Cleveland, Mississippi: The Not So Sleepy Small Town
The Friday-night scene at Delta Meat Market's happy hour dinner serves as a microcosm for Cleveland, Mississippi: a long table lined with travel agents from Europe, a young father dancing with a toddler on his shoes, lifelong residents sipping cocktails on a wood banquette, and college students sharing a charcuterie board. While the Delta's leisurely pace of life is one of its charms, Cleveland has always had a bit more pep in its step from a consistent trickle of younger newcomers to Delta State University (home of the Fighting Okra) and international pilgrims on the Mississippi Blues Trail (Dockery Farms, the generally agreed upon home of the artform, is nearby).
Over the past decade, a group of local-grown entrepreneurs have transformed downtown—chiefly among them unofficial mayor William "Weejy" Rogers, the executive chef of Hey Joe's (a design-minded burger-and-beer spot that has become a beloved tour stop for bands beyond the blues) and Mosquito Burrito (a colorful answer to the Chipotle chain). He also collaborated with Hey Joe's and Mosquito Burrito owner Justin Huerta on the sassy but substantive Keep Cleveland Boring, a nonprofit that organizes and promotes events that counter any notion of a dull small-town mind-set.
Another native, Cole Ellis, who has cooked in Nashville and Charleston, came back home to Mississippi to open his downtown butcher-shop restaurant, Delta Meat Market. Soon after, he was named a James Beard Award Best Chef South semifinalist for his fresh visions of local ingredients. In April, Ellis plans to move his restaurant to the Cotton House Cleveland hotel, a new 95-room boutique property that will cater to the thousands of visitors who come to tour the city's new high-tech, interactive Grammy Museum. The only one outside of Los Angeles, the museum manifests the lineage of American music and brings it back home to the Delta.