So like I said, checked out of the Alluvian Hotel and headed toward Marvell, Arkansas.
We are looking for Shadden’s Grocery and we ain’t grocery shopping. We are bar-b-que shopping. Between our map and our guide, “A Southern Belly” by John T. Edge, we have no trouble finding it.
Shadden’s is on a two lane, very busy Highway 49 and is actually 4 miles outside of Marvell, proper. Eighteen wheelers seem to be flying by as we pull into a parking lot in front of an old, I mean old, white house. There is no mistaking where you are, as there is a menu, hand painted about 10′ x 4′ hanging on the side of the house.
The large trucks are pulled off the side of the road and the truckers are all inside. Most folks seem to be ordering chopped pork sandwichs. As the nice old lady takes orders and heads towards the back to put in those orders, she turns and ask if any one else wants a chopped pork sandwich. Stacey and I raise both hands and the nice old lady laughs and ask if that means we want two each. Yep, two each we tell her.
I grab a cold beer and we sit at one of the four toppers. Half way thru my beer, our sandwiches are handed to us in a brown paper bag. We tear into the bag, unwrap a couple sandwiches and take a bite at about the same time. We sit and chew for a second and then look at each other and we both say “coleslaw”. That’s a good thing, creamy slaw on tangy bar b que. The perfect yen yang of the food kind.
We each finish one sandwich. I grab our other two and we hit the road, saving those sandwiches for later. For now we are headed to Helena, back towards the Mississippi River.
Helena is kind of desolate. We pull in to town, take the main street til we have to take a left or a right. We choose right and drive past some very cool buildings. Most are closed. The ones that are open are almost vintage looking. They are in good repair but old. It’s like we are on a empty movie set. One building has a old Buster Brown sign. Then you hit the end of this street and looking to the left you see a large outdoor stage. We are hardly seeing any signs of life, except an old lady pulling a rope with a cardboard box tied to it. Just dragging her box down the street.
We were looking for Bullock’s Cafe, and it was right in front of us. Man it looked rough. Now Stacey and I are not shy and we will eat anywhere with anyone, but this place made us stop and think for a second. So what we decided to do was go in the liquor store we had just passed. I always feel comfortable surrounded by liquor. Also there was a giant bar b que pit on wheels out front, just smoking up a storm.
We went in and ask the little old man behind the counter what he was cooking and could we buy some, whatever it was. He said we would have to talk to the guy working the drive-up window. The guy finished up at the drive-up and turned to take care of us. He was a stout man kind of dressed like a cowboy with both the cowboy hat and a six shooter on his hip. Actually I think it was a 9mm, but what’s the difference?
After talking with him a few minutes, we learn he’s the Sheriff. No kidding. Anyway, he was very friendly and we chatted with him about the city and told him it looked kind of empty. He agreed. Told us the city had two large festivals which were what really keep the city going. One was a Delta Blues Fest the other was a Bikers Fest. He showed us his bike out front. It was a Honda gold-wing or something like that, but he told us all sorts of bikers come and filled up the town for the weekend. He showed us the racks of ribs on the smoker. Said he didn’t really sell them. I think they were for a family party or something, but he said he would sell us a rack if we wanted.
Well since there was really nowhere to eat them, and we were there to try Bullocks, we ask him if they would “welcome us” there. That was my way of asking, is it safe. He said they would love the business, so down the street we went.
This place is a juke joint. A pool table right in the middle, a small bar and a few tables pushed to one side. Christmas lights draped here and there. Cora is there, just as Edges book said she would be. Just us and Cora.
No sign of food, so we ask and she rattles off what she has. We start to tell her what we want and she just hands us a plate and tell us to follow her. We go behind the bar, thur a door into a narrow, tiny kitchen. It has a huge commercial stove taking up almost the whole kitchen. Pots and pans every. She shows us everything in the pots and tells us to help ourselves. So we pile it up, fried chicken, mashed taters, gravy, rice, peas, beans, it’s all there. But it’s all cold. To bad because you could tell it would have been really good. I guess we could have ask her to warm it up or something, but instead we picked and ate what we wanted. I think we were both thinking of our sandwich from Shaddens.