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Drive and dine: A southern Mississippi River sampler

Catfish, po’ boys and barbeque–you’ll find plenty of flavorful dishes on this foodie tour of four southern states.

Arkansas BBQ
Credit: Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism

The Mississippi River feeds the heart of America. Long before Europeans arrived at its banks, Native Americans were sustained by the bounty of this mighty river. As immigrants arrived and built homes, and then villages and cities, the river provided food that fed families and grew commerce. Today the river continues to serve these roles and is the centerpiece of culinary culture in the south. Join us on this seven-day Mississippi food adventure. We’ll explore tastes of the river as we journey from Memphis downriver to New Orleans. As we travel along the river’s shore, we’ll visit food markets, producers and some of the region’s best seafood restaurants. It’s a culinary trip you won’t forget.

Day 1 – Memphis, Tennessee

We’ll start our culinary trip in the historic city of Memphis. Also known as the Home of the Blues and the Birthplace of Rock and Roll, this city’s food scene also hits some high notes. Our time in Memphis will include a trip to a fish market and a walking tour of Beale Street. We’ll work up a good appetite because the evening includes a visit to Restaurant Iris, the flagship of Chef Kelly English. Chef English puts a Memphis twist on the food of Louisiana.

Morning: Arrive in Memphis, Tennessee

Browse regional seafood at the Farmers’ Market at Agricenter International

Afternoon: Walking tour of Beale Street.

Evening: Elegant seafood meal at Restaurant Iris

Spend the night in Memphis.

Other options: See a live blues performance; visit Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley; visit the National Civil Rights Museum or explore the Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid.

Day 2 – Helena, Arkansas

The Arkansas Delta has a unique charm all of its own. We’ll enjoy local hospitality and regional cuisine in the beautiful town of Helena. This town remembers its American Civil War history, and locals love their seafood. They also love going after the catch– the largest catfish caught here weighed 116 pounds! We’ll see what we can catch as we savor the town for the day.

Morning: Drive to Helena, Arkansas (70 miles/113km)

Start your day in search of the elusive catfish. There are experienced fishing guides on this stretch of the river who will help you catch the big one. Cat’n Aroun’ Guide Service is a good bet; the owner has experience as a tournament fisherman.

Afternoon: Visit Civil War battle sites and a veterans cemetery.

Evening: Enjoy a meal in Helena’s last bordello. The Windbag these days is a restaurant offering steak, seafood and an expansive selection of microbrews.

Spend the night in The Sanders, a carefully-preserved southern home that is now a bed and breakfast.

Other options: Visit Johnny Cash’s boyhood home, view the Mississippi River from Helena River Park, visit the Delta Cultural Center

Day 3 – Vicksburg, Mississippi

We’ll head back across the river and head south to “The Key to the South”—Vicksburg, Mississippi. We’ll encounter more American Civil War history in this river town, but we’re here for more than history—this is bass fishing country and a local outfitter will help us go after the fish that’s the most popular North American game fish. But even if we’re not lucky on Eagle Lake, we’ll catch a great meal that night in a refined Vicksburg mansion.

Morning: Drive to Vicksburg, Mississippi (3 hours, 175 miles/282km)

Head onto Eagle Lake to go bass fishing with a guide from Blue Cat Guide Service.

Afternoon: Visit Toney’s Seafood Market and Butcher Shop to buy some cooked shrimp for a snack by the Mississippi.

Evening: Relaxing meal of Southern comfort food at The Historic Klondyke Trading Post, a restaurant founded in 1896 in a former gas station.

Spend the night in Vicksburg.

Other options: Visit Vicksburg National Military Park, take a walking tour of historic Vicksburg, admire Vicksburg riverfront murals, tour the Biedenharn Coca-Cola Museum.

Day 4 – Natchez, Mississippi

Morning: We’ll continue our travels south to Natchez. (72 miles/116km, 82 minutes)

Take a guided kayak tour and learn about the Mississippi fishery from a local guide.

Afternoon: Lunch of oyster po’ boys; tour a working cotton plantation and learn about the commercial history of the south.

Evening: Dinner of wood fired steak at the King’s Inn, a restaurant housed in a rustic 1789 structure.

Spend the night in Natchez hotel.

Day 5 – Natchez to Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Morning: Drive to Baton Rouge, Louisiana (2½  hours, 170 miles/274km) and visit a Southern plantation.

Afternoon: Visit Tony’s Seafood Market & Deli. Eat lunch and explore a vast selection of local seafood. Stroll historic Baton Rouge.

Evening: Head to The Chimes with an appetite—you’re sure to find some truly delectable Southern dishes. After dinner: visit the Belle of Baton Rouge Casino.

Spend the night at a Baton Rouge riverfront hotel.

Day 6 – Baton Rouge to New Orleans via Hammond, Louisiana

Spend a little time in the deep American south and you’ll likely spot an American alligator. Alligators are shy and when you leave an alligator alone, it leaves you alone. They are amazing creatures to see up close, and we’ll do just that—safely—on an alligator farm. Later we’ll discover what the locals already know: alligator is a tasty treat.

Morning: Travel to Hammond and tour an alligator farm.

Afternoon: Continue to New Orleans.

Stop by the Westwego Shrimp Lot, visit vendors and pick up some Gulf shrimp, fresh off the boat.

Snack: Head to Cochon for an appetizer of fried alligator with garlic mayonnaise.

Evening: Dinner at Peche Seafood Grill—a James Beard award-winning restaurant specializing in simply and beautifully-prepared Louisiana cuisine.

Stay in a traditional New Orleans hotel

Other options: Visit Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral; tour Mardi Gras World ; visit the Ogden Museum of Southern Art or, if you dare, step into the Museum of Death.

Day 7 – New Orleans

We’ll leave the car parked on this last day in the Big Easy—why drive when one can take a historic streetcar? We’ll eat our way through this last day in the American south, by learning how to cook some Cajun seafood specialties in the morning and taking a culinary tour in the afternoon.

Morning: Learn how to make shrimp and artichoke soup, crawfish etouffee at the New Orleans School of Cooking.

Afternoon: Take a culinary tour of New Orleans, sampling a range of Cajun delights.

Evening: Enjoy an excellent yet unpretentious meal of cochon de lait po-boys and raw oysters at Bevi Seafood Co.; the restaurant is a local favorite. After dinner: catch a jazz performance at a New Orleans nightclub and stay in a traditional New Orleans hotel.

Other options: Go shopping for unique items from the American South to bring home—visit Voodoo Temple, enjoy beignets and café au lait at Café Du Monde. Stroll the Garden District. Watch the street performers on Royal Street.

Day 8 – Depart for home

Fly out home of the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, full of Mississippi River memories from Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana.