Steak & Eggs at Big Bad Breakfast in Oxford. Photo by Jesse Brooks.
By Jesse Brooks
For any center of learning, there is always a constant flow of people moving in and out while adding their point of view, changing the culture and bringing those changes into a closely bonded tradition that is meant to last a lifetime. Oxford, Mississippi, home of Ole Miss, is one of those places. Today Oxford is bustling, and its social scene involves a lot more than just drinking hot toddies on Saturdays in The Grove before game-day in the fall.
The best place to stay in Oxford is The Graduate, part of a line of boutique hotels around the country that are exclusively in college towns. The Oxford location is heavily themed with everything in the local culture. Portraits of R.L. Burnside, famous Ole Miss Alumni and Mississippi writers can be found in each room. Much of the decor of the hotel is a vintage mid-century modern feel that appeals to the business traveler, avid readers and fans of Mississippi music. There’s a rustic themed café, where the menu reflects North Mississippi hill country and The Coop, an upstairs balcony bar that features handcrafted cocktails. An average single night’s stay can typically run less than $200.
Inside Big Bad Breakfast. Photo by Jesse Brooks.
Often when visitors or students step into the town square for the first time, they’re looking for a meal and more times than not they end up at Ajax Diner. Despite the multiple fine dining options, Ajax offers familiar comfort, convenient hours by closing at 10 p.m., and won’t break your bank with most dinners priced at $11. It’s that kind of college haunt where a student can take a break from pizza and ramen noodles or have a date without being over-the-top. When you are not home, Ajax is the best way to have a home-cooked meal with menu items like pot roast with gravy, chicken fried steak, and turkey with dressing.
City Grocery was established by Chef John Currence. Photo by Jesse Brooks.
Oxford’s food scene was put on the map by Chef John Currence and his founding of the City Grocery Restaurant Group. Originally a New Orleans native, Currence traveled across the country learning regionally cooking techniques and fusing them in his background with French cuisine. He saw an opportunity to create a restaurant in his own vision when opened City Grocery in the square in a place that was an old store. Aside from indulging in Peking duck, shrimp, and grits, or herb roasted chicken; the bar upstairs in City Grocery is a social scene for some of the most prominent writers in America. It’s the kind of bar that appeals to writers because it was made in the Reconstruction-era and looks as if it has seen Mississippi through thick-and-thin. The downstairs restaurant is beautiful and elegant.
Currence also founded Big Bad Breakfast, a favorite with brunch-loving college students and foodies alike. Big Bad Breakfast is more like a diner but still brings Currence’s French-meets-Deep South country style of fusion. Typical breakfast and lunch items like steak-and-eggs, ham, potatoes, and chicken fried steak are on the menu but features popping flavors instead of just plain heartiness. The bacon is barbecued, eggs are creamy, and peppers and sauces abound can flavor dishes in any direction.
Oxford’s nightlife happens in the square, and there is a variety of bars like you can find in most college towns. One place that stands out is Proud Larry’s, a music venue that feels like a personification of Oxford yet also a fixture of its alternative scene. Proud Larry’s features mostly local Mississippi beers like Yalobusha Brewing Company’s Larry Brown Ale, a nod to the great writer of the same name. Proud Larry’s features blues from artists like Will and Robert Kimbrough to alt-country and college rock acts. Some nights the venue hosts comedy where regional names like Memphis comic Jowa Horn have been known to perform.
Oxford is a small town with a lot to offer. Though people may come for a short while and go, many make visits back to see an old friend they regard as family. There’s a sense of close community in town no matter if you’re a student or someone that is staying for life. In Oxford, a visit is like coming home.