Jun 24, 2015

Hooray for the Hollywood Café, Robinsonville, Miss.

Of all the destinations I frequent when I travel, I can’t think of any location that looks more out of place than the islands of casinos and the strip of commercialization that connects them that appear out of nowhere in the north Mississisppi Delta about 15 minutes north of Tunica, Miss., and a half hour south of Memphis, Tenn. 

Yet, somehow the Tunica Resorts area works, probably for the reasoning that Las Vegas works in the middle of a desert.  There’s not much else there.  And, in fact, the casinos that were built in part of unincorporated Robinsonville, Miss., starting in 1995 were at one point the third largest gaming destination in the country (the ever-expanding gaming industry has since pushed it back to eighth place).  To me, the draw was a fun, affordable halfway point in between my home and New Orleans.  The rooms are typically cheap, the slots are often loose and the atmosphere is undoubtedly mini-Vegas.  I thought The April would love it. 

The April did, in fact, love the Jacuzzi suite I chose.  But here’s the problem if it turns out crowds, noisy casinos and giant imposing glitzy structures aren’t your thing:  Your dinner choices at Tunica Resorts are either at the casino or a smattering of fast food joints and chains near an outlet mall on that same commercial strip surrounded by cotton fields. 

We almost resorted into driving into Memphis until I remembered the one place in old Robinsonville (the only place, in fact) that, thanks to my love for the blues, I’d always wanted to go to:  the Hollywood Café

The Hollywood Café is a certified stop on the Mississippi Blues Trail, and with good reason.  Its current location was once a plantation commissary (the original was in Hollywood, Miss., just a few miles south of Robinsonville on old U.S. Highway 61).  The old Hollywood Café juke joint moved here in 1983 after a fire destroyed the old location, and a who’s who of blues greats have played here and at the original location over the years. 

Today’s Hollywood Café is more known as a restaurant than bar, and thankfully they were still serving when we arrived around 8:30 p.m. on a rainy night.  In fact, we were slightly concerned because we were practically the only customers left around. 

But we were welcomed in and assured by the very friendly hostess that they would fix us up right.  How could we resist such an inviting refuge from the rain? 

From a food standpoint, the Hollywood Café’s claim to fame is its fried dill pickles, which reportedly originated here.  I was game, of course, but The April was skeptical.  Still, we know fried paradise when we see one, so we instead started with one of The April’s favorites …

… the fried green tomatoes.  See the napkin wrapped around The April’s neck like a bib?  Yeah, she was ready. And they did not disappoint.  A nice crisp batter on the outside; firm, juicy and slightly tart on the inside.  Ranch dressing as the perfect complement for dipping.

Speaking of not disappointing, The April couldn’t resist trying the Hollywood’s famous catfish platter.  The catfish are raised locally, so you know the food is going to be fresh.  And after tasting the batter on the fried green tomatoes, we knew our entrees were going to be more deep-fried excellence.  Of course, The April chose the standard fries and cole slaw to accompany the catfish, which cam put perfectly crisp, moist and flaky. 

I almost got the same thing since I had had a catfish craving throughout our road trip, but when I saw the frog leg platter on the menu, I knew I had to order it.  Yes, it tastes a little like chicken, just a little saltier and “cleaner” for lack of a better way to describe it.  So, in case you’re keeping score, that’s 3 for 3 on the Hollywood Café’s deep fried success stories. 

As we ate, I couldn’t help but admire the Hollywood’s well-stocked bar area, which looked somewhat lonely without patrons to enjoy the atmosphere.  Closing time was approaching, however, so I could only make another mental addition to my “to do” list for the next time through. 

In summary, the Hollywood Café was just what we were looking for, and its food really hit the spot.  It’s classic deep fried Southern cooking, and you can’t beat the atmosphere provided by the commissary-turned-bar/restaurant.  The hospitality was an added plus, as I’m sure the last thing they expected that night were two more soaked tourists, but we were treated very well.  My only regret is that it took me so long to try the Hollywood Café in the first place.  But I have a strong feeling I’ll be back soon.           

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