How Sweet 

A visit to Velvet Cream in Hernando.

Here we are in small-town America. Eighteen-wheelers rattle through town, while mom makes a quick stop at the store to pick up a few items for dinner. There's a family at the local drive-in. The kids hop on the family truck's tailgate to wave at the big-rig drivers and slurp shakes too big to hold with one hand.

Sounds way too cliched, doesn't it? But here we are in Hernando, Mississippi, and there are the kids up on the tailgate of the truck parked in front of Velvet Cream.

Eileen Dznowski and her grandchildren, Hunter and Madison, are at Velvet Cream today. Dznowski remembers the days well when drive-ins like Velvet Cream (also known by locals as "The Dip") were the norm, not franchised fast-food restaurants. The drive-in takes her back. "I used to work at a place like this in Biloxi, Mississippi, when I was a teenage girl. Everyone would go to Bell's Snowballs, and we sold the fluffiest and most flavorful snow cones," she says.

Velvet Cream is owned by Tommy Flinn, whose father bought the restaurant in 1962 from Red Congar who opened it in 1947. The drive-in was added in 1977.

Flinn knows you have to love this business to be in it as long as he has, and he has been in it pretty much from day-one. "My family owned Delta Cream across from the Blue and White on Highway 65 in Tunica before they bought this place," he says. "My parents pretty much set up my baby bed in the creamery," Flinn says.

The employees at Velvet Cream -- with few exceptions, the drive-in is pretty much run by girls -- share their boss' quirky sense of humor. On the kitchen door there's a sign that reads, "All our items are fat free. We don't charge for the fat."

Velvet Cream has everything an authentic drive-in should have and then some. Burgers, sandwiches, and a list of shakes, sundaes, slushes, and freezes that seems endless, as does the flavor combinations: vanilla and hot fudge, butterscotch and Butterfinger, mint chocolate chip, the Chocaholic, the Caribbean Paradise and Electric Banana, the Tahitian Medicine Man, Cherry Redneck, bubblegum, Barney purple, orange blossom, and cactus juice.

"We have 58 differently flavored shakes, not counting special requests, and we try to add three new flavors every year," says Flinn.

Velvet Cream also claims to be "home of the old-fashioned hamburger" and leaves no doubt what you're getting yourself into when ordering, say, a "Heartburn Hotel" with tater tots and fried pickles.

Being in the ice cream business all year can be tough because sales drop about 50 percent during the winter. Still, Flinn always has a smile on his face and never gets tired of trying to improve business. The drive-in's fence is decorated for the holidays because, according to Flinn, there is nothing more boring than waiting for your food while slowly moving through the drive-in.

The decorating started 10 years ago, when McDonald's arrived in Hernando, and Flinn tried to keep customers interested by being different. A free quart of ice cream with a $20 order and a daily lunchtime fax to local companies to boost the call-in orders are other ways Flinn tries to keep business up. When ice cream and shakes are not the top sellers, Flinn markets his sandwiches and burgers.

Flinn's latest idea is to set up a menu board at the entrance of the drive-in to make ordering easier. But no matter what marketing he tries, most customers come because they like the food.

Flinn's secret to success? "Everything's got to be fried. Even if it's grilled, it always has to be fried a little bit." n

Velvet Cream is located at 2290 Hwy. 51 South, (662) 429-6540.

by Simone Barden

Love To

Love You

A homage to Zinfandel.

Most people think sweet when Zinfandel is mentioned, owing to its blushing cousin, white Zinfandel. Originally planted by Italian immigrants, the Zinfandel grape almost went extinct until Bob Trinchero of Sutter Home created this wildly popular blush wine in the early '80s. But Zinfandel also sires gutsy, red juice, jammy and full of personality. The 1990s saw a resurgence in the popularity of dry, red Zinfandel, and pioneer wineries, such as Ravenswood and Ridge, began releasing full-bodied wines ready for the big time. At first, snooty Cabernet lovers shunned them, calling them brash and untamed, but Zin, with its wafting fruit and irresistible charm, won many over. One smell of its raspberries, blueberries, or cherry, and you're hooked.

Since then, winemakers have gotten creative with Zinfandel, crafting lighter styles as well as late-harvest dessert wines and ports. By definition, Zinfandels are heavier than Merlots but not as tannic as Cabernet Sauvignon. Many "bigger" (heavy tannins and high acid) Zins are amenable to aging, capable of growing smoother and more complex with a few years of lying on their side. But most of them are fine for guzzling as soon as you hit the door. Here are many of my favorites:

2001 Robert Biale Zinfandel Napa Valley -- The lower tier of the fantastic Biale line of wines, this one packs a fruit wallop of jammy blackberry and cherry mixed with some earth and cedar. $29.

Cellar #8 2001 Zinfandel North Coast -- Like tasting a fresh, tart raspberry as it explodes in your mouth. Follows up with a touch of vanilla oak. A fantastic deal. $11.

Chase 2000 Zinfandel, Hayne Vineyard Napa Valley -- Unbelievably kick-ass wine. Like dipping a cherry into chocolate fondue but better, if you can imagine. Elegance and grace, silk and leather. At this price, it better be good, right? $48.

Edmeades 2001 Late Harvest Zinfandel Alden Vineyard Mendocino Ridge -- The grapes on this one must've been super-ripe, because the alcohol is noticeably high (almost 17 percent). A dessert wine sweet with raisins, toffee, and lasting flavor long after the sip. $28.

Joel Gott 2002 Zinfandel California -- Smooth, fun Zin- drinking at a great price. Earthy on the nose, with cherry and blackberry on the tongue. A nice touch of oak in there too. $15.

Rombauer 2001 Zinfandel El Dorado Vineyard Napa Valley -- Damn, these guys are consistent. Every year, another great Zin. Concentrated blackberry jam and ripe plum, hint of caramel and spicy black pepper. $20.

Rosenblum Cellars 2000 Zinfandel Annette's/Rhodes Vineyard Redwood Valley -- Buy anything with Rosenblum on the label and be assured of great wine. As close to port aroma as you can get, this wine is dark, chewy, and offers plenty to mull over. Chock-full of baked plums, blackberry, coffee, and chocolate. $28.

Tobin James 2002 Ballastic Zinfandel Paso Robles -- Might be hard to find, but worth the effort. Bright, sunny red fruits balance out somewhat astringent tannins, but you won't really care. $19.

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