The food is finer than football in Oxford.
During the first year I moved down to the South, my husband and I traveled to Oxford once to compete in the Rebel Man sprint triathlon. We managed to cross the finish line and eat out at a couple places, but time was limited and our focus wasn’t on food.
Since then, the University of Mississippi mascot has changed from Colonel Reb to a black bear and the football program has grown rockier than Lindsay Lohan’s career.
We virtually have no reason to wander that direction, but I found myself back up there this past September for a mixed doubles state tennis tournament. Although my primary purpose was tennis, I managed to squeeze in a few good meals.
Between two days, I ate an undocumented but nice dinner at Boure and lunch at Ajax Diner twice. Sadly I missed the team brunch at Big Bad Breakfast and left before hitting City Grocery, Snackbar, Taylor Grocery or Ravine. Five reasons to go back.
For our initial team meal before the matches started, we met up at Ajax Diner on the square. Once you walk into Ajax, it’s every man for themselves because they have open seating. We scrambled to piece together tables for our party of thirteen in a jam packed dining room.
Ajax features salads, sandwiches and po’boys, but I’d say their main specialty is plate lunches. They feature soul food and Southern staples such as red beans and rice with andouille sausage, pot roast, fried catfish and meatloaf. And throughout these two years in the South I’ve never been tempted to order a vegetable plate, until I saw their menu. They have twenty items under the Veggie category, even if that does include cheese grits.
I decided on the Chicken and Dumplings plate lunch, selecting turnip greens and upgrading to macaroni and cheese for the two side items. I wished there were more discernible pieces of chicken, but like most versions the meat was integrated into the gravy. The macaroni and cheese was creamy and the greens had a smokey touch. The portions are generous and a large square of jalapeno cornbread came perched on the plate, well worth the $11.
On the second day, we played hard and finished our final matches at a strange time, leaving us hungry and tired mid-afternoon. I tried to go to City Grocery (closed, and too sweaty for the dining room) and Bottletree Bakery (rented out for a private party) but ran out of luck. Then I found myself back at Ajax.
They were still doing a brisk business at off hours which only speaks well of their food. Feeling dejected from our losses I went with the Chicken Fried Steak plate lunch, ultimate comfort food worth the extra calories.
Next to a large chicken fried steak I got mashed potatoes, cucumber and tomato salad, more turnip greens and a homemade lemonade. I was extra worn out but everything on the second go around tasted extra delicious. The tangy cucumber salad and fresh, sweet lemonade cut the richness of the brown gravy drowned potatoes and meat. In fact, I tried not to eat the entire piece but couldn’t stop myself from cleaning my plate. This meal almost made up for our disappointing loss on the tennis courts.
If comfort food isn’t your dish, then there are plenty of other options to choose from. I would really have loved to try the Hot Tamale Pie at dinner.
Oxford is a small college town home to Ole Miss football, William Faulkner and some great Southern eats.
118 Courthouse Square
Oxford, MS 38655