Mississippi Back Roads
Follow a local to these secret eateries tucked away in the rolling hills of North Mississippi for the tastes of barbecue, fried crawfish tails, mouthwatering desserts, and more.
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.
Fans of chef John Currence's popular fine-dining eatery, City Grocery, will feel right at home in his latest venture, named for the Louisiana card game. In this foray however, John creates a menu and atmosphere that's more laid-back and definitely family friendly. For example, it's hard for adults to resist the bacon-stuffed grilled chicken breast or the fried pork tenderloin sandwich, which we strongly urge you not to miss. Kids will grin from ear to ear about the homemade corn dogs and catfish strips.
"Blair and I dote on good stuff such as their fiery chicken wings and crispy fried crawfish tails," John T. says fondly. There's a variety of options on this menu, and everything is expertly prepared. 309 North Lamar, Oxford; (662) 234-1968. Entrées: $11-$22.
If you enjoy a picturesque drive into the country for barbecue, then head about 30 minutes northeast of Oxford, on State 30, to New Albany, where you will find some of the best barbecue in Mississippi. The sign out front says it all: Fine BBQ & Homemade Desserts.
The mostly hams and pork shoulders 'cue (pulled) is wood-smoked and served with a vinegary red sauce that's not too heavy on the ketchup. On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings (after 5 p.m.), locals make a mad dash for Westside's irresistible ribs and chicken, which are served to eager patrons "while they last."
However, the real stars are the desserts. The front counter is lined with a beauty pageant of classic Southern cakes such as red velvet, carrot, coconut, and chocolate, but their caramel cake takes first prize. This four-layered paean to sweets is downright heavenly. John T. agrees: "The barbecue is some of the best around, but we--especially my son, Jess--love the caramel cake. Jess also digs the model trains that race around a track mounted about where the crown molding should be." It's always a good time here. State 30 West, New Albany; (662) 534-7276. Entrées: $3.50-$9.50.
Borroum's Drug Store and Old Fashioned Soda Fountain
History buffs and shoppers alike flock to the bucolic town of Corinth, home to this 138-year-old establishment. You'll find everything from burgers to cheesy melts (both ham and turkey) to homemade pimiento cheese sandwiches. What's more, you can wash it all down with hand-drawn soft drinks and old-fashioned refreshers such as vanilla, grape, and cherry sodas.
"A meal at Borroum's is the perfect sepia-toned small-town experience. In fact, the experience would be too perfect if it weren't tempered by the local delight called a Slugburger," John T. says with a big grin. It's an acquired taste, but Borroum's serves one of the best. There are as many stories in Corinth surrounding the history of the slugburger as there are places serving them (and that's a lot). Most of the locals agree that this burger-like patty of ground pork, soy, and seasonings made its way to town after WWI, when it originally sold for less than a nickel. Today, this town delicacy is served with pickles, a squeeze of mustard, and a few rings of sliced onion. (It'll only set you back $1.75.) I suggest a shake each of salt and hot sauce to pull it all together. 604 East Waldron Street, Corinth; (662) 286-3361. Sandwiches: $1.75-$3.25.
Love barbecue? You'll find dozens of delicious recipes in our Bar-B-Que special issue, on newsstands now!
This article is from the June 2003 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.