Fine dining in the Delta features best of old and new

by Lynne W. Jeter

Published: July 19,2004

When Viking Range Corporation CEO Fred Carl bought Hotel Irving on Howard Street in Greenwood and turned it into a world-class luxury boutique hotel called the Alluvian, he also snapped up Giardina’s, a small café, and teamed up with restaurateur Frank LeFlore to reopen it adjacent to the hotel.

The landmark restaurant built in 1936 and described as “another jewel in the crown of the Delta,” is garnering as much international buzz as the hotel.

“Giardina’s is a very nice addition,” said Jondi Brackeen, general manager of the Alluvian, which opened last May.

Chris Carl of The Ramey Agency said Giardina’s (pronounced like the gardenia flower), said people travel from a 100-mile radius to sample chef David Ferris’ recipes, especially his pompano dish. “David was recently part of the Worlds of Flavor trip to Mexico, and the techniques picked up will be evident in the kitchen,” said Carl.

Also in Greenwood: Andy and Karen Pinkston have owned Lusco’s since Oct. 1, 1976. Even though the Pinkstons considered relocating the four-generation restaurant, established March 4, 1933, they decided instead to renovate the original facility. Boiled shrimp, gumbo and pompano remain in-season favorites.

“Because beef prices have skyrocketed, we’ve pared down the beef portion of our menu a little bit,” said Karen Pinkston. “We try to keep our menu pretty much the same and vary the specials. For example, this time of year, we offer more specialty salads because people don’t want to eat heavy. During the winter, we’ll add heartier food.”

The Pinkstons have been pleased by the number of out-of-town visitors and — surprise! — Europeans who have frequented the restaurant.

“We see a lot of retirees who travel with books featuring good places to eat, and we’re fortunate to be on some lists,” she said. “I’ve been so surprised by the number of people who take off for the weekend just to try out different places to eat.”

In Clarksdale, Madidi, a 72-seat white tablecloth restaurant located in the original Landry’s building, established in November 2000 by actor Morgan Freeman and local attorney Bill Luckett, offers a variety of French technique dishes ranging from rack of lamb to hybrid bass. It has been featured in Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Southern Living and other publications touting international cuisine.
A sampling from the menu: Madidi Salad, featuring smoked salmon with tossed micro greens and a poppy seed dressing, cornmeal-fried oysters and red cabbage cole slaw, molasses-glazed filet of salmon and pecan-crusted mascarpone cheesecake.

“Our most popular dishes would have to be Lobster Bisque, Confiture of Rabbit with Carmelized Cabbage and Roasted Breast of Duck, prepared over red pepper corn cakes with black beans and a truffle-cranberry reduction,” said Madidi chef Lee Craven, a Culinary Institute of America graduate who on Aug. 5 will cook in the James Beard House in New York City, a prestigious invitation-only opportunity to showcase talents and compete with chefs from around the world for the most creative dishes.

Even though the terrorist events of Sept. 11, 2001, slowed down airline travel, KC’s in Cleveland, the state’s only AAA Four-Diamond restaurant, owned by the Joe family, remains a favorite hot spot.

“After 9/11, our business dropped when people stopped traveling by plane, but it’s coming back,” said general manager Don Joe. “It used to be impossible to get in on the weekends because of private parties, but it’s now open most weekends to the general public.”

Established in 1974 and located less than a mile from Delta State University, KC’s dishes up New American, global eclectic and Chinese cuisine in a California/New York style atmosphere, with a fully stocked bar and wine cellar. Esquire magazine named it one of the best restaurants in the South, and Bon Appetite, Gourmet, USA Today, Food Arts and Chef magazine of Great Britain have featured KC’s. Chef Wally Joe, the first Mississippi chef to be invited to cook at the James Beard House, has appeared on CBS “Sunday Morning” and NBC’s “Weekend Today.”

“We try hard every day to live up to our reputation,” said Wally Joe.

Known for using organic vegetables and free-range and naturally raised meats, Wally Joe increasingly uses infused oils, vegetable purees and reductions and low-acid infused vinegars to add flavor and texture to his recipes rather than relying on butter and cream. The Travel Channel praised his perfectionist cooking techniques, adding that Joe “always rewards diners at KC’s with his near fanatical insistence on quality and attention to detail.”

When Peter Sherman purchased the well-known Shapley’s in Greenville from Melanie Flowers in the spring of 2003, he made a few menu changes.

“I added Italian dishes that I like, such as eggplant parmesan, chicken parmesan, veal picatta, veal parmesan and cheese ravioli,” he said. “We keep a good steady business and corporate dining remains a big part of that.”

Flowers opened the Delta restaurant in April 1998.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at mbj@thewritingdesk.com.

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