Historic Dishes of Oxford, Mississippi Restaurants

 Oxford is distinguished among north Mississippi cities as a center of government and education, Long before Oxford became a locus of Southern foodie hype, the busy little city fostered a vibrant variety of restaurants. This list was hammered out by a squadron of Oxford residents both current and former.  These dishes, these places were and are loved by the thousands of good people from Oxford, Lafayette County, and north Mississippi, as well as millions Ole Miss alumni and drop-outs around the globe.

The Beacon: Big Bubba burger, “meat and three”
Busy Bee Cafe: oven-fried pork chop
Café Olé: cheese dip, chimichanga
Dino’s: salad dressing, pizza
Downtown Grill: Eli’s praline pecan ice cream pie
The Gin: fried mushrooms, Bernice burger
The Harvest: black bean chili, vegetable lasagna
The Hoka: hot fudge pie and cheesecake, Love at First Bite
Holiday Inn: grasshopper pie, hot fudge pie
Hurricane Landing: fried catfish, hushpuppies and fries
Jitney Jungle/James’ Food: chicken salad
Kream Kup: grilled chili cheeseburger
Marie’s Lebanese: Marie Husni’s Lebanese casserole, baklava
Mistilis: hamburger steak smothered in cheese and onions
Ruby Chinese: hot and sour soup, twice cooked pork
Sizzler Steak House: steaks
Smitty’s: tuna melt, breakfasts
Starnes Catfish: fried catfish, hushpuppies and fries
Ruth & Jimmies: Southern “meat and three”
Pizza Den: muffuletta, sub sandwich, stromboli
Warehouse: snapper en Mornay, salad bar
Winter’s Store: hamburgers
Yerk’s: Philly cheese steak

Painting by Glennray Tudor

Crawfish Fritters with Red Remoulade Galatoire

Crawfish boulettes are often swapped for stuffed heads in bisque. These fritters are light and crisp,  a nice nosh any time of the year. Note the inclusion of corn starch in the batter, which gives the finished fritters more crunch. Some people add a teaspoon of vodka for even more crispness, but, dear hearts, this is a waste of vodka. The remoulade comes via Howard Mitcham, who claims he received it from Justin Galatoire, the nephew of Jean Galatoire, in the 1950s. We have no reason whatsoever to doubt he did just that.

For the batter:
1 cup self-rising flour
1/4 cup corn starch
1 tablespoon melted butter or oil
1 egg beaten with 1/2 cup water
Salt and pepper
Minced scallions and red bell pepper (optional)

Mix dry ingredients, including scallions and pepper, add the egg/water mixture and mix with a fork until blended but not smooth. You want it a little lumpy. Add six ounces of cooked crawfish tails and drop by spoonfuls into hot oil. Move to a metal pan with paper towels and place in a warm oven for up to an hour until serving.

Red Remoulade:
1/2 cup Creole mustard
2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 tablespoons finely minced scallion or parsley
Hot sauce to taste (optional)
Horseradish (optional)
Black pepper and salt to taste

Mix well and refrigerate before serving.

Elitist Eggs

One of the most enduring social mechanisms is that by which elitism becomes far more ostensibly manifest in people who come from the most humble backgrounds. Take for example any given one of those Upper East Side hipsters who infest the trendier corners of New York City and act as if they’re the apex of the social universe when in fact most if not all of them grew up in a fly-over state and moved to the city after securing a degree at Podunk U. in hopes of sharing a line of coke with Ivanka Trump.

A less current but perhaps more familiar example would be Craig Claiborne, who grew up in a boarding house in Indianola, Mississippi, and eventually became the arbiter of culinary taste for the nation. Claiborne is the archetype of effete snobbery. Claiborne’s excesses in his disregard for the “little people” were such that he was chastised by Pope Paul VI for a $4000 dinner for two in Paris he enjoyed with his partner Pierre Franey in 1975; the Vatican newspaper deplored the display while millions were starving. The French press noted that the price of the meal represented a year’s wages for most workers, and American columnist Harriet Van Horne wrote, “This calculated evening of high-class piggery offends an average American’s sense of decency. It seems wrong morally, aesthetically and in every other way”.

Claiborne was nonplussed, of course, which is the typical reaction of snobs to their extravagant self-indulgences.;“Let them eat cake,” indeed.

Given this display of culinary snootery, it’s somewhat of a surprise that we find on page 312 of Claiborne’s The New York Times Cookbook–after a whole slew of soufflés and between two egg curries–a recipe for pickled eggs, which are to most people the least sophisticated dish in the world. Good heavens! Is this a chink in Claiborne’s otherwise immaculate armor? Perhaps, but then again perhaps not; one recipe I have from a Junior League-type cookbook published in the 1930’s claims that they’re “ever so good chopped into hash, and provide just the right touch bedded on greens with a dressing of sharp, spicy goodness.” Maybe pickled eggs acquired the blue-collar brush after they became a snack staple in Southern pool halls and honky-tonks; then again, like a lot of snobs, maybe that’s where they got their start.

For every half dozen boiled eggs, bring to a boil 1 cup white vinegar, 1/2 cup water, 1 tablespoon mixed pickling spices, 2 slices ginger root, a crushed clove of garlic, and a teaspoon salt. Cover eggs with spiced vinegar. Set aside for at least a day.

 

Albondigas in Salsa Verde

You’ll most often find albondingas as tapas, but I like to make them much larger for an entree. It’s certain that a Spanish name exists for this recipe, but I’ll just have to wait until someone admonishes me to learn it; that’s usually the way things work in my world.

Mix pork and beef 1:1; ground pork can be hard to find, so I usually substitute a mild pork sausage. If you’re using plain pork, add salt, pepper, smoky paprika, and a hefty dose of granulated garlic. Moisten a cup of breadcrumbs with milk, and mix in a beaten egg; add this slurry to the meat mixture, and work with your fingers until thoroughly blended. Form into snooker balls, and poach in lightly salted water until firm. Place in a hot oven to brown. Remove, coat lightly with salsa, top with queso, and return to oven until cheese is lightly browned. Serve hot with more salsa and fresh corn tortillas.

Red Snapper en Mornay

Snapper en Mornay was one of the most popular dishes at the Warehouse in Oxford because it was distinguished by a great in-house sauce. Jean Tatum Thomas once told me that she’s eat a Turkish towel with our  Mornay on it, and don’t put it past me to try her. Our beautiful filets came from Tarpon Springs, Florida

Make a thick Béchamel; add grated Swiss or Provolone cheese, chopped green onions, picked lump crab meat, and a splash of sherry (NOT “cooking sherry”). Season with Lowrey’s, mix well and chill. You’ll need about a cup of sauce for eight ounces of fish; if not snapper, use flounder, or another lean white fish. Skin filets if needed, score lightly on both sides, and place on a shallow lightly buttered oven dish. Spoon the cooled sauce over the fillets and bake at a very high heat until sauce is bubbling. Serve with a dusting of paprika, a sprinkling of sliced almonds, a lemon garnish, fresh bread, and a wine of your choosing.

Dumpling Drama

Jerry Clower once declared (Jerry never simply “said” anything) that Rose Budd Stevens is a national treasure, and I agree with every piece of my pea-pickin’ heart.

If you are interested in the way most Mississippians cooked and prepared foodstuffs in the first half of the 20th century, then you should get From Rose Budd’s Kitchen (University Press of Mississippi: 1988). For those Mississippi foodies who love the literature of the table, this is an essential addition to your bookshelf, a wonderful work written by a remarkable woman. Mrs. Willoughby and I grew up in the same environment, rural Mississippi, but at different times. Reading her reminds me of the phrases and cadences I heard from my grandmothers and great aunts, so much so that I hear in her their voices fused altogether. Mamie, much like those women, is not averse to a lecture either, as she makes obvious in this passage:

Let’s get this chicken stew, dumplings and chicken pie business straight right now. Chicken Stew: Roll thick dough, cut into strips, drop into boiling chicken broth, and cook uncovered. Chicken Dumplings: Drop spoonfuls of dough on top of boiling chicken and broth, cook with tight-fitting lid on, and don’t peek. Chicken Pie: Put layer of chicken and broth in large pan. Dot with butter and black pepper, then layer of rich dough. Bake until light brown; add another layer of chicken, broth, and dough, bake. Do this until pan is nearly full. Some hold with a cup of sweet milk added, then back 30 minutes. I like hard-boiled eggs and sweet cream in my pie. Last would be cups of cooked-down broth, tasty with floating eyes of chicken fat, all melded together, food fit for the gods, company or family. Remember this was before it was known you could eat yourself to death!

Here Mamie and I part ways. Her recipe for stew resembles my family’s recipe for chicken and dumplings. What we’d call “drop dumplings”, are what we make with sugar for cobblers. Here’s my recipe.

Poach a roasting hen with carrots, onions, celery, salt and pepper, a fresh bay leaf if you have one in water to cover by about an inch. Skin and debone chicken. Set meat aside, return bones to the pot, and reduce by about a third. Strain liquid and return to pot with about a tablespoon of bouillon paste. You want a gallon of good, rich broth. Make a stiff dough with 2 cups self-rising flour, butter, and sweet milk; roll it out to about an eighth of an inch, cut into strips and drop into boiling broth. Jiggle them around a bit to break them up and keep from sticking. As the broth begins to thicken, add the chicken, cover, and let boil for maybe another minute. Then reduce heat and let the pot sit for about another five minutes. You’ll have to adjust the salt, since dumplings, like any boiled starch (potatoes, rice, pasta, etc.) will absorb salt in cooking. I like my chicken and dumplings with a good dose of black pepper.

 

Jake’s Baked Chicken

Jake claims that I’m a terrible cook. If anyone else were to make such a statement, I’d have to take umbrage and pick up a two-tined fork, but Jake enjoys a considerable degree of latitude when it comes to reducing my self-esteem to dust, ashes, and other such lifeless substances. After all, he has known me for a very long time, has seen me in various degrees of dishevelment and has I must admit choked down more than a few of my less-successful efforts at the stove. Though to avoid argument I acquiesce to his damnation of my kitchen skills, I’m here to tell you the statement is just not true.

Admittedly, Jake’s a good cook (see? I can be charitable!), and at any given time he’s in the kitchen, I’m comfortable with banging away at the keyboard and watching what he calls “black-and-white snoozers” on TCM. And I’m happy as a clam there; but once Jake begins cooking, I have to drop everything about every five minutes for consultations. Unless it’s something he’s cooked for a long time (a limited number of dishes, granted), he trots back and forth to where I’m sitting with a steady stream of questions. “How much of (insert name of a spice or seasoning) should I use?” “Is it okay if I just use water to poach these meatballs?” “Do I have to use this ground beef? It smells weird” (everything smalls weird to Jake; he’s also colorblind.) “How thick should I slice these mushrooms?” “Where in the hell did you put the (insert name of kitchen commodity)?” Such intense grilling inevitably ends with, “Would you come look at this? I want to see if I did it right.” The results are always beautiful. Of course.

For baked chicken breasts, wash and pat dry split whole breasts of chicken. Brush with light vegetable oil infused with granulated garlic, dried minced onions, rubbed sage, black pepper and salt in a roughly 2:2:1:1:1 ratio. Arrange loosely on a baking sheet or in a large skillet and bake in a medium oven (@350) at 350) until the skin is crisp and juices run clear.

Barbies of Jackson, Mississippi

North Jackson Barbie
This princess Barbie is sold only at the Towne Center. She comes with an assortment of Kate Spade Handbags, a Lexus SUV, and a cookie-cutter house. Available with or without tummy tuck and face lift. Workaholic Ken sold only in conjunction with the augmented version.

Ridgeland Barbie
The modern-day homemaker Barbie is available with Ford Windstar Minivan and matching gym outfit. She gets lost in parking lots and is the alumna of an off-campus sorority. Traffic-jamming cell phone sold separately.

South Jackson Barbie
This recently paroled Barbie comes with a 9mm handgun, a Ray Lewis knife, a Chevy with dark tinted windows and a meth lab Kit. This model is only available after dark and must be paid for in cash (preferably small, untraceable bills) unless you are a cop…then we don’t know what you are talking about.

West Madison Barbie
This yuppie Barbie comes with your choice of BMW convertible or Hummer H2. Included are her own Starbucks cup, credit card, and country club membership.  As optional items, BIG sunglasses and white tennis hat to wear while driving the SUV at unsafe speeds. Also available for this set are Shallow Ken and Private School Skipper. You won’t be able to afford any of them.

West Pearl Barbie
This pale model comes dressed in her own Wrangler jeans two sizes too small, a NASCAR t-shirt and tweety bird tattoo on her shoulder. She has a six-pack of Bud Lite and a Hank Williams Jr. CD set. She can spit over 5 feet and kick mullet-haired Ken’s ass when she is drunk. Purchase her pickup truck separately and get a Confederate flag bumper sticker absolutely free.

East Pearl Barbie
This tobacco-chewing, brassy-haired Barbie has a pair of her own high-heeled sandals with one broken heel from the time she chased beer-gutted Ken out of Millington Barbie’s house. Her ensemble includes low-rise acid-washed jeans, fake fingernails and a see-through halter-top. Also available with a mobile home.

Fondren Barbie
This doll is made of tofu. She has long straight brown hair, arch-less feet, and Birkenstocks with white socks. She prefers that you call her Willow. She does not want or need a Ken doll, but if you purchase two Fondren Barbies with the optional Subaru wagon, you get a rainbow flag bumper sticker for free.

Belhaven Barbie
This mature Barbie is the only doll that comes with support hose, hair toppers, and a membership in the neighborhood improvement association. Package also includes a vintage SUV, a variety of “fur babies,” and Pompous Ken. Options include a golf cart and the Martha Stewart kitchen collection.

West Jackson Barbie
This Barbie now comes with a stroller and infant doll. Optional accessories include a GED and bus pass. Gangsta Ken and his 1979 Caddy were available, but are now very difficult to find since the addition of the infant

Flowood/Rez Barbie
This doll includes a Chevy Tahoe with multiple private school stickers, Closeted Ken, 2 Whining Wendy, and an incontinent shih-tzu named Rags. She has highlights from Ms. Ann’s, a mega-church membership, and an I-phone with matching earbuds. Kroger buggy with pineapple optional.

McDowell Road Barbie/Ken
This versatile doll can be easily converted from Barbie to Ken by simply adding or subtracting the multiple snap-on parts.

Dahomey

He was wealthy, born to wealth, with a wife and children in a mansion on St. Charles, land from Natchez to Memphis, a man of taste and discretion, well-schooled in the ways of the world. She was born to poverty, with a man who beat her and a red leather trunk containing everything she owned, a woman-child of the sort you find with a stage for a cradle, knowing nothing of the world beyond footlights. But before those, oh, how she shined.

One night she plucked out his heart and held it in her hand. For an ethereal week, he kept her with style and passion in an apartment on Ursuline. Then the revue—a musical comedy, ‘In Dahomey’—swept her to Chicago, Manhattan, London, Paris, and into the arms of others.

When he bought 24,000 acres in Boliver County the next year, he smiled as he signed the deed, remembering her face, radiant in the limeights, and her body warm beside him.

Hash Tag Cookies

People had been making a criss-cross impression on balls of cookie dough with a fork long before 1925, when George Washington Carver issued an agricultural bulletin with 105 recipes using peanuts, including three for cookies. Some people might tell you the imprint helps cookies bake evenly, but more likely a fork is nine times out of ten more at hand than a cookie press. How the criss-cross became a traditional hash tag for peanut butter cookies is material for a Beard Award. Here’s a good one-bowl recipe for this all-time American favorite.

Combine 1 cup packed light brown sugar with a half cup each of softened butter and peanut butter. Mix until smooth; add a beaten egg and a teaspoon of vanilla. Mix very well. Sift in a half teaspoon each baking soda and baking powder into a cup and a half of AP flour, add to peanut butter mix, and stir thoroughly until it forms a smooth dough. Shape into balls a little smaller than a ping-pong, roll in sugar (optional), and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten the balls with a fork that has been dipped in sugar so it won’t stick. Make a criss-cross pattern, and bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes.