We’ll let you in on a little secret: Tupelo is getting seriously cool. Yes, the city is known for being Elvis’ birthplace and mighty proud of this fact (as it should be). But on a recent trip we absolutely fell in love with this small Mississippi town, for its legends and its new energy. (Seriously, after a quick 36-hour trip, I can’t stop thinking about the lamb prosciutto and the engraved leather bracelet I purchased. The customized letters I chose? “TCB,” of course.)
Tupelo tells the story of so many Southern cities–one being transformed by its native residents, many of whom moved away, only to come back to plant roots in their hometown. It’s an easy weekend trip from cities like Birmingham, Jackson, and Nashville. Follow our lead and hit up these 10 spots. Along the way, talk with the owners of these businesses, ask them why Tupelo, and why now? You’ll find they share the same passion for their city and what it’s becoming. Trust us.
1. Shockley’s — It’s the kind of mom-and-pop place you grew up going to or wish you had. Slide into a booth and behold the long, impressive list of pancakes. This writer went for the blueberry, and you won’t be disappointed if you do the same. The coffee is a-flowing, but Shockley’s is open only till 2 p.m., so get there early, and hungry. 662/842-6036, 927 Gloster Street
2. Reed’s Department Store — This family-run, 125-year-old Main Street anchor harkens back to a time when every Southern downtown was home to at least one department store. The clothing store boasts an impressive bow tie selection, and women’s dresses by designers like Trina Turk and Nell. There’s also a bookstore and children’s shop. Look for the photo mural in the shop with a photo of Gladys when she was pregnant with Elvis (Gladys worked in Reed’s clothing factory.) 662/842-6453, 131 W. Main Street
3. About The South — Featuring the work of Mississippi and Southern artists and makers, this three-year old shop recently moved to Main Street. This is where a certain writer purchased a Lily Belk leather cuff engraved with TCB. We also admire the necklace pictured above. Made by Mississippi artist Amelia Massengill, it bears the rallying phrase of the city as it rebuilds after the April tornado. Thirsty? Grab a bottle of the Debutante Farmer Bloody Mary mix, made down the road in Oxford. 662/844-2689, 120 W. Main Street
4. The Neon Pig — Did I mention lamb prosciutto? Part butcher shop, part restaurant, part community gathering pace, The Neon Pig has become a Tupelo institution. Chefs Mitch McCamey and Seth Copeland work with local farmers to bring the freshest meats and produce to the market and restaurant. Grab extra paper towels so you can properly eat the smashburger, made with aged filet, ribeye, New York strip and Benton’s Bacon. Leave space in your trunk for locally canned goods like spicy green tomato chow-chow and sweet ice pickles from nearby Mayhew Tomato farm. 662/269-2533, 1203 N. Gloster Street
5. Elvis’ Birthplace — Every Southerner–heck, everyone–needs to visit this spot at least once. The tour includes the two-room house in which Elvis was born on January 8, 1935, a memorial walk that documents a milestone for each of the 13 years he lived in Tupelo, and his childhood church, where visitors can get a taste of a 1940s-style Pentecostal service like the ones the Presleys attended. Plus there’s a gift shop where you can buy Elvis pajamas decorated like a jump suit. Fit for a King. 662/841-1245, 306 Elvis Presley Blvd.
6. Caron Gallery — Featuring the works of more than 40 Mississippi artists, Kimberly Caron’s gallery includes art that reflects the South, full of Southern landscapes and iconography. Folk art, painting (oil, acrylic, and mixed media), pottery, jewelry, and sculpture fill the brick-lined room. With pieces ranging from $20 to $5,000, Kimberly stocks the shop with something for everyone’s price range. The theme here: art for everyone. 662/205-0351. 128 W. Main Street
7. Tupelo Hardware — The folks at Tupelo Hardware are glad to tell you about the fateful day Elvis got his very first guitar. Yes, it’s still a functional hardware store, and also boasts impressive section dedicated to cast iron cooking and canning. 114 W. Main Street, (662)842-4637.
8. Cafe 212 — Leading the charge of young natives who have returned to Tupelo to open businesses are husband-and-wife duo Amanda and Jason Hayden. (Jason may originally be from Alabama, but he’s loved Tupelo since age 12). The cafe, which opened in 2006, is known for its honey-apple-nut chicken salad and its white pimiento cheese. The only locally run coffee shop, it’s the perfect place for a caffeine pick-me-up. Save room for the chocolate peanut butter pie too. 662/844-6323, 212 W. Main Street
9. Kermit’s Outlaw Kitchen -- Not yet a year old, the sister restaurant to the Neon Pig (same owners and chefs) features an open kitchen downstairs and upstairs bar. On the menu: Appalachicola oysters, game butchered at The Neon Pig, and a vegetable plate that’s almost too pretty to eat (but you will because that corn is calling your name). 662/620-6622, 124 West Main Street
10. Blue Canoe — No trip to Mississippi is complete without some killer music. Park yourself at the bar (more than 100 brews on tap) and you’ll instantly meet a friend. Owner Adam Morgan does the booking, and has a keen eye for acts right before they explode (see: Alabama Shakes, Gary Clark Jr.) Hungry? Check out the duck quesadilla or chicken and waffles. 662/269-2642, 2006 N. Gloster Street