My family recently drove cross-country en route to Hawaii. Many years ago, my grandmother told me that she had visited all 50 states (twice!). I admittedly have a touch of wanderlust, but I was so impressed by my grandmother’s travels that I made a goal to visit all 50 states. Everyone has different criteria for what constitutes a “visit;” for me, it means actually spending some time doing something there, even if it’s not overnight.
We tried to stop and see as many states as we could as we headed west. Now, my husband and I have lived in Alabama three times, and while we did a fair bit of traveling around the area while we were there, we never visited Mississippi! Natchez always intrigued us with its beautiful historic mansions, but it was not close enough for a long weekend trip, and taking vacation days to visit Mississippi was not appealing. Natchez was not along the route we took, so we decided to stop in Oxford. The main reasons for stopping in Oxford were because it was along the general route we were taking and there were places to stay, so let it suffice to say that I had VERY low expectations for this stop. As we pulled into our AirBnB, everything seemed pretty humdrum. Then we went out to find dinner… You guys, Oxford is BEAUTIFUL and a total food destination! My jaw literally dropped driving through the Square and past all of the historic homes on North Lamar Boulevard. I actually wish we had more time there to explore and eat!
If you are passing through the area, it is totally worth a stop. We spent a lot of time that Sunday just walking around the Square (Square Books and Square Books, Jr. were a treat) and walking around the Ole Miss campus. It is still Mississippi, so a number of eateries are closed on Sundays, but on the bright side, Sunday parking is free.
Here are a few places we tried that I would recommend:
We were headed over to the Oxford Canteen – and pretty excited for it – but when we got there it looked closed. I spotted the Snackbar across the street and it had really good reviews, so we decided to give it a try. The menu and prices gave me the impression that this was a fancier place, so I sent my husband inside to order some takeout (he ordered at the bar). Considering that 2 of 3 kids were asleep in their car seats by the time we parked, and most of the people inside did not have kids with them, I think it was the right choice :D.
We ordered a Tomato Stack, a Monte Cristo sandwich, a Fried Catfish sandwich, and a grilled peach (my first choice was the Suman but they did not have this option at the time).
I thought my kids would eat the Tomato Stack, and I was completely wrong. I was actually really surprised by what this was – it really is stacked up in a neat little tomato, soft cheese spread, and bread tower. It was not at all like a caprese salad (this was clearly a reading comprehension fail on my part) and is not easy to separate out the different components. We ended up feeding our kids some odds and ends we had from stopping at Trader Joe’s earlier in the day, so it’s not like they starved, but I just want to be clear that unless your kids like some seriously bougie food, you might want to find them something else. In the end we were glad to have our Tomato Stack as it was arguably the best item we ordered. The tomatoes were as ripe and red as I have ever seen, and the sourdough bread was like a giant crouton, but not as hard to bite through.
I had the Monte Cristo sandwich, although I did surrender a couple of bites to my 3-year-old and husband. It was very well executed – my favorite component was the challah bread – although I don’t think there was anything out of the ordinary about this sandwich.
My husband had the Fried Catfish. He reports that it was rather plain and he liked both my sandwich and the tomato stack more.
There are two types of french fries at the Snackbar and we tried both kinds. One was covered in parmesan and was quite savory. I ate them plain and also dipped in the mustard that came with the Monte Cristo. The other fries were a bit spicy, but not unbearably so. I ate those ones plain, but my husband dipped them in the mustard too.
Last up was the grilled peach. I started laughing when I opened the box for this because it was literally half of a single peach! For the price I thought that we would get at least one whole peach. Cost aside, the whipped goat cheese was very interesting and it played nicely off of the sweet brown butter sauce. I didn’t taste pecan in the pecan crumble, but it did add a nice crunch to every bite.
If we went back, I would want to try more of the small plates and desserts, and I might just make an entire meal of those items. Maybe that’s why it’s called the Snackbar?
We headed here after mass on Sunday morning. I ordered a regular 16 ounce iced latte (pretty sure that this is a “mom drink” now but whatever, I’m a mom) and a couple of chocolate milks (also about 16 ounces each) for the kids. Everything was very reasonably priced, I think it was like $7 total. The baristas were friendly and gave my kids the “fun” green straws for their drinks. My kids let me sample their milk; it was very chocolatey, which is really all that matters with chocolate milk. My latte tasted different than other lattes I have had of late, I still cannot put my finger on why, so I’ll just chalk it up to whatever locally roasted beans they used. Not the strongest coffee I’ve ever had, but it was still a solid cup of coffee, and very refreshing as we strolled around in the Mississippi-in-August heat. If coffee isn’t your thing, they had a big tea selection and some very tempting cakes and pastries too.
3) Saint Leo
I loved everything we ordered from Saint Leo. We ordered the large size Simple Green Salad, a Prosciutto, Arugula, & Mozzarella Pizza, and a Margherita Pizza.
The Simple Green Salad is the quintessential example of elevating basic ingredients. It was just three components – bibb lettuce, radish, and lemon vinaigrette – and they were all perfect. Seriously. The lettuce was the best lettuce I have ever seen in a restaurant – not wilting, not soggy, just bright green with a great texture. The jewel-like purpley-pink radishes really popped against the lettuce – I didn’t know that radishes could be so big! The vinaigrette was intensely lemon in the best way. I appreciate that they put it on the side because I for one am not a fan of salad soup. We ordered the smaller size and had enough for 2 very generous servings (I think 3 people could easily share this salad).
I generally don’t like gambling with new-to-me pizza places because I love pizza so so so much and bad pizza makes me alternately sad and angry. Maybe I am just less critical of it, but Neapolitan pizza seems to be a pretty safe bet. These pizzas had a flavorful crust and classic toppings.
I know that Oxford is not completely unknown or even overlooked – it is actually featured in 36 Hours and it does have Ole Miss, after all. This visit still felt like stumbling upon hidden treasure. If you love small cities and college towns, Oxford is definitely worth a visit!