Cotton planters around Greenwood came to know Charles “Papa” Lusco in the 1920s when he drove a horse-drawn grocery wagon to their plantations, bringing supplies from the market he and Marie “Mama” Lusco ran. Mama sold plates of her spaghetti at the store, and Papa built secret dining rooms in back where customers could enjoy his homemade wine with their meals. The clandestine cubicles remained, giving Lusco’s a seductively covert character that Karen Pinkston, a third-generation Lusco, and her husband, Andy, and their kids (a fourth generation now) don’t ever want to change.
Mama and Papa were Italian by way of Lousiana, so the flavors of the kitchen they established are as much Creole as they are Southern or Italian. Gumbo, crab, and shrimp are always on the menu, and oysters are a specialty in season — on the half-shell or baked with bacon. The menu is best known for its high-end items: sumptuous ribeyes and strip steaks, crab-topped shrimp, and (when available), pompano broiled and served whole, bathed in a magical sauce made of butter, lemon, and secret spices.
Lusco’s is also known for its New Orleans-style salad of iceberg lettuce dolled up with anchovies, capers, and olives and liberally sopped in a fragrant vinaigrette; but Karen Pinkston is a salad buff who has made it her business to concoct more modern alternatives. One evening’s choices included Mediterranean salad, made with feta cheese; traditional Caesar salad; and a salad billed as Gourmet’s Delight, made with arugula, radicchio, endive, red lettuce, and spinach. “Andy likes to tease me about that one,” Karen said about the latter. “He tells me it’s just weeds I’ve picked by the side of the highway. But the fact is that the Delta is different now than it used to be, and the new people have more educated palates. Even this place has to change with the times.”