We Got a Little Culture (and Lots of Catfish & Cornbread)
We left New Albany with Oxford, Mississippi as out target destination. Our trip had us cruising along back roads again in “rural America” where we came upon an abandoned gas station called Country Bumpkin. How appropriate!
The drive to Oxford was pretty short, a little over an hour in total. The weather was strange. It started out sunny and warm, morphed into an overcast sky, quickly deteriorated to menacing dark clouds, and then exploded into torrential downpours. Fortunately, it got nice once again and we had a chance to dry out our clothes, flip flops and umbrellas!
Oxford (population just under 20,000) is the county seat of Lafayette County and was included in The Best 100 Small Towns in America. The heart of Oxford is “Ole Miss” – the University of Mississippi – and from what we saw, locals are fanatical about their college sports teams! Ole Miss football is BIG!
Our first stop in town was the Oxford Visitors Center where we were fortunate enough to meet Kinney Ferris, the Center’s Assistant Director. Knowledgeable, helpful and clearly Oxford’s #1 cheerleader, Kinney gave us the lay of the land and suggestions on what to see, do and just as importantly, where to eat. If you find yourself in Oxford, make sure to stop in and say hello.
Right near the University and Visitor’s Center is the historic and picturesque Square, the center of Oxford’s social life. We strolled its streets admiring the Courthouse built in 1873, gorgeous architecture, and taking in the eclectic mix of restaurants, live music, art galleries, boutiques and book stores. It was a great place to people watch and soak up some Southern charm and hospitality.
When’s the last time you actually saw a working pay phone?
Author William Faulkner grew up in Oxford and lived at his home called Rowan Oak for over 40 years. Throughout the town, there are tributes to him in the form of plaques, statues and other landmarks.
Running through a sudden downpour, we made our way to the Ajax Diner, a local institution dishing up massive quantities of southern favorites. We indulged in a “light” lunch of fried catfish in a cornmeal crust with 2 sides each, and a hunk of jalapeño cornbread. Bart took the high road and went for the steamed broccoli (who knows why) and black beans and rice. Rorie went to calorie hell with sweet potato casserole laden with marshmallows and sugared pecans, and sautéed turnip greens studded with big chunks of bacon. Thank goodness for elastic waist pants!
Lumbering our way out of the diner, we got in the car, stretched the seat belts across our slightly bloated bellies and headed out to our next stop, Taylor, MS.
Taylor (population 383) is an incredibly unique small village. Located eight miles south of Oxford, Taylor is known for it’s thriving artist community including painters, sculptors, potters, photographers, woodworkers, furniture makers and writers. We were really lucky to meet multi-talented artist Christine Schultz who, along with her custom furniture-making husband, Marc Deloach, own Taylor Arts (http://www.taylorarts.com). Christine and Marc have a gallery full of their unique artwork including paintings, photos, one-of-a-kind jewelry and eye-catching wood fish and also have a thriving online business through their website and Etsy. If you’re looking for creative and unusual art pieces, this is the place to go.
Besides artwork, Taylor is best known for Taylor Grocery, the world-famous catfish restaurant. Featured in dozens of publications over the past ten years, this ramshackle restaurant offers what is considered to be the best fried catfish around. Sadly, it wasn’t opened on the day we were there so a return trip will definitely be in order!
This is downtown Taylor…
Next stop – the blues and BBQ capital of the world…Memphis!