A Delta surprise in downtown Greenwood
By By Robert St. John / food columnist
Sept. 24, 2003
Robert St. John is the executive chef/owner of the Purple Parrot Caf and Crescent City Grill in Hattiesburg and Meridian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (601) 264-0672.
I have discovered another one of Mississippi's best-kept secrets.
Mississippi's finest hotel is not located in a Tunica gambling hall or a Biloxi casino, it's not a bed and breakfast or a glass-encased high-rise hotel, and it's not in Jackson or any of the surrounding border cities. The finest Mississippi hotel I have had the pleasure to visit is in downtown Greenwood.
The Alluvian hotel is the crown jewel of the Mississippi Delta and the premiere hotel property in the state.
The hotel's name comes from the alluvial plane which encompasses the Yazoo Basin. An alluvial plane is a mass of land with substantial amounts of mineral-enhanced soil our Delta.
Fred Carl is the president and CEO of the Viking Range Corporation. Years earlier, he revived Greenwood's famed downtown Cotton Row district and bought a run-down hotel the Hotel Irving on Howard Street with one goal in mind: turning it into a world-class boutique hotel.
How he pulled it off
Carl hired an architectural design firm whose previous projects included the historic and magnificent Willard hotel in Washington, D.C., the Ritz Carlton in Montreal and the Berkley in London.
The Alluvian is a boutique hotel as fine as any in Manhattan. It has four floors with 45 rooms and five suites. The spacious rooms are filled with fresh-cut flowers, flat-screen TVs, DVD players, high-speed Internet connections and bedding designed to turn the lightest sleeper into a 21st century Rip Van Winkle.
The beds are plush chenille blankets, 350 thread-count linens, comforters with more goose down than a Delta duck hunt and pillows with more feathers than the Peabody has ducks. The bathrooms are large and adorned with marble, granite and Aveda products
The Alluvian is sophisticated and cosmopolitan. There are light touches of stainless steel throughout the hotel the in-room coffee cups, the fireplace in the concierge lounge and the occasional trim here and there give hints to its Viking lineage.
The Alluvian's chic, hip and fashionable decor make you stand up and take notice. I am usually not a fan of contemporary design elements. But, the Alluvian is a nice change of pace and the wonderful works of art that line the walls pull the space together.
The walls of the lobby and all of the public spaces are decorated with the work of Mississippi artists. William Dunlap's massive and magnificent masterpiece "Delta Dog Trot" is the focal point and centerpiece of the lobby and is worthy of a visit on its own merits. The hallways are lined with photographs of the Delta by Delta photographers.
Carl also bought a jewelry store and a small caf next door to the hotel. In that space, he teamed up with restaurateur Frank LeFlore to re-locate and then re-open Giardina's restaurant.
The new and improved Giardina's, a Greenwood institution since 1936, is another jewel in crown of the Delta.
Delta restaurants are all about beef, pompano and privacy. Like its down-the-street neighbor, Lusco's, Giardina's has a series of private dining rooms that section off the restaurant table by table. Our group of 10 was seated in its own cubicle and the curtain was drawn. I am told this is a holdover practice from the days of prohibition.
Nevertheless, it is charming and different and our lively group was grateful that we could be as raucous as we wanted and not disturb other patrons of the restaurant.
Mary Rose Giardina runs the hostess stand; LeFlore keeps an eye on the dining room and kitchen.
The food at Giardina's is first-rate. I have eaten countless meals in and around New Orleans, but I had to drive 300 north to the Mississippi Delta to eat the best crawfish bisque I have ever tasted.
Giardina's crawfish bisque a puree instead of the hearty stew-like broth garnished with stuffed-crawfish-heads served in neighboring Louisiana had the perfect amount of heat at the back of the tongue. It was smooth, rich and silky and worthy of multiple orders on numerous visits. I will be back.
Giardina's menu is heavy on oysters, light on pompano and circumstance. My wife enjoyed an excellent red snapper dish, I ate steak. Other members of our party were pleased with their selections as well.
Greenwood is fortunate to have world-class hotel property such as the Alluvian. If only every city in Mississippi had a Fred Carl to revitalize its forgotten downtown landmarks, save its heritage and improve its quality of life.
The Alluvian hotel and Giardina's restaurant are worth a trip to Greenwood whether you have business there or not.