CITIES: Oxford, Mississippi
Oxford is one of the best college towns in America! What a treat to have it work out to make a good old-fashioned road trip there for the Double Decker Festival recently. My husband Vance and I hopped in the car with our friends, Cullen and Patrick OSteen, and off we went to Patrick and my old stomping grounds. We were both at Ole Miss in the early 1990s and being back in Oxford made for the perfect 40th birthday celebration for Patrick and us all. Spending your 40th birthday acting like a twenty-year-old eases the sting!
If you have never been to the Double Decker Festival, I suggest you add it to your bucket list. The line up of music was great. We got to hear a hint of Beanland listening to George McConnell and the Nonchalants which was also a throwback to my youth and Athens based Patterson Hood played. We loved hearing the Funky Meters but they were not on long enough and I think the boogying crowd would agree with me. The art and food vendors were stellar. The entire town square is free of cars and closed off for booths of artisans. And not just painters, potters and jewelry designers but bakers, chefs and icecream makers! Seriously, put it on your bucket list!
Here are some of my favorite spots in Oxford for any visit:
This hot spot can be your home base throughout a visit. They have awesome Larry Ritas if you want to break for a snack like spinach artichoke dip on the patio in the afternoon. Lunch and dinner score you fabulous pizzas, calzones and roast beef po-boys. And at nighttime it turns into a great music venue. I think I saw Beanland there in the 1990s.
It started in 1889 as a dry goods store and in 1977 it became the greatest catfish joint in the south! You can do lunch on weekdays or dinner Thursday- Sunday nights and enjoy delicacies like bone in fried chicken, pulled pork barbeque, steaks, shrimp and catfish ( fried or spicy cast iron blackened) . “The catfish is a plenty good enough fish for anybody.” – Mark Twain B.Y.O.B.
“Lard have mercy!” House cured bacon and sausage help make breakfast the meal of champions at one of Chef John Currence’s Oxford haunts that is located just north of the square. Go for breakfast and lunch. The HUEVOS COCINEROS: fresh corn arepas, with saucy black beans, house-‐made chorizo, two eggs cooked to order and roasted Jalapeno Salsa were outstanding. I have also had THE SOUTHERN BELLY: grilled pimento cheese, bacon, tomato, slaw and bread & butter pickles on wheat which was incredible. My less adventurous but equally satisfied husband raved about the omelets and buttermilk shortstack on our visits.
“We may be the south’s oldest store, but we’re not old fashioned.” The store that opened in 1839 now sells clothing, cosmetics and housewares. Locals and greeks flock to the store for anything and everything. Bridal registry. It is a landmark and the Lewis family that own it are a large part of its charm.
We got to enjoy City Grocery’s 20th Anniversary celebration while we were in town for the Double Decker Festival and they were serving the 1992 menu in tribute. This was a treat for us since Patrick and I were both students at Ole Miss when City Grocery came onto the scene that year. I am betting the shrimp and grits haven’t changed since then as why would you mess with perfection? Chef John Currence has received many honors including the James Beard Foundation award for Best Chef South in 2009. You must check out the culinary talents of this chef that hails from New Orleans.
They are a few doors down from each other and they reign supreme for fashion forward folks. Both are well edited shops with the best lines from up and comers and well known designers. I visited in the fall when UGA played Ole Miss and they had just opened the men’s store which is the perfect compliment to the ladies. On trend but not at all trendy, the owner Ann Marie Varnell has an eye. Think Rebecca Taylor meets Billy Reid or Elizabeth & James meets Shipley & Halmos.
Located on the square since 1979, Square Books is legendary in literary circles all over the nation. This independent bookshop located in Faulkner country has expanded into other locations 100 yards away with concepts such as Square Books Jr in 2003 for children and Off Square Books in 1992 which seems to me to be signed cookbooks and gently used titles. I caught a NPR blue grass show being recorded at Off Square Books which was a blast when I went for the Bulldogs game last fall. I just wish I was local this week when Southern Foodways Alliance’s John T. Edge signs his new title, The Truck Food Cookbook.
Home to William Faulkner and his family for over 40 years, Rowan Oak was originally built in 1844, and stands on over 29 acres of land just south of the Square in Oxford, MS. It is fun to walk the grounds and see his writing desk. Students like myself that took Faulkner studies while at Ole Miss find a visit to Rowan Oak is a source of inspiration.
A longtime favorite of locals, students, parents, visitors, alumni and faculty, this chic boutique offers gifts and housewares that are by name brands and southern artisans. When I was in college, I began a collection of McCartys pottery that I love still today. And it was so fun to arrive at the Chi Omega house and find flowers from your loved ones had been delivered. Over the last 82 years, Oxford Floral has been featured in Southern Accents and Southern Living among others so make this a stop. It is just off the square.
I love that Zoe dubs itself an indie apothecary. It is such a fun place to visit and I admit, I am addicted to beauty products. Cullen and I entered after lunch time libations at City Grocery which led to us to leaving with au courant very bold lips. The fantastic and knowledgeable gals in there made spending money a little too easy as we loved all of their suggestions. Zoe carries top brands like NARS, Lipstick Queen, Bliss, Kai, Frederic Fekkai and Bond No. 9.
Go visit this awesome college town!
By Cheri Leavy