Southern Fried Field Study
If you're looking for a succulent fried pork tenderloin sandwich or a caramel cake with four heaven-sent layers, there's one man in Mississippi you need to follow--John T. Edge. John T., as he's called, lives in the picture-perfect college town of Oxford, Mississippi, and is known as a regional food guru, having authored A Gracious Plenty: Recipes and Recollections From the American South (Berkley Publishing Group, $19.95) and Southern Belly: The Ultimate Food Lover's Companion to the South (Hill Street Press, $24.95). When he's not spending time with his wife, artist and poet Blair Hobbs, and their young son, Jess, or pitching in at Oxford's Mid-Town Farmers Market, John T. travels the back roads of the Deep South in search of what he calls "honest" food. This time out, we joined him for the ride.
Just off the square in downtown Oxford sits a funky little bakery, which just happens to be John T.'s favorite early-morning eatery. "The coffee is high-test, and the ginger scones and sausage biscuits can't be beat," he says with great enthusiasm. "This is where I spend three out of five weekday mornings." You'll find suit-and-tie attorneys, students, and tourists alike clamoring for a seat in this place adorned with all manner of local color. As morning rolls into lunchtime, heartier fare, such as soups and sandwiches, is served. The aptly named VanBuren Best Seller is piled high with smoked turkey and provolone cheese, then dressed with an eye-opening Oregon raspberry mustard.
The current menu must-have is the Apple Ruffle Tart, which was named the best pie in America earlier this year on Oprah Winfrey's "Best of" show. Owner Cynthia Gerlach and pastry chef Twinkle VanWinkle (yes, that's right), turned the basic apple tart into a work of art. Tiny rosettes of thinly sliced Granny Smith apples are baptized in a brown sugar-and-cinnamon mixture and baked atop a buttery crust. Simple never tasted so good. 923 VanBuren Avenue, Oxford; (662) 236-5000. Baked goods: $1.60-$6; sandwiches: $4-$7.