By Emma Kent // Photos by Lauren Wood
The road to Cleveland feels longer than it is, maybe because once you’ve cleared the forests and foothills the land opens up before you into a flat expanse of field and farmland stretching for miles. But the drive to the Delta reflects the feeling of being in the Delta. It’s a change of pace, a slowing down, that allows visitors to embrace the simplicity and sweetness of entering the Delta bubble. It feels like its own world, and in a really good way.
However you reach Cleveland, and there are several ways — you might pass through Oxford and Batesville or head southwest toward Grenada and through Coffeeville — the thriving Delta town is well worth the drive. Cleveland is known for many things, among them being the home of Delta State University. The university gives the town a youthful energy and has attracted restaurateurs and business owners whose establishments serve the community, from students to locals. Between the recent addition of the GRAMMY Museum Mississippi and Chef Cole Ellis’ acclaimed Delta Meat Market, Cleveland is becoming a destination. The town has long been a Delta gem, rich in history and culture, and it just keeps getting better. Southern Living even named it one of the South’s Best Small Towns for 2019.
Where To Eat
Delta Dairy: Opened in 2013 by New York transplant Matty Bengloff, and Suzette, his wife, Delta Dairy serves up frozen yogurt, gelato, Italian ice, ice cream and custard. The flavors served rotate, with 12 options to choose from each day and more than 30 topping options. Delta Dairy is committed to regionally sourced food, so it exclusively serves products from Sugar Creek Foods and Honey Hill Farms in Russellville, Arkansas. Stop by while you’re in town and try one of their cookie ice cream sandwiches, but be prepared to share with a friend if you can’t take one down by yourself.
Hey Joe’s: Hey Joe’s is the place to go for burgers, bar food and beer. You can’t go wrong with the signature Joe Burger and one of the many local brews offered on tap. I guess you could say Hey Joe’s is part arcade, too, as it features vintage arcade games for patrons to play. It’s also a major live music spot for musicians playing in Cleveland. It’s the kind of place that offers a little bit of everything. If you’re lucky, you might catch a show while you’re in town. If the weather is nice, the building’s towering windows will likely be open, giving the restaurant an open-air feeling. The windows and Hey Joe’s large outdoor patio make it a perfect choice for dinner on a breezy summer evening.
Mosquito Burrito: Next door to Hey Joe’s you’ll find Mosquito Burrito, a build-your-own burrito/tacos/nachos and more restaurant. You can pretty much do whatever you want to create your perfect tortilla-wrapped meal, and if it’s happy hour (Monday through Friday from 4-7 p.m.), add a margarita, hurricane or daiquiri to your order.
The Senator’s Place: You may have seen this iconic Cleveland eatery on Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown.” Bourdain stopped at The Senator’s Place for a reason. The family-run restaurant is known for its soul food and has been a staple on the Cleveland food scene since its opening in 2003. Its name comes from its owner, Senator Willie Simmons, who has a passion for people and good food. Southern favorites like turnip greens, candied yams, fried chicken and butterbeans are all on the menu, and the restaurant offers a daily lunch buffet and a Friday evening buffet.
Lost Pizza Co.: Although Lost Pizza now has locations across the state, the original location is in Cleveland. The quirky pizza place’s menu includes some of the usual suspects — pepperoni, supreme, meat lover’s — along with some creative speciality creations of their own. If you’ve never had them before, start with an order of Mississippi Hot Delta Tamales.
Delta Meat Market: High-quality meats and produce are made into high-quality meals at Delta Meat Market, a restaurant from Delta native and James Beard-nominated chef Cole Ellis. Meat Market doubles as a butcher shop and grocery, and on Friday nights, a happy hour meeting spot. Read more about the restaurant in our Q&A with Ellis on page 63.
Things to do
Mathews-Sanders Sculpture Garden: The Mathews-Sanders Sculpture Garden on Delta State University’s campus is definitely worth a stop. Walk through and admire the abstract sculptures and fountain just outside of the Bologna Performing Arts Center on DSU’s campus. The sculpture garden was born out of an idea from Pam Mathews, whose husband, David Potter, was named DSU president in 1999. Mathews wanted to bring art to Delta State’s campus and to Cleveland, so she had the idea to hold competitions for artists that would bring 10 new sculptures to the garden every other year. The first competition was held in 2000 and has continued to this day. Although Mathews passed away of cancer in 2007, her legacy lives on through the sculpture garden which now features 30 pieces of art. The sculpture garden has also expanded across town with sculptures that have been placed on the grounds of the Grammy Museum and downtown in the green space along Sharpe Avenue.
GRAMMY Museum Mississippi: The GRAMMY Museum Mississippi is a recent addition to Cleveland, but it’s drawing visitors from all over who want to see its exhibits honoring award-winning musicians and Mississippi’s rich musical history. The museum, which opened in 2016, is actually located on Delta State’s campus. It is the first GRAMMY Museum built outside of Los Angeles, California. Exhibits at the museum include History of the GRAMMY Awards, On the Red Carpet, History of Dance, Singing & Songwriting/Pod Producing, Iconic Instruments and more. The museum also features interactive activities and one-of-a-kind artifacts. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday.
Shopping: There are so many local shops to peruse in Cleveland, so be sure to make some time during your visit for a little shopping. Downtown you’ll find boutiques like H’Squared, Delta Casual, The Wishing Well and Gilbow’s. There are also several speciality shops to browse including art gallery Studio 230, Rosson Co. and Sawdust Shack, a shop specializing in custom woodworking and gifts. Bookworms might also want to pop into Cotton Row Bookstore. If you’re looking for antiques, you’ll find several places in Cleveland to shop for vintage treasures. Try Neysa’s Fireside Shop or Moonstruck Flea Market.
Where To Stay
Most lodging options in Cleveland are your standard hotels (Hampton Inn, Holiday Inn Express), but the town’s first boutique hotel just arrived on the scene: Cotton House. Cotton House is located in the heart of Cleveland, and its downtown location puts visitors within walking distance of many of the town’s best restaurants and shopping. Cotton House will have 95 rooms for guests and two restaurants. Delta Meat Market will move from its current location to the hotel’s first floor, and Chef Cole Ellis will also be opening a new restaurant and bar on the Cotton House rooftop. The hotel will also feature retail space occupied by Balance Fitness Studio and Blue Delta Jean Co. Nearby Clarksdale and Greenwood also feature a few one-of-a-kind hotel options, and there are Airbnb rentals available throughout Cleveland and the surrounding areas as well.