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Montezuma Landing

The public landings along the Mississippi River -- few and far between -- are perhaps the region's best-kept secret. Here is the batture: the swampy woods that are the ghost of a once mighty floodplain. This is what the Delta was before we turned it into an agricultural empire. It is at once forbidding and wonderful.

My favorite landing is probably Delta Landing Park, named for a town that no longer existed, washed away for the river. My friend John Ruskey, in Rivergator (an essential guide for any river wanderer, whether by paddle or by car) gives it a more suitably epic name: Montezuma Landing. That comes from a steamship that crashed here, but by referencing an Aztec emperor, it also gives you a sense of the wildness of the batture.

Montezuma Landing is the perfect spot for a warm Saturday: bring a picnic (maybe pick up a burger at G&J Grocery in Friars Point on your way out -- perfectly seasoned and cooked on the griddle, it just may be the best backroads grocery in the state). Stay late, light a fire.

When the dog and I visited last week, we had the place all to ourselves -- except one barge, pushing its way upriver. Which is nice, but it's a pleasure I'm willing to give up if it means more people are aware of the treasure in our backyard.

J&W Smokehouse

When I stepped out the door this morning, it was just a little colder than I expected. Which put me in the mood for a good, hearty lunch.

Folks in Texas and the Carolinas and, hell, Kansas City may contest this, but I firmly believe that the Mississippi Delta is barbecue country. Fine, we don't have our nationally known distinct style. But Jean Johnson, the owner at J&W Smokehouse told me that the Delta is barbecue country. And based on the sandwich she served me -- perfectly smoky pork, a nice tang of vinegar in the sauce -- Ms. Jean knows what she talks about.

  J&W Smokehouse, Cleveland

J&W Smokehouse, Cleveland

This spot has a local-family-done-good story: a few friends started making food "for the football boys," Ms. Jean said. Which was popular enough to get asked for on other occasions, until they figured they just ought to open a restaurant. After two years up the road in Mound Bayou, they decided to move down the highway to the bigger market in Cleveland.

And we are blessed for that. To barbecue, y'all.

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