Anthony’s coast-inspired menu and live music on Wednesdays combine to make this West Point landmark a midweek hot spot.
Story Jan Swoope | Photographs Chris Jenkins
Few things heat up a Mississippi night quite like a heapin’ helping of the blues. Add the Delta- and Cajun-inspired cuisine of Anthony’s Good Food Market in downtown West Point, and the recipe ripens for a prime night out.
Six evenings each week, diners head to the landmark restaurant for its distinctive atmosphere and fine fare, like succulent Seafood-Stuffed Ribeye, Bourbon Street Chicken or Crab Cake Imperial. But on Wednesdays, the eatery on historic Murff Row becomes a mid-week mecca for the faithful who gather in an adjoining bar to revel in live music, friends and good food.
Blues Night Wednesdays are a natural extension of Anthony’s owners, Ray and Carrie Hamilton. And not just because West Point is the birthplace of the legendary Howlin’ Wolf.
“I’m a big blues fan,” admits Ray, who holds two degrees from Mississippi State University. “A friend gave me a Mississippi John Hurt CD when I was 17, and I’ve been hooked ever since.”
Blues music was even pivotal in Ray’s courtship of Carrie. One of their first dates was to the King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena, Ark.
Each week, familiar faces like Keith and Margie Brown, Flathead Ford, Big Joe Shelton or Mookie Wilson blend the blues and other genres from 7 to 10 p.m. at Anthony’s. Don’t be surprised to see regional acts like Tupelo’s “Vinnie C.” or Jesse Robinson of Jackson there, too.
On a recent Wednesday, music scene mainstays Bill Cooke, Chuck Schimph and Mark Tribble took the stage, as Can of Worms. Their mix of blues, rockabilly and jump blues had the crowd on its feet.
“It’s just a great atmosphere; we love it,” Bill said later. “Anthony’s is one of the few places that actually promotes and focuses on that type of music.”
Brad and Nichelle Belue are Blues Night regulars. They live in Starkville; Brad works in Columbus.
“We’re there pretty much every Wednesday,” Brad said. “First of all, the food’s phenomenal, some of the best in the Golden Triangle. They always have good bands, and the service is great. How can you beat the combination of those three?”
BORN TO IT
It was probably inevitable that Ray would end up in the food service industry. He was raised, after all, in a family full of accomplished restaurateurs on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
“When I say I grew up in a restaurant, I literally did. The school bus would drop us off at my parents’ restaurant, where we would stay until they got off work. Needless to say, we were expected to help as soon as we turned of age,” he recounted.
A stint with Sysco Foods, and training with Delta native Chef Cherry Hobson, who finished at the Culinary Institute of America in New York, and Chef Julie Foster, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Atlanta, added to his expertise. Hobson’s way with “big, bold foods” and Foster’s focus on style and presentation influence today the Hamiltons’ philosophy of striving to serve excellent food that’s pleasing to the eye.
IF IT AIN’T BROKE
Ray and Carrie know the restaurant from front to back. Both worked there before they married, and Ray was general manager from 2005 until the two purchased Anthony’s from the Charles Fraley family in 2009.
“I fell in love with Anthony’s and the community when I first started working here as a server in 1999,” Ray said of the business that originally opened in 1936, as the Anthony and Wilson Grocery.
The connection was just as strong for Carrie, an alumna of Mississippi University for Women. “It’s got such an old and charismatic soul,” she said. “I worked there through college and spent many nights sweeping that floor and wishing the walls would tell me a story or two.”
Other than adding a bit of coastal flair to the menu and updating some artwork, the Hamiltons, both 32, made very few changes.
“‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ really applies in our situation,” Ray laughed. “We just really focused on getting the highest quality food products we could get; we use as much local and fresh ingredients as possible.”
Fresh seafood from the Gulf Coast, from Texas to Florida (and even Hawaii), plus top-of-the-line beef, allow a menu of tempting choices. Several have reached signature status.
“Catfish with Crawfish Sauce is one of our staple dishes,” Ray said. “It seems like a lot of restaurants have some form of crawfish sauce now, but we like to consider ours the Robert Johnson of crawfish sauces.” Another stand-out is the Seafood-Stuffed Ribeye, a 14-ounce grilled steak with “shrimp, crab, crawfish, mushrooms and green onion in a rich au jus.”
The Hamiltons are quick to credit their community of patrons and their employees for the restaurant’s ongoing success.
“Our employees are so important to the equation. When I say we’re like family, it’s the truth,” Ray stressed. “Every employee in my kitchen has worked here at least six years. And we have servers who have worked here over a year who still get called ‘rookies.’”
That stability and continuity help make Anthony’s what it is.
“The greatest nights are when my kitchen crew is laughing, the dish pit is singing, and the servers and managers are high-fiving and smiling. I know right then when I walk to the front of the house the place will be buzzing. This is when I know I’m doing what I was meant to do.”
The music has become a compelling part of the buzz, the mojo that seeps from Anthony’s distressed brick-and-stucco-walls and comfortably worn concrete floor.
“We feel keeping the blues — or any original music — alive is important. Not many things have come out of Mississippi with such a global influence. If there was no Howlin’ Wolf, there would be no Led Zeppelin, no Rolling Stones,” said Ray. “We’re trying to do so much more than serve a meal … we want to deliver a good time, a memorable experience.”
Anthony’s Good Food Market is located at 116 West Main St. in West Point. It is open Monday-Thursday from 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Learn more at anthonysgoodfoodmarket.com.
BLACKENED REDFISH WITH LIME BEURRE BLANC
Redfish filets or other white flaky fish
Dab of butter for cooking fish
Creole or blackening seasoning
1 cup of white wine
1 1/2 Tablespoons white vinegar
1/2 cup lime juice
1/4 cup diced shallots
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
6 ounces cubed, chilled real butter
To blacken fish:
• Heat cast iron skillet until smoking hot. Place a dab of butter on skillet and distribute evenly. Cover fish filets in creole or blackening seasoning.
• Place fish down and let sear for a couple minutes, until it releases easily from pan. Flip and repeat process. If you are using a thick cut of fish you may need to finish in a 350-degree oven. Fish is done when it flakes easily.
To make sauce:
• Combine first five ingredients in a small sauce pan and reduce on medium-high heat until syrupy.
• Add cream and turn heat to low. Add butter one cube at a time until completely melted. Pour mixture through strainer to remove shallots and garlic. Drizzle over fish and enjoy!
SEARED TUNA WITH MANGO SALSA
4 tablespoons olive oil
Two diced onions (yellow or purple)
3 teaspoons minced garlic
Six mangos, peeled, seeded, and chunked
3 teaspoons minced ginger
One fresh jalapeño pepper
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 cup orange juice
To make mango salsa:
• Heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions. When onions begin to turn translucent, add garlic. Turn heat to low. (Don’t burn garlic!)
• Cook about one minute then add mangos, ginger, jalapeno, brown sugar and orange juice. Let cook 10 to 20 minutes until most of the orange juice is reduced. Can serve warm or at room temperature. Add a touch of red wine vinegar for a little zip, if mangos are not sweet enough.
To sear tuna:
• Season tuna with salt and pepper.
• Heat a sauté pan over high heat with a little bit of olive oil. When oil starts to smoke, sear tuna two minutes on each side for rare. Turn down temperature and cook longer for medium.
QUICK AND EASY OYSTERS ROCKEFELLER
One half white onion, small diced
One stalk celery, small diced
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 1/2 pounds frozen spinach
1/2 pound cooked and diced bacon, or Canadian bacon
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
8 ounces cream cheese
• Place frozen spinach in 1 inch of boiling water and let cook until unfrozen. Place spinach in strainer and squeeze as much water out as possible.
• Sauté first three ingredients in 1 tablespoon of butter on medium high heat for five to eight minutes. Add spinach and the remaining ingredients.
• Turn heat down to low and stir ingredients until cream cheese is melted and seasonings are evenly distributed. Let mixture cool.
• Shuck fresh oysters and place spinach mixture on top. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and bake in 400-degree oven for two to five minutes depending on preference.