Oxford, Mississippi is a quaint and remote place in arguably one of the worst states in the country in every meaningful category. But, man, is that food in Oxford damn good?! Despite the rest of the Magnolia State constantly tripping over itself when it comes to just about everything, The Velvet Ditch is consistently thriving when it comes to the culinary arts. Led by knife-bearing heavyweights like the well-known John Currence, fellow James Beard nominee Vishwesh Bhatt, and often-frequenter Kelly English, Oxford Town knows it’s strength and boy oh boy does it play to it.
But, as is life, things must end every now and again. And we have bid farewell to outstanding cuisine establishments over the years that we would do just about anything to have back in our proverbial arms when we’re in the 662. Here is a list that some of our finest grub visionaries conjured up for you to reflect on and remember the days of old, when time stood still and abdomens were bloated.
Yocona River Inn - Abbeville, Miss.
“The more I cook it, the more you’re gonna chew.” That’s the sass a member of my dinner party got once at Yocona River Inn when he asked how tender the tenderloin would be if cooked anything above medium. He was an idiot to ask such an idiot question, and Yocona wasn’t going to let such an insult slide. The thinking goes, I would imagine, that we drove our ignorant asses all the way out to a tarpaper shack in Abbeville, Mississippi to eat steak, so if we wanted to spend actual money on something as awful as dry, gray beef then they were not going to withhold their judgment.
And the steak was fine. Yes, you’ve had a better steak before, and yes you’ve been to a nicer restaurant, but Yocona was a special place either way. It was part of a dying breed of old, rural Southern restaurants that didn’t have an extensive menu because they didn’t have the kitchen or demand to support it. They didn’t have nice furniture or glassware because they couldn’t afford it. And what’s this you say about a “wine list?”
But what people really remember about Yocona is their signature sauce. It was a homemade steak sauce that was spicy, tangy, and sweet. It was a deep brown, damn near black sauce that couldn’t subtract from a meal if it wanted to. It was perfect.
I know a young woman who tried to make some of her own Yocona sauce. She believed it was a reduction of red wine, molasses, and vinegar of some sort, plus a bunch of spices. Maybe there was tomato paste in there too? She totally ruined a saucepan trying to reduce all of that stuff because she didn’t know what she was doing to begin with and that’s the sort of karmic justice that happens when your hubris tricks you into thinking you’re capable of replicating perfection.
As with anything worth a damn in Mississippi these days, the place burned down. There was an attempt at a revival at another location, but nothing gold can stay.
Deli News - Jackson Avenue
It was THE place to pick up a legitimate delicatessen sandwich in Oxford. Before there was LB’s Meat Market, there was Deli News. This former grub spot that was nestled in a mini mall on Jackson Avenue behind Kiamie’s was owned by a former journalism student that drew inspiration for his namesake and the menu from newspaper publications from around the world. And just to make this place even more painful to remember, all of their baked goods came straight from Bottletree Bakery on The Square.
The menu was as simple as it was eclectic. You could snag a basic B.L.T. but when they slapped that sugar-cured, hickory smoked bacon on top of it, you were transported into a meat euphora that can only be explained in the moment when you take that first bite. Sandwiches ranged from the absolute outstanding El Gallo De Diablo (The Devil’s Rooster) that came with News’ spicy chicken salad lathered on bread of your choice to my personal favorite, the Ragin’ Cajun. A simple sandwich that draws its influence from our friends in the Pelican State, it was always tough to beat cajun turkey, roast beef, provolone and mustard on a hoagie.
The real killer was being able to snag some homemade pasta salad complete with pepper jack cheese cubes thrown in with some olive oil drizzled over it that might as well be liquid gold. Throw in a 32 oz. drink with free refills for only $1.75 and this place was a hidden gem that unfortunately most did not know about. When I finally started getting my meat and cheese here by the pound, my life changed forever. Here’s to you, Deli News, keep slicing that lunch meat and lathering up those carbs with condiments, wherever you are.
Two Stick - The Square
If you were looking for a great trivia night atmosphere in Oxford, Miss. in the mid-to-late 2000’s, then Two Stick was definitely the place you wanted to go. Usually on a Thursday, Stick hosted trivia night and it was usually coupled with an employee in the back hallway dishing out cheap PBR to help lather up those brains when answering questions about Greek mythology or U.S. Presidents.
The food at Two Stick was nothing to...well wag a stick at. The sushi was phenomenal, plain and simple. The crowd favorite was The Golden Triangle. It would be served as rolls, stacked eight high and was coated with a secret honey glaze sauce that was to die for. If you wanted to take a special someone there, the edamame paired with a spicy tuna or a dragon roll and some Sapporos is a great start to a night on the town. And when you dropped Mr. Phat’s hot sauce on anything, it was an explosion in your mouth.
Sure there are better places to score raw fish (Jinsei is apparently the bee’s knees), but for quick, delicious grub and a fantastic atmosphere, Two Stick is greatly missed.
Murff’s - Off Square
Oxford needs more dive bars.
Once again, for the folks in the back, OXFORD NEEDS MORE DIVE BARS!
Murff’s was one such establishment, and its departure leaves a gargantuan void in a nighlife scene that’s built way too strongly to cater to hipsters and Southern suburban socialites.
Look, sometimes people just wanna get drunk in the company of strangers. They don’t want loud music, they don’t want to network, they don’t want to be seen, and they don’t want to dress like they’re trying to impress.
They just want to drink booze in someplace other than their own damn house. Murff’s gave us that. The beer was cheap, there was probably football on the TV, the cheesesteak was great, the bartenders were...
I mean, they were there, okay?
And they had damn suffleboard in the basement, y’all. Murff’s was great, and Oxford needs more places like it. (Though, to be 100% fair, its replacement - Frank and Marlee’s - is a pretty good spot too.)
L’Amore - The Square
During my years as an undergrad at Ole Miss (2006-2010), there were few spots that knocked the hell out of a hangover quite like pizza at L’Amore. This place is missed in more ways than one. If it was still standing, the NCAA might not be so interested in Funky’s, which is who took L’Amore’s place on Jackson Avenue on the corner of the alley by The Library. Despite the owner of Funky’s buying the recipe for the pizza from its previous tenant after L’Amore closed in 2009, it’s just not the same.
My roommate and I would saunter over to the former pizzeria after parking somewhere on The Square. The walk was rough from either your head still pounding from all the bourbon and shots that were slammed the night before, but nothing quite hit the spot like a chicken alfredo pie and a Dr Pepper while sitting on a barstool looking out their open window.
The New York style pizza is my favorite and it’s not even close, but the amount of precision and attention that was put into every single pie was immaculate. Everything from the perfect bark on the crust to the ratio of cheese, toppings and sauce. Another great spot that was gone too soon.
Rib Cage - The Square
Story time! Smeargle and Ghost drank a lot of booze one Thursday night at City Grocery. The two of them then wandered over to Chicken on a Stick to learn that they were fresh out of bird. They were frying up a few new batches in the back, but they wouldn’t be ready for another 10-ish minutes. So, being impatient idiots, the two figured they could slide down to the basement of Rib Cage and have a beer and wait it out.
They get down there and see Sikes Orvis and Will Allen at the bar holding court. Those two dinguses then tweeted at Sikes Orvis (why?) to be like “sup fam wanna drink.” The squad then all go introduced to each other, several shots were had, Sikes expressed his disapointment at something neither Ghost nor Smeargle wrote (they still deserved it), and everybody’s been pals ever since.
And the sausage and cheese plate was the best appetizer in Oxford. Don’t bother arguing with us on this.
Coop DeVille - University Avenue/North Lamar/Jackson Avenue
As the poet Cardi B famously said, “you know where I’m at, you know where I be”, Coop DeVille knew that you were at home and they knew what state of mind you were in. The famous late night gluttonous delicacy held it’s own at the top of the Oxford late night food chain among the giants like Chevron, Square Pizza, Popeye’s, and Taco Bell on University.
The menu was as stacked and deep as an Alabama front seven. Starting from the top, you couldn’t go wrong with quesadilla rolls or jalapeno munchers or you could go with Southern staples like fried pickles, there was no wrong answer. Then, you get to the sandwich menu and it was, top-to-bottom, outstanding.
Typically when ordering Coop, it was post-bar, after midnight and you were either preparing for that second wind before the late night or you were calling it a night and preparing for a long night of Mario Kart or Halo. Usually, yours truly would flip a coin for the Ranchero or the SGT Pepper. Both were outstanding sandwiches that, when paired with fresh cheese fries, were undefeated. And the wings were not so bad either. After leaving it’s original post on University Avenue by Kroger, it made its way over to Jackson Avenue, across the street from Moe’s/Redneck Burrito/3 Guys Pizza/Lenny’s, before it finally closed it’s doors in 2016. Pour one out, y’all.
Bofield’s - Jackson Avenue
The Square and it’s heavyweight soul food standard Ajax gets most of the hype when it comes to filling the void left of your grandmother’s cooking while you’re away at college. But over on Jackson Avenue in a tiny strip mall, there was Bofield’s. If you had no luck finding a table on The Square to get your filling on catfish and fried chicken, Bofield’s had you covered.
The ambiance wasn’t much, but the welcoming attitude and friendly faces you saw each time you walked in was unmatched. The spreads were fantastic and there was even a fresh salad bar if that tickled your fancy more than meat and three. The simplicity of this forgotten gem was what made it so great. Nothing too fancy, nothing out of the ordinary, just your Mount Rushmore country cooking staples.
It quietly closed its doors in the later 2000’s and Jackson Avenue’s mom and pop food scene has never been the same. For me, this was my go to place to take my grandparents when they would come visit me in Oxford because it never failed, when we would leave, they would utter something to the liking of “you know that cornbread tasted a lot like mine”. Can’t beat that, can you?
Lamar Lounge - North Lamar
You’d think Oxford’s sole whole hog pit smoker joint wouldn’t have much of a problem staking a claim in the sparsely populated BBQ territory (RIP Rib Cage, hello Moe’s Original BBQ and Dickey’s, both chains). However, Lamar Lounge’s tenure down North Lamar was far too short lived in my opinion. Known for its BBQ Tot-chos and phenomenal burger cooked to a perfect medium-rare, Lamar Lounge was a great place to grab a meal that wasn’t outrageously priced and get BBQ you could guarantee was recently smoked in the enormous pits out back.
My best guess is that most patrons preferred the burger rather than the BBQ, causing its downfall. From what I recall, John Currence (a behind the curtain owner) even admitted that the demand just wasn’t there for whole hog BBQ. What followed Lamar Lounge was an even shorter lived red sauce Italian joint named Fat Eddies. I checked it out twice during its three month window and there wasn’t too much to get super excited about: great fried calamari, messy chicken parm and uninspired cocktails.
The Lamar Lounge building has a dive-ish feel to it with a spectacular bar so maybe the long reach from the Square location is causing some problems. Hopefully its stools don’t stay flipped on top of it’s tables for much longer.
Kreme Cup/Ember’s/My Guys - University Avenue
The currently unoccupied building next to the AutoZone on University must either be cursed or have an astronomical lease price. The oldest memory I have of it was during undergrad when it was occupied by an ice cream shoppe called Kreme Kup. This wasn’t just any ice cream shoppe mind you, we’re talking about concretes and custards. Scattered throughout the state, you’ve probably had the outer world experience of eating Bop’s Frozen Custard. Kreme Kup offered the same delicious old style churned custard and was located a walk’s distance from the Square.
Post-Kreme Kup came Ember’s which later changed its name to My Guy’s Biscuits and BBQ. Owned by co-founder of Newk’s Don Newcomb, My Guys provided made from scratch biscuits for all three meals plus electronically smoked BBQ for all your biscuit topping needs. My go-to snack was their smoked chicken biscuit with traditional white BBQ sauce. The biscuits were loaded down with meat, ensuring you’d be looking for any scraps that might have fallen after each bite. After closing down on University, My Guy’s shipped over to Jackson but didn’t make it much longer there.