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‘Gitback’ to Clarksdale for food, blues

Coming back home from Tennessee recently we decided to take US 61 instead of the interstate. Highway 61 goes from Memphis down the east side of the Mississippi River through the Delta down to Vicksburg, Natchez and on to Baton Rouge. In Mississippi it is known as the Blues Highway. We spent the night in Clarksdale, Miss., which is known as “ground zero” to blues aficionados around the world.

We had dinner at the Ground Zero Blues Club and stayed for the music, which started at 9 p.m., and when that is your usual bedtime, it had better be good! The group was the “All Night Long,” not that we stayed that long. The menu is mostly fried or BBQ. We started with fried tamales with gitback sauce. We had fried catfish and the trimmings. We thought this was appropriate for this place. Our daughter was with us and had a fried green tomato sammich. Yes, that is how it was spelt, and she thought it was very good: fried green tomatoes with mozzarella and Monterey jack cheese, smoked bacon and GZ gitback sauce on a French roll. We were intrigued with the gitback sauce. What is it?

“Our version of the comeback sauce,” she said. (And what is comeback sauce? Apparently it is a specialty of Jackson, Miss., maybe invented at the Mayflower Café in the 1930’s—used on salads, French fries, fried potatoes, onion rings, and just about everything else in Jackson.) I was lucky enough to find the person who made the gitback sauce and have included the recipe. Now the treat of the evening was dessert. Continuing the fried theme, we shared a serving of fried brownie bites, and a serving of fried cheesecake bites. I had never had this, but it was so good and fatty. Southerners can fry anything.

The Ground Zero Blues Club was opened in 2001 and is owned by Clarksdale businessman Bill Luckett, actor and local resident Morgan Freeman, and Howard Stovall, formally of Stovall Plantation–home of Muddy Waters. If you are looking for a true Delta Blues experience, Ground Zero Blues Club is the place to go. There are several other venues in town for variety.

Now our accommodations in Clarksdale were unique! We stayed at the Shack Up Inn, off Highway 61. That is the name ”for real.” It is a B&B, but as we learned, that is not a bed and breakfast. There it means a bed and beer! About 10 years ago some friends decided to buy two decrepit shacks for someplace to get together, tell stories and drink. It was preservation of sorts—they had grown up in this cotton country when all the way to Memphis the road was lined with these vernacular homes, red, green, unpainted, and pretty in a way. The friends pressure-washed the things, inside and out, and tried to seal up the cracks. European travelers on the blues trail wanted to “let” them.

“Let them do what? We didn’t know what let meant,” the owner said. But the business was born. You can stay in one of the now nine sharecroppers’ homes and there are some rooms in the cotton gin of Hopson Plantation. As their advertising promotes; “Bring your wife, bring your girlfriend, oh heck, bring them both.”

We had a wonderful afternoon, having a beer (available at the plantation commissary) sitting on a beaten up sofa with an old washing machine right beside the sofa on the front porch of our shack. They had the furnishings just right! They do have a bath and air conditioning but the shacks are furnished with whatever. We actually slept well, even with holes in the sheets and a cover that looked really used. You probably will say, “You paid for that?”

For Sunday brunch we ate at another Morgan Freeman and Bill Luckett enterprise, a restaurant called Madidi. A lot more upscale, the restaurant is a white tablecloth place, the best in Clarksdale and has been written up in Gourmet, Food and Wine and Bon Appétit. It is in an old but renovated building downtown, nicely decorated with artwork from the area’s outstanding artists. The waiter told us the name Madidi had something to do with Africa and directed us to a framed article on the wall. Well, not really Africa. Madidi is a national forest in Bolivia. We gave him a geography lesson after reading the article on the wall from National Geographic. Bolivia is in South America.

This was brunch so my husband and daughter ate the Delta Benedict, which had a fried green tomato, lump blue crab, two poached eggs on an English muffin. They thought it was very good. My daughter thought the crab was really unnecessary; it just added to the price. The fried green tomato is a nice touch, though. I had the Nicoise Salad, which I thought was going go have some nice seared ahi tuna, but the tuna was chopped just like from a can. Not the greatest selection. But if you are ever in Clarksdale this is a good place to eat. I am sure dinner is more interesting.

This is the recipe for gitback sauce from the person, Prentice Riley, who makes the sauce daily at the Ground Zero Blues Club. It makes a lot, but one could reduce the amounts if you wish.

Gitback Sauce

Makes 1-2 gallons depending on the strength of onion. I guess he adds more mayo if he thinks the onion is too strong. The sauce is good but unless you are preparing for a very large crowd, you do not need gallons!

In blender:

1 large onion, peeled and quartered

6-8 cloves of garlic

¼ cup of water

Process till nearly smooth

Add: 3 cups of chili sauce

2 tablespoons worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons yellow mustard

2 teaspoons paprika

2 tablespoons black pepper

Fill rest of blender with mayo and blend

Pour into plastic serving pitcher; add more chili sauce and mayo as needed.