Let me make a couple of disclaimers right up front. 1) I'm a die-hard Auburn alumna (yes, I looked that up) and loyalist, but I love visiting other towns and cities where SEC schools are located. When Auburn and Ole Miss meet on the football field or basketball court, I'll be yelling "War Eagle." 2) However, I have to admit that Oxford is a charming town with a special allure. Square Books, Rowan Oak, the shops in downtown are all well worth your time to visit and explore, and if you get to spend the night, I highly recommend the Chancellor's House or Graduate Oxford. 3) The food in Oxford is EXCEPTIONAL.
This post will only highlight 6 eateries, but actually, there are 23 places just in the downtown square area of Oxford where students, their parents, faithful Ole Miss alums and visitors can get a bite to eat. I saw several very tempting-looking restaurants I want to try in a future visit, but for the purposes of today’s blog, here are 6 that I sampled and truly enjoyed.
“Eat like you mean it” is the catchy slogan for Oxford Canteen, the culinary concept of Chef/Owner Corbin Evans. Now in a refurbished and repurposed former gas station on North Lamar Boulevard, not too long ago Oxford Canteen was in a narrow alleyway beside The Lyric Oxford. Evans was using a food truck concept, without the tires or a steering wheel, and just served food through a small window to the line of eager customers.
Evans is a board member of Oxford’s Community Market and is excited by serving locally-grown fresh ingredients and in changing his menu frequently to reflect availability and seasons. The Canteen is open Tuesday-Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. and on Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. I was there for breakfast and enjoyed some delicious breakfast tacos in the sleek new location.
Saint Leo was named a semi-finalist for Best New Restaurant in the 2017 James Beard award categories. Serving lunch and dinner every day except Tuesday, Saint Leo is best known for its wood-fired pizza oven, and one of those pizza creations was recently pictured in Southern Living. The bruschetta was possibly the best I have ever eaten, the pizza was as good as advertised, and the desserts were over-the-top. Saint Leo’s is definitely not your average pizza place. Just a note: Saint Leo doesn’t serve sweet tea, but they do bring a simple syrup to use with your unsweet tea. 🙂 This is a very popular place, so plan accordingly.
Proud Larry’s, similar to Saint Leo, also serves pizza, and the other menu offerings are definitely crowd-friendly. But the clear emphasis here is on music. The walls are lined with posters featuring the groups and soloists that the owners have partnered with to bring to Oxford. They maintain a full schedule of performers, and you would do well to consult the website to see if one of your favorites will be appearing soon. Tickets for the concerts are sold separately, and you WILL need a ticket.
I had the Larry Burger for lunch and give it a hearty 2 thumbs up. Owner Scott Caradine and his wife are very invested in Oxford and appreciate the success they have built in town. The combination of great food and music has proven to be a winning duo.
Snack Bar completely defies its name, especially in terms of ambiance and menu. It is open for dinner Monday through Saturday. I sampled the boudin balls, French onion soup, a funeral sandwich (ham and Swiss on a Hawaiian roll), some truffle parmesan fries, and “just a bite” of several amazing desserts. My favorite was the lemon tart.
Snack Bar is one of 5 businesses in Oxford owned by award-winning chef, John Currence. In addition to Snack Bar, he owns City Grocery, Big Bad Breakfast, Boure and a catering company called The Main Event. Snack Bar and Big Bad Breakfast are next-door neighbors (and share a kitchen) on North Lamar Boulevard, while City Grocery and Boure are on the Courthouse Square.
City Grocery is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday and for brunch on Sunday. With candles and white tablecloths, this is definitely considered “fine dining.” After a dinner of a beautiful salad followed by catfish with shrimp etouffee and a Kitchen Sink Sundae, full of every decadent ingredient you can think of, I was completely satisfied.
City Grocery occupies a two-story building right in the thick of everything in Oxford, and John Currence is in the thick of many food/wine/travel publications with his recipes, his flair with food and his personality. Currence was born in New Orleans and gained vast experience there and in Chapel Hill, North Carolina before deciding to strike out on his own in Oxford in 1992. It was a good move for him and a huge win for the city of Oxford.
John Currence’s foray into the breakfast dining scene has been so successful that a cookbook resulted — BIG BAD BREAKFAST: The Most Important Book of the Day. In addition to Oxford, Big Bad Breakfast locations are showing up in Birmingham, Homewood, and Florence in Alabama, in Inlet Beach, Florida, Charleston, South Carolina, and the newest location is in Nashville, Tennessee.
Giant cathead biscuits and various skillets are signature items, and, if you’re lucky, you might arrive on a day when the housemade doughnuts are hot and fresh. The food is very good. I predict we’ll soon see more and more of these restaurants. Don’t worry if you’re “not a morning person.” Big Bad Breakfast also serves lunch.
As I’ve mentioned before, I was thoroughly impressed with Oxford, Mississippi. Between all the restaurants, the places of historical significance and the great shops, it doesn’t even matter if you’d never say “Hotty Toddy.” Go and check it out anyway. It’s a hidden gem.
(Much of this post appeared on my website a couple of years ago, but my mouth is still watering, and I want to go back soon).