616 State Street
“I went to the crossroad
Fell down on my knees”
— Robert Johnson, Cross Road Blues
From Robert Johnson to Led Zeppelin to Eric Clapton, the image of a drifter standing in the moonlight at the crossing of two lonely roads has been elevated to an iconic symbolism.
Clarksdale, Mississippi and Abe’s Bar-B-Q – which literally stands where the state’s two ‘Blues Highways’ intersect – are inextricably linked to the legend of “The Crossroads.”
Of course, the most famous crossroads story is tied to Robert Johnson himself, the pioneer of the Mississippi Delta blues.
Johnson grew up on the Abbay and Leatherman Plantation, which still operates today about 30 miles north.
Interested in music at a young age, Johnson would bug the blues-playing share croppers on the plantation like Son House to teach him licks on the harmonica and guitar.
There was just one problem.
Basically, young Robert Johnson sucked.
Around 1930, Johnson moved away.
When he returned a few years later, Robert Johnson had transformed into the greatest blues guitarist on earth.
To the folks around the Abbay and Leatherman Plantation, there could be but one explanation for Johnson’s newfound talent…
…he must’ve sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads.
What else could it be?
I guess it never occurred to these folks that combining God-given talent with lots and lots of hard work might be a more logical explanation.
But I’ll admit—the whole “sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads” sounds a whole lot cooler.
Apparently, the Clarksdale Chamber of Congress agrees.
They erected a beautifully gaudy monument of two blue guitars at the center of town where Highway 61 and 49 intersect to commemorate the spot where Johnson made his deal with the devil.
In a way, I get it.
Highway 61, known as ‘The Blues Highway,’ has been immortalized in countless blues songs from Mississippi Fred McDowell to Bob Dylan.
Same with Highway 49 – it’s been sung about by everyone from Big Joe Williams to Mick Jagger.
And these two iconic roads cut straight through the heart of the Mississippi Delta where the blues were born and then finally intersect right here in Clarksdale.
Right here in front of Mid-South Farm Supply, Krosstown Pawn Shop, and Church’s Chicken.
Somehow, I doubt this is where Robert Johnson would actually choose to sell his soul to the devil.
But then again, maybe the devil was hungry.
Even back in Robert Johnson’s day, Abe Davis, a Lebanese immigrant, was smoking and slicing pork right here in Clarksdale.
Now run by Abe’s sons – and sitting under the shadow of the Chamber’s Crossroads monument – Abe’s Bar-B-Q remains one of Mississippi’s top roadside culinary destinations.
The pork here is smoked over hickory for six hours, which is just long enough to melt the fat and cartilage into the meat.
However, it is not long enough to get that pulled pork tenderness most barbeque masters seek.
But Abe’s solves that issue by slicing the smoked pork shoulder super thin and grilling the pork shavings on the flat top.
The result is crispy, delicate pork topped with a vinegary, ketchupy sauce.
Delicious. Especially as a sandwich, which comes as a double-decker with bread, pork, sauce, and coleslaw.
The sauce adds a zesty tang. The slaw gives a crunchy, cool bite. The fresh buns hold it all together.
But man cannot live on barbeque alone.
You can’t visit the Mississippi Delta without trying some local tamales.
Tamales? In Mississippi?
There aren’t any Mexicans in Mississippi!
Nope. And never have been.
Nobody knows where the Delta tradition of tamales originated. But I do know one thing.
Abe’s tamales are among the best, especially with their signature chili smothered on top.
Some top-notch onion rings on the side and a cold Coors Light to wash it all down, Abe’s Bar-B-Q was the highlight of my trip to the Delta.
It was so good, I was willing to give ANYTHING to get the Abe’s Bar-B-Q t-shirt the waitress was wearing.
I’m not saying I wouldn’t have sold my soul to the devil. I’m just saying I’m glad I didn’t have to.
Rating: Bought the Shirt!