” You can purchase beer here, or bring your own wine to enjoy with your meal for a nominal corking fee. Before you head to your reservation, make a stop at The Cellars or Riverfront for a bottle or two.
Crystal Grill has been a Greenwood staple for over 70 years, and is another must-taste restaurant. Try it for a classic Delta lunch or a full-spread brunch.
So, we pigged out here. We had fried chicken livers, oysters from the MS Gulf, their famous hot tamales.
Yes, Tamales. Tamales are a thing in the Delta and they are everywhere. You can’t really go wrong, regardless of where you eat them, but they are particularly good here at Crystal Grill. (PS, my friend Caroline wrote a great piece about how tamales came to be so popular in this area. Check it out here.)
Besides the amazing food, they are known for their mile -high chocolate meringue pie, and you’ve got to taste it. (Here’s a hint though – the cheesecake, lemon icebox, and praline ice cream pie are also amaze-balls!)
Here are a few other places that are delicious (we might have sampled a few of these for “second-lunch” – mostly because…tamales!)
Giardina’s at The Alluvian (see more on this below)
Lusco’s (another “brown bag it” location)
The Vine Bistro (another Brunch option)
Serio’s (good for a to-go brunch)
Mai Little China (the egg rolls here have been in the family for over 100 years – takeout only)
Honest Abe’s Donuts (great for Hot Tamales, but also the cinnamon rolls – yum!)
Drake’s BBQ (this is the real deal, but go early because there is always a line)
Insider Tip: While this is not a deal-breaker, it was so strange that we have to mention it. If you like gourmet coffee (cappuccino, latte, etc) then you’re out of luck on the weekends. The main coffee shops are closed Saturdays and Sundays. When we return, I’ll be packing my French press.
We visited Greenwood with my BIL and SIL – cheesing in front of our favorite mural. – photo courtesy of 360 Atlanta Traveler
The Yazoo and Yalobusha Rivers meet here and run through town… and if you recall from above, Yazoo is one of the rivers that delineates the Delta. It heads north to south for about 96 miles, making Greenwood the ideal shipping point for the cotton market prior to the American Civil War.
At sunset, you have to walk the Keesler Bridge for a magnificent sunset over the Yazoo River.
During the day, I highly recommend a walk along the Yazoo River Trail, where you can take multiple paths on the 45-acres of batture forest habitat. Batture forest? It’s alluvial (Delta sediment) land between a river at low-water stage and a levee.
The meadow trail winds through the trees and along the River through beautiful bottomland hardwood forest. It was a great place to visit to work off all those tamales!
Another great outdoor adventure is a mural walk. We loved the mural of the Great Blue Heron by Vermont artist, Mary Lacy. You can see us above at the Greenwood Mural on side of Old City Hall. Our next stop was of the blue and yellow butterfly’s in the alley next to Fan and Johnny’s. Oh, and the Coca Cola mural on Front Street at Viking Headquarters.
This is Skeeter’s house, from the movie The Help – photo courtesy of 360 Atlanta Traveler
Movie and Music History
First, let’s talk about the movies. While The Help is supposed to be set in Jackson, MS…it was actually filmed in Greenwood. As you cross Grand Boulevard and begin a trek on Money Road you’ll pass Skeeter’s house from the movie. There is a circular drive in front with a sign saying “Help Yourself” – they don’t mind you driving through to snap a shot like this.
If you recall from the first few minutes of the movie, there was a flash of WABG Awesome AM at 960 AM. You can see this on Money Road, too. Be sure you tune in and check out the station’s history and mission.
Further down Money Road you’ll see Little Zion Church, which was Aibileen Clark’s and Minny Jackson’s church in the movie. You can find these and other film spots in The Help self-guided tour brochure, found around town.
The church is also where you can visit the grave of the Master of Blues, Robert Johnson. Many say Johnson “sold his soul to the devil at a local crossroads” to achieve musical success. More likely, it was a ton of practice and a lack of documentation about his life as a successful Black man in the 1930s.
Robert Johnson’s marker at the church is just one of 10 Blues Trail markers in Greenwood, telling stories of Blue’s heroes, of the places they lived and the times they existed, and how they live on through their music.
If you’ve got time (we didn’t – next time!) then head over to nearby Indianola where you can visit the B.B. King Museum, also. (Don’t wait until Sunday; they’re only open Thu – Sat).
If you also have a passion for Country, then also be sure to stop at the Tallahatchie River bridge to see Bobbie Gentry’s Country Music Trail marker. This isn’t the same bridge that Billie Joe MacAllister jumped from, but it is the same river.
The ruins of Bryant’s Grocery – photo courtesy of 360 Atlanta Traveler
Civil Rights History
The first is 9 miles out of Downtown on Money Road, and it’s the site of Bryant’s Grocery where 14yo Emmett Till went to purchase gum in 1955. The owner’s wife accused him of flirting with her, and from then his fate was sealed.
Together the store owner and his half-brother kidnapped little Emmett, tortured him and killed him. The details are horrific, and nonetheless, the two men were acquitted. (Any doubts of their evil? They later sold the details of their acts to a magazine.)
The events that culminated from this site are believed by many to be the “spark” that ignited the Civil Rights Movement. How powerful. My heart cries when I think about how that kiddo – about my son’s age – suffered in a way no human should ever suffer.
The photo above is of the grocery store. It’s fallen into disrepair, and sadly the owners refuse to sell it for less than $4M – and they also will not invest in maintaining the site.
Look for an upcoming ABC series called Women of the Movement. One of the six episodes is about Emmett’s mother, Mamie Till.
The second marker is at Broad Street Park, marking the spot where Stokely Carmichael made his famous “Black Power” speech.
You might also want to stop by Mississippi Valley State University, the largest university in the area. It was created in 1950 as a public, historically Black college offering an alternative to those who feared for equal education opportunities at primarily white colleges in the area.
Exploring the Museum of the Mississippi Delta.
Museum of the Mississippi Delta
The Museum of the Mississippi Delta is a fantastic way to explore Greenwood’s origins – beginning with the Native Americans who once roamed here. You’ll find artifacts that belonged to Chief Greenwood LeFlore, for whom the county was named.
Volunteers run this museum right now, and it’s currently by appointment only.
Back in the Day Museum
The Back in the Day Museum is a community museum that explores the history of the Blues, African American culture, and Baptist Town in Greenwood. It’s a great place to learn about the Blue’s legends. Entrance is by appointment only, but don’t be shy to call and set it up.
The Alluvian Lobby
Where to Stay
We stayed in The Alluvian, which is owned by Viking Range (you know, the kick-arse culinary appliance/equipment/class company I mentioned above). It’s truly a unique boutique hotel that is lovely!
Don’t just take my word for it: The Alluvian was named the best hotel in Mississippi by Thrillest, and one of the best hotels in the South by Southern Living.
We stayed in a king room overlooking the courtyard, and it was very spacious with a seating area and huge bathroom. The bed was cozy and the shower water pressure was ideal (both things I look out for regularly.)
The hotel sits on Howard Street in Downtown, right across the street from the Viking Retail Store and Cooking School. It’s also in the center of the shops and restaurants, and is walking distance to the Keesler Bridge and Yazoo River Trail.
The Alluvian Spa is reportedly amazing, but it was fully booked when I visited so be sure to make your reservation early.
Giardina’s is the name of the bar and restaurant in the hotel. If nothing else, stop in for a drink. The Delta Gem is unbelievable…I might have had one or three while we were there (ha!) It’s Grey Goose Vodka, St. Germain, Domain de Canton (a ginger liquor), and fresh lime juice topped with champagne.
The restaurant is also very nice, with romantic, private booths for dining. You’ll find Italian fare, steaks, seafood, and much more. There are also plenty of appys – and we recommend the tamales!