Solly’s is a hole-in-the-wall, a brick building with a worn sign and bars on the windows. Inside, it’s surprisingly warm, decorated like a country cafe, with articles describing the history of Henry Solly’s tamales. The shack has evolved from a stand that started servicing Vicksburg in 1939. Solly, like many, began with a pushcart, then built a restaurant based on the popularity of the tamales he sold from it. After Solly passed away, the restaurant was left to Jewel McCain. She’s operated it using his recipes for more than the last decade. The recipes are American treasures.
Mr. Solly’s Vicksburg-style tamales are different from wetter ones found through much of the Delta. They are neater, denser, meatier, and drier: tiny logs, full of flavor even zestier than most Mexican tamales. From these dry, beefy tamales to the strangely spiced sauce-less ground beef known as “Solly’s chili,” everything served here is unique. In fact, the “chili” is the same meat that goes into the tamales, just prepared as a loose meat.
While you can eat Solly’s tamales on crackers, similar to the way they are eaten farther north towards Memphis, we prefer them dressed up, as they are in a meal called The Fiesta. This is two tamales smothered in beans, Solly’s unusual “chili,” waxy shredded cheddar, sour cream, tomato salsa, and pickled jalapeños. The heaping pile is served with tortilla chips so you can make your own tamale nachos.
The chili helps fill out various dishes that are not tamales, such as burritos. A “Tamale Burrito” is filled both with chili and one of Solly’s Tamales. Much of the same ingredients that come in the Fiesta are included in the Tamale Burrito, making it a hand-held option if you are taking it on the road. The Tamale Burrito is, in fact, the least messy way possible to eat Mississippi hot tamales while in the car.
Even if you don’t like tamales, stop in for fabulous candy. Solly taught Jewel how to make pralines and millionaires. The pralines are known across the South, with the recipe being used by several famous confectioners. Copper patties of soft caramelized sugar and rich pecans dance in perfect harmony.