Sage move.Eugene Hicks is a hot tamale lifer selling house-made sausages, barbecued pork ribs, hot plates, and fiery beef-based tamales out of a roadside diner in Clarksdale, Mississippi.
He’s been in the game for six decades, and at 74 years of age shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon.
“Who gets the business when you decide to call it a day?”
Mr Hicks chuckles “My kids is grown and gone and they don’t want nothing to do with this” he gestures across the restaurant.
“This is hard work”The old tamale man plies his trade in what was once the Clarksdale town jail.
“Come here a minute”
He leads me back through the restaurant to the banquet hall, and down a hallway.
“These here were the jail cells” he smiles as he opens the doors to the men and ladies’ restrooms.
“Now come back in here”We move into the spotless kitchen that is the hub for the restaurant.
“This here is a sausage maker. I use it to make tamales a lot faster than I used to be able to”
“If I need to I can make 200 dozen a day”Eugene Hicks is a cook, an entrepreneur, a businessman, and an inventor.
He fires up the sausage extruder he mechanically customized, and shows me how he loads it with the tamale fixins.
“I can do ten times the tamales like this than I could back when when I made them just by hand”
How did you learn to make them when you were young?“There was a man in the community named Acy Ware and he taught me his way.
How old were you?
“Oh I was just a teenager, and I worked at a little grocery called Liberty here in town too”
“I also make homemade Italian sausage, come back here a minute”
He leads me back through the kitchen to a walk-in cooler where he retrieves a freezer pack stuffed with link sausage.“I put fennel seeds and anise in this here sausage”
I tell him that I’d like to buy the pack and he smiles
“Well alright then”
I notice a couple 5 gallon buckets of oil near the stove and ask if he still uses lard in his tamales
“No we quit that a long time ago, we use canola oil now. I wouldn’t even know where to get lard these days”I mention that I’m starting to get hungry, and he immediately asks if I want a half dozen or a dozen tamales.
Five minutes later I’m peering into two styrofoam clamshells stuffed with a dozen steaming hot tamales. I unwrap the corn husk off one and stab it with a plastic fork and shovel the contents into my mouth. It’s sublime. Rich with beef, fat and red pepper, raspy with creamy, steamed cornmeal-I could easily take down a boarding house platter of these beauties.
Red, oily juice puddles on the plastic saucer.
“Spicy enough for ya?”I nod, and ask if he ever uses anything besides beef as the filling.
“Oh yeah, we get people that want deer in their tamales, and boar hog too”
What about alligator?
He laughs “No, never had anybody bring any gator in here. What’s that taste like, chicken?”
I nod.A natty gentleman is sitting in the dining room, and he has a scheme to make Hick’s Hot Tamales a big concern. With Mr Eugene approaching retirement age it’s good to know that there’s a strong chance that this old family business will continue to be an enterprise in the future.
We say our goodbyes and I wheel out of the parking lot punching through search on the radio. It’s no surprise that it’s all John Legend, and Beyonce. If you want to listen to Furry Lewis in his birth state you better have a cassette tape, and something to play it on.I poke around through town for a few minutes noting the decrepit old Paramount Theater downtown.
Liberty Supermarket where Mr Hick’s got his start as a teenager sat next door for generations before it finally shuttered. Now it’s the Super Soul Shop with signs touting Hi Style suits for sale.
If you start to get too hairy or you need a sugar scrub there’s a spa nearby offering such services. A Trombone Shorty concert poster adorns a nearby plate glass window.As you drive through the dusty side streets of Clarksdale you’ll see small signs boasting “Hot Tamales” tacked up on people’s windows on plain-looking little houses.
I’m left to wonder if you just walk onto stranger’s front porches and knock on the door in a certain way you’ll let them know that you’ve come to Mississippi and can you please have some tamales.
Hicks Hot Tamales
305 S State St
Hours of operation
always call ahead