Once a place where cotton farmers went to drink Papa Lusco’s Prohibited libations, this iconic Greenwood restaurant has changed little in appearance and atmosphere since it opened on 4 March 1933, though it has done away with its long-standing tradition of allowing patrons to fling butter pats onto the ceiling. The second-oldest restaurant in Mississippi and the oldest maintaining the same location as a family-owned and -operated enterprise, Lusco’s has a history that remains a strong presence.
Italian immigrants Charles and Marie Lusco established Lusco’s Grocery on the corner of Johnson and Main in Greenwood in 1921. The Luscos set up a table in the shop’s back room, near the kitchen, and local cotton men would sit, play cards or dominoes, eat whatever Marie and her three daughters prepared, and drink Charles Lusco’s homemade wine. Prohibition laws made the privacy of Lusco’s back room essential. After this building burned, the business moved to its present location at 722 Carrollton Avenue. Only patrons who provided the secret password would be admitted into the store’s nether regions, where the restaurant booths are now located.
Though the food and waitstaff attract interest and draw crowds, the booths are Lusco’s truly extraordinary feature. Each booth is enclosed by curtains to protect patrons’ privacy, and each was originally equipped with a bell that diners would ring to signal a need for service. The bells have been replaced by buzzers, but the curtains remain, preserving the clandestine quality of the Prohibition-era dining experience.
When the restaurant first opened, all of the waiters were African American men, who would recite the menu to patrons from memory and then take diners’ orders, again committing everything to memory. In 2012 a documentary film, Booker’s Place, told the story of Booker Wright, who caused controversy and lost his job when he demonstrated how he had to use different forms of language to please customers who expected deferential treatment from an African American waiter.
Fourth-generation owners Andy and Karen Pinkston continue to use the recipes Mama Lusco and her daughters perfected, though dishes have evolved to allow for shifting tastes and new ingredients. The Luscos came from Italy to Mississippi by way of Louisiana, and their cuisine fused Creole, Italian, and southern cookery. In addition to Mama’s famous spaghetti, Lusco’s is known for its broiled shrimp in butter sauce, tender steaks, exceptional salads, and seasonal broiled pompano. Some of Lusco’s sauces can now be purchased from gift and gourmet retailers and online. Travel and food writers from across the globe have noted Lusco’s distinctive character, and the restaurant is a genuinely unique establishment worthy of a trip to the Mississippi Delta and of a return visit.
- Joe Atkins, Daily Mississippian (30 June 1998)
- John T. Edge, Southern Belly: The Ultimate Food Lover’s Companion to the South (2000)
- Amy Evans, Southern Foodways website, www.southernfoodways.com
- Lusco’s website, www.luscos.net