Off the Beaten Path. Way Off.

Vance Lauderdale's Mid-South Travel Guide



(page 6 of 6)

 

I stumbled upon Uncle Henry’s Place by accident more than 20 years ago, and that discovery still sticks in my mind as one of the strangest experiences I’ve had in Mississippi. I was with friends — don’t laugh, the Lauderdales still have some casual acquaintances — and for reasons that no one can remember, we found ourselves prowling around highways and byways down in Mississippi. The sun had long set, and in those days (and nights) before the Tunica casinos provided a comforting glow on the horizon, just about any area outside of any town was pitch-black dark. At one point, we ended up at Moon Lake, a former oxbow of the Mississippi, and began to circle the lake on a narrow two-lane road. There wasn’t a home, a car, a business, or any semblance of civilization in sight.

And then, there it was. We rounded a curve, and were dazzled by a rambling white building, illuminated by spotlights and — a decidedly odd touch in the summertime — colored Christmas lights. Cars lined the driveway and were parked on the grass in front of the building, and from inside, we could hear music playing. Our curiosity aroused, we got out of the car, opened a screen door, and found ourselves in a restaurant dining room, just packed wall to wall with happy customers. As we stepped inside, some of them even smiled and waved to us — as if we were old friends. To one side was a bar area, complete with pool table, and beyond that was a larger room being used as a dance hall, the music coming from an old-timey jukebox.

Sensing that we had stepped into an alternate universe, that impression only became stronger when a friendly woman swept out of the crowd, said “Welcome!” as if she knew we were coming, and led us to the one empty table in the place (reserved for us, perhaps?), where we dined on shrimp and steak and other delights. Maybe it was the unusual surroundings, like an opening scene from a Twilight Zone episode, or maybe it was the truly outstanding food, but that meal still stands out as one of the best I’ve ever had, anywhere.

That was my first visit to what we learned later was called Uncle Henry’s, though many of the locals still called it by its old name, the Moon Lake Casino. Back in the Twenties and Thirties, so the story goes — as told by the longtime owner, Sarah B. Wright — this old building was a gambling hall, sometimes visited by big-time gangsters like Al Capone. A row of cabins in the back served as a place for “ladies of the evening” to entertain the guests of the casino, and rooms upstairs held slot machines and roulette wheels. William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams were regular patrons, and Faulkner referred to the Moon Lake Casino in some of his stories.

So the place definitely has a colorful history, though who knows how much of it is true? What is true is that Uncle Henry’s, some 70 miles south of Memphis, has been serving up fine food to weary travelers for several decades, and, as that fellow in the furniture commercial likes to say, “It’s definitely worth the drive.” And once you get there, if you’re too tired to drive back home, just spend the night. Uncle Henry’s is also a bed-and-breakfast.

And just who, exactly, is Henry? Well, Sarah will tell you all about that. 

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