Angel Postell and her crew from the Charleston Wine + Food Festival get treated like the queens they are by big bad chef John Currence in Oxford, Miss. Read on for another drool-worthy account of their Southern Food Road Trip:
Coming into Oxford was like coming home. This place oozes Southern charm. A cute college town, the main center has a square reminiscent of New Orleans, with porches above the stores and restaurants.
Chef John Currence pretty much owns this town as far as food is concerned. He has four establishments and a catering business. A gracious host, he wanted us to come and experience what he is doing. This was the best night so far of the trip.
Our first stop was Snack Bar. Located in an old school strip mall, it seemed a little out of place. As we walked in, we quickly realized it was not. The place looks like your house with rich wooden floors and walls, quirky light fixtures, a long community table, and a collection of every dead animal you could think of hanging above. John told us he'd killed all of them himself. Impressive.
We found a home at the raw bar and decided to order all three varieties available. Each style oyster had its own favors and tastes and finished with perfect salty goodness. Our server/shucker Whit was adorable and shared a lot about the town and the restaurants while we hung out. We also were treated to an incredible lobster with pickled beets and mango, topped with greens and a crouton "snack." It was hard to say goodbye to that plate, it was so good. We also tried the crab deviled eggs, which were fantastic.
After snacks, we went to meet up with John at his flagship, City Grocery. The restaurant celebrates its 20th year this weekend, and we got to taste a little of the menu that John is serving as part of the celebration. The restaurant was originally an old barn, and you can see a lot of the original details. The walls are filled with framed notes from guests and events throughout the year, this place is obviously very special to so many people.
John had arranged a six-course tasting menu for us and spent most of the night with us sharing history, thoughts on food, and his philosophies. The food was spectacular, but the one-on-one time was priceless and something I will never forget.
We started with some bubbly and a pot of crackling pork rinds. The rinds are apparently cooked in lard and then sit for a few days before being coooked sousvide and served to guests. I was in true hog heaven. Up next was shrimp bisque, which featured picked crab, poached Gulf shrimp, and a creme fraiche foam. Then came a medley of small plates including crab cakes, mushroom ravioli, crawfish remoulade with cucumber/onion salad and charred pecans, and spanikopita. All of the dishes were items Currence featured when he first opened with an updated twist. The chef sent out an off-menu grilled artichoke that was topped with fresh crab meat. It tasted like steak, it was so good. Next we had the herb and garlic compressed roasted chicken with a buttered garlic potato purée, pistou, and green bean confetti. It was some of the best chicken I have ever had!
We ended the main courses with a salad and paired beer, which in my opinion is the greatest way to end a meal. It was nice, clean and simple.
Of course we relished a tasty chocolate cake topped with milk chocolate ice cream at the end. We loved it so much we took one to go, along with a batch of pork rinds for the trip. We got to sip on some special Pappy Van Winkle before heading upstairs to the bar. It was a very cool place where we'd be regulars if we lived in Oxford.
On the way out of town, we made a quick stop by to see our friends at the Southern Foodways Alliance and caught up with Melissa Hall. It was great to see the office and the campus at University of Mississippi, which is super charming. We also brainstormed ideas for the 2013 festival.
Now, we're off to the last leg: Memphis. We will be hanging with the Fatback Collective and Food for the Southern Soul teams at Memphis in May, and I have a feeling making some new friends on the trip. Elvis here we come!