Friday, April 17, 2015

Because the Night

Oops, we did it again.

Get lost, that is, albeit in the tony outskirts of Oxford which means houses with real gas lamps, landscaped yards and owners saying hello in deep southern drawls. But with persistence, we find our second John Currence restaurant, SnackBar, set in a mid-century strip mall with a Sears and a hip yoga place.

Granted, we were also 15 minutes late for our reservation, but everyone was nice to us about it.

Here's one big difference between home and here: easily 60-70% of the men here wear sports jackets everywhere. We'd seen it walking around the Square but dinner confirmed it (as did asking locals). It's look so old school to us, but apparently that's just how it's done in the south.

SnackBar was billed as a "bubba brasserie" and had a definite brasserie feel with a prominent raw bar, lots of oak and booths and dim lighting. Oh, yes, and mounted deer heads on the paneled walls.

Repeating ourselves in the best possible way, we began with Bouret Cremant de Loire and oysters from New Jersey and Rhode island, both brinier than last night's Alabama offerings.

Across the street from the restaurant, we'd seen a hand-painted sign saying "Local crawfish" which inspired us to try Creole spice-roasted asparagus  and crawfish vinaigrette. If that's how they do asparagus here, we're down with it.

Switching to Domaine Houchart Rose, she moved on to roasted red fish (mainly because she wanted the black eye pea polenta)  while I had the classic brasserie sandwich Monte Cristo served with frites.

My friend was bowled over with the frites because they were dusted in paprika, her latest obsession (it had also been a major component in our pork shanks the night before). Her assessment: "Paprika is the new black."

I have to admit, she's often right about these things.

We'd hoped to save enough room for a southern cheese plate afterwards, but alas, were too stuffed. Leaving the restaurant after dark, she wondered if we'd be able to see along the residential route we'd taken, but thankfully well off Oxonians keep their streets well lit for loopy visitors.

Since it was our last night in Oxford, we had no intention of going right back to the hotel so we made our way to the Square where things were mighty lively. Cabs sat idling waiting for drunk passengers and couples in jackets (him) and ridiculously high heels (her) passed us on all sides.

Our destination was the balcony at City Grocery which we'd been told was "the" place to have a drink. The robust man who greeted us when we got upstairs oozed southern hospitality and somehow managed to find us a tiny two top on what looked like an already capacity balcony.

I decided to forsake wine for Heradurra and she left France behind for New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc ("Wow, that's really different from where we were," she said puckering her lips), which we sipped from our prime table at the front of the narrow balcony looking over the Square.

While she was getting more wine, I overheard behind me, "East Mississippi is the worst. Hell, it's really Alabama."

When I came back from fetching more tequila, I found myself behind a guy with long hair and a t-shirt reading, "Faulkner's Sexuality." Of course I stopped to read it, front and back, meeting its wearer along the way.

A feisty redhead plopped herself down at the table next to us with two guys she didn't know (their girlfriends had departed 10 minutes earlier), turned and looked at me and said, "Ooh, I love your dress." Once I told her it was $2 thrift store find, she wanted to fist bump me. Then I heard about how for her recent 35th birthday, she'd treated herself to seven dresses at a thrift store for $50.

Clearly she wanted a pat on the head so I gave it to her.

Another big difference down here is people can still smoke in bars and they do. The birthday girl shared a massive cigar with strangers while all around us, cigarettes burned in hands. Fortunately, there was a good breeze on the balcony and smoke was never an issue.

A large lamp with green glass was mounted on the outside of the balcony railing, lending a vintage touch to the simple wooden structure.

Sometime after our second round, the rambunctious group behind us stopped knocking into us and decided to befriend us.

Slade was their ringleader and while his cig had come dangerously close to me far too many times earlier and his hip had knocked into the back of my head with alarming regularity, he turned out to be a blast.

Even better, he manages the Square's bookstore, a place we'd already visited today. When he heard we were from Richmond, he grabbed a chair, pulled it up and enthused, "Okay, let's talk Shaka."

Since I'm not in the least sports oriented, this could have been a conversational snore for me except that Friend and I had already had a long talk about Shaka's departure. I'd even discussed it with my parents over Easter. Believe it or not, I'd even read a little about it all.

So for a change, I could participate in sports talk.

Because of Ole Miss, eventually the talk moved to their sports mania, something we'd ascertained based on the grandiose football and baseball stadiums we'd seen while walking around campus, which reeks money and athletic devotion.

"We took 'em to Memphis to strip clubs and got in a whole lotta trouble for that," Slade explained about the unpleasantness with the football team a while back before taking a swig of his Amstel Light. "Got us on probation."

He introduced us to his friends, all locals and all unabashed Oxford devotees since moving there.

One woman had on a cute red top and when I told her it looked exactly like something I wore in 1988, was thrilled, saying in her distinctive drawl, "Aw, that makes me so happy to he-ah that!"

Turns out that the balcony at City Grocery attracts the older set and tourists early but after 9ish reverts to the province of the locals, so we were lucky to have been allowed out there.

In fact, the only reason we eventually said our farewells was because we still had to walk home and wanted to make sure we could. Our new friends assured us that we'd be perfectly safe, in fact that we wouldn't even be able to find the unsafe areas if we tried.

Obviously, they don't know our navigational record.

But we did make it home with only one pit stop, probably laughing and talking a bit too loud in certain neighborhoods for the hour, but all in one piece.

Back in our room with the windows open, we devoured her Memphis-bought chocolate chip cookies while recapping the night.

"I was really impressed with you joining in the sports discussion!" she said then and again this morning.

I may not be a sports fan but I can play one in conversation.

At least I can when there's a soft Mississippi breeze on an Oxford balcony with enough Heradurra and good company to make anything seem possible.


  1. ....haven't seen my relatives in Mississippi in a while.... believe that what a tourist might confer as "Old School", [in regards to a sport coat], would be considered by them, [my folks], as appropriate style or class. Which I suspect has some merit & just might be more presentable than the ever pervasive tee-shirt & tattoo of Richmond. Not that i'm knocking the city of Seven Hills, it's just we're just still sort of a border state...not really in the heart of Dixie. ..of course you're in Norther Miss. Any plans to venture forth down deep,,,into 'Bama & 'Orleans?


  2. Not this trip, cw. Need to get back to RVA and earning a living. I have plans to be in New Orleans September 2016. No 'Bama plans at present.