OXFORD, Miss. — Pardon me if you’ve heard this refrain before, but I try hard to find a reason to come here. Some might be curious about that. After all, once you visit William Faulkner’s old homestead, enjoy a hot toddy at The Grove during football season, grab a couple of new titles at Square Books, and order shrimp and grits at City Grocery spiced by a conversation with Chef-Owner John Currence, there is not so much to do.
Maybe that’s it. The laid-back lifestyle and the ambience that it spawns is perhaps what gives Oxford its unfailing allure. Nobody gets in a hurry in Oxford unless it is to greet you and extend a warm welcome. Hospitality is a big deal here.
Oxford at dawn is an experience worthy of an encore. Hanging out at the courthouse square lifts one’s spirits even in early morning. Everything begins with the square, which dictates the traffic pattern in the heart of the city. A historical marker explains that the original courthouse was burned by Union troops in 1864. Eight years later in 1872, a local judge, R. A. Hill, “secured” federal funds to construct the present courthouse. War makes so much sense, doesn’t it?
Standing on the square and admiring the aging courthouse with its Corinthian columns, cupola and clock, it is warming to see darkness emerge into dawn and eventually sunrise. In this circumstance, I can also reflect on the Southern way of life, which evolved from the traditions of Dixie to a world of technology and mores the characters Faulkner wrote about would simply not believe.
You can experience the grand slam of dining, even on a short stay in Oxford. John Currence is renowned for his kitchen at City Grocery on the Square, but he has three other restaurants where you can get a culinary buzz — Bouré, SnackBar and BBB (Big Bad Breakfast). Come to Oxford, and you want to try them all. From the courthouse you could walk to all three. City Grocery is only about three first downs away, Bouré is in the next block, and the other two are a short walk from downtown.
John’s menus are Cajun-influenced, creative and alluring. At SnackBar and Bouré you can get small plates and not-so-small plates. Molly Morrison, who wants to become a veterinarian, will keep you relaxed and informed if you go to SnackBar and Manina Stone will do the same at Bouré. The mother of three boys, Manina has a degree in social work from Ole Miss but enjoys the restaurant scene. If I was disappointed in the meal, I’d go back just for conversation with Manina. The best shrimp and grits I ever tasted is served at City Grocery, I had a great hamburger at Bouré, and enjoyed Pig Ear Stir Fry at the SnackBar.
A Big Bad Breakfast is the best way imaginable to start your day. You read the Oxford Eagle over grits, country ham, andouille sausage and red-eye gravy served by Sandra Haynie, and you have a memorable experience worth the six-hour drive to get here. If you want more, cathead biscuits and Tobasco bacon are available. The sauces and spices, most of them made on-site, are so tasty you want to bring a bottle or a jar home with you. With some, you can.
There is one negative about this recap of a sojourn to one of the South’s great communities. Too much has been left out. Come see for yourself, and you’re likely to conclude that a little place can be big on experiences. Especially if the livin’ is good. And easy.
I bid you farewell with this vignette about William Faulkner, the one-time postmaster at the University of Mississippi, which came from a friend who collected it from some source. Seems that Faulkner, by all accounts, was a terrible postmaster. He ignored customers, delayed taking outgoing mail to the train station.
He wrote and played bridge and mah jongg with part-time clerks he had appointed, all of which caused a lot of customer complaints and brought a postal inspector to investigate. Faulkner, the story goes, agreed to resign and said of his experience:
“I reckon I’ll be at the beck and call of folks with money all my life, but thank God I won’t ever again have to be at the back and call of every S.O.B. who’s got two cents to buy a stamp.”
Loran Smith is co-host of “The Tailgate Show” and sideline announcer for Georgia football. He is also a freelance writer and columnist.