When Fawn Freis was diagnosed with celiac disease and Hashimoto’s, she knew that it was nearly impossible to dine out, so she turned the obstacle into an opportunity. She and her husband, Adam, both had a decade of restaurant experience and had been kicking around the idea of opening their own restaurant.
“I knew I wanted the restaurant to be completely gluten free, so we started thinking of menu items that would be naturally free of gluten,” Freis said.
Her family had lived in Mississippi which is known for catfish, and believe it or not, hot tamales. Both items are made with cornmeal which is naturally free of gluten, so the menu started to take shape. The Freis family toured the Mississippi Delta Hot Tamale Trail (seriously, it’s a real thing. Click here for the map of the Hot Tamale Trail) and sampled a variety of tamales in the small Mississippi delta towns of Indianola, Clarksdale, Greenville and everywhere in between to find the perfect flavor. After eating dozens of hot tamales and spending countless hours in the kitchen, Freis created her own tamale recipe.
Freis had also resided in Louisiana for several years where she was introduced to Cajun food like crawfish etouffee, red beans & rice and alligator sauce piquante. She enjoyed these dishes that could easily be adapted with a gluten-free roux.
With their new recipes, the couple opened the doors of Delta Blues Hot Tamales in December 2015 offering flavors of the Deep South without the gluten in their hometown of Birmingham, AL. The restaurant’s front entrance has a gated courtyard that has a New Orleans feel and diners are greeted with the soulful sounds of Delta blues music.
“We didn’t tell anyone it was gluten free in the beginning,” Freis confessed after explaining there is sometimes a stigma that goes along with the words ‘gluten free.’ “We wanted this to be a place for everyone to enjoy great food that just so happens to be gluten free.” They do have a sign at the entrance stating the whole menu is gluten free. She also advertises on gluten free apps so customers can find them.
In addition to being completely gluten free, the restaurant is soy free (with the exception of one dessert that is not made in house), but they also accommodate peanut, tree nut, sesame, egg and dairy-free customers. Fries said they are very aware of food allergies and they work hard to accommodate diners with dietary restrictions. All allergy orders receive special attention. Kitchen staff changes gloves and uses a separate prep area. They also have a vegan-dedicated fryer and offer vegan options including black bean tamales.
We planned our stop at Delta Blues Hot Tamales during the lunch hour so we could enjoy a safe meal on our way to Atlanta. We enjoyed it so much that we drove an hour out of the way the next week on the way to Florida to eat there again and we all ordered the exact same dishes.
I was recently diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, so my doctor has recommended that I eat no gluten, dairy, soy or sugar. Even with those restrictions, I didn’t have any problems eating at Delta Blues Hot Tamales. I ordered Mississippi catfish with sweet potato mash. The catfish is breaded with blue cornmeal that is milled just a few miles down the road in Wilsonville, AL. The blue cornmeal made the dish look different than what I’ve ever seen, but tasted just right. Freis told me that they chose blue corn meal to go along with their blues theme. Plus, it is non-GMO and is locally produced.
My husband enjoyed the hot tamales and actually put an extra order in the cooler to enjoy for dinner. He said they were spicy as the name implies, but they weren’t just hot for the sake of being hot. He devoured the homemade blackberry cobbler with ice cream for dessert.
My kids both ordered chicken tenders (no surprise there) with fruit and ice cream for dessert. While I would love for them to try new things, they rarely get to dine in a restaurant, so I let them order whatever they wanted. They are both picky eaters, so they were excited to have “normal” food on the kids’ menu. My son said the sweet tea was perfect. He’s from Mississippi, so he knows how sweet tea is supposed to taste and he will be happy to let you know if it isn’t right.
If you live in the Birmingham, AL area or will be passing through, Delta Blues Hot Tamales is dedicated gluten free and is a great place to stop for lunch or dinner. I vote that Delta Blues Hot Tamales should be added to the Hot Tamale Trail map! Until then, it’s a great detour!