Friday, April 17, 2015

Sound and Fury Meets Soul

Early morning thunderstorms signaled the start to our second day in Oxford.

Unfortunately, they also meant we couldn't walk to our third John Currence restaurant, Big Bad Breakfast, not because I didn't want to (I love walking in warm weather rain) but because the missus was feeling poorly (see: last night's balcony revelry) and needed food STAT.

BBB, as it's known in these parts, was southern lunch counter adorable with a surprisingly low wooden counter (like sitting in elementary school chairs) of distressed red and white paint. Booths were red and over each was a curved wooden valance. In the back hung a black velvet Elvis painting.

We were seated at the low counter just as a guy was seated next to me and soon we were getting to know each other. You know I love me some talkative strangers.

Originally from Connecticut, he's down here going to school for finance and working in a restaurant kitchen. He'd invited friends to join him when he'd woken up craving a heaping plate of big bad breakfast (an item on the menu), but they'd all taken sleep over his company.

Their loss, our gain. We quizzed him on local lore and ended up being sung the Ole Miss fight song (now I understand all those "hotty toddy" t-shirts).

When I ordered a Belgian waffle with housemade bacon, I was told the waffle came with strawberries and whipped cream. No thanks, I said, I'd prefer butter and jam.

As luck would have it, BBB serves homemade jam and today's was blueberry, so our server scooped up some in a ramekin and set it down in front of me. Our Connecticut friend told us about the blackberry version he'd had  and bought to take home - "Best peanut butter and jelly sandwich you can imagine" - and about the hour-long waits for a table on weekends.

Based on two Richmonders' breakfasts today (Friend said the hidden secret omelet was the best omelet she's had in her lifetime and the mildly spicy bacon was thick cut and expertly fried but not to crispness), we weren't surprised.

Best of all, the man himself, J.C., showed up behind the counter talking to his staff and making our pilgrimage to Oxford complete. I wanted to stand up and salute, but refrained.

Our new friend told us that customers who show up before 9 a.m. get a 25% discount on their food. That's an inspired way to get butts in seats early.

Because the three of us were northerners, we got off on a discussion of the differences between north and south. "You would never have a conversation with strangers like this in a diner in Connecticut," he said. making me sad for his home state despite his claims of it being the pizza capital of the U.S.

But he showed his loyalty to newcomers when his friends unexpectedly showed up and he sent them on their way, explaining that he was busy talking to his new friends.

Clearly he's adopted some southern qualities in his eight years in Mississippi since we talked right up until we paid our checks.

Since it was pouring down rain so not a good day to further explore Oxford, we decided to head up Route 7 to Memphis, eventually driving out of the puddle zone.

On the way out of town, I spotted a car with an RVA bumpersticker. That's some reach.

Back in Soulsville, we parked the car and walked around looking for action. The Center for Southern Folklore was closed, so Friend suggested we head back to the Peabody Hotel for bubbles and duck-watching, as good a plan as any.

With the player-less grand piano providing a Great American songbook accompaniment, we sipped Louis Perdrier Brut Rose, which arrived with a plastic drink stirrer with a duck atop it and placed upon a linen bev nap for a formal touch.

The Peabody is nothing if not southern and gracious.

Watching the hotel ducks swim the fountain, shake their tail feathers and entertain the guests was just the kind of brainless relaxation my hungover friend was craving.

By late afternoon, we knew to head out to avoid the crush of visitors for the duck march and get some lunch over in Cooper Young, the hip little 'hood we'd visited a couple of days ago.

We even parked in exactly the same place, directly in front of the same distinctively named shop: "Me and Mrs. Jones." Only in Memphis could that be a shop name.

Chef Ryan Trimm's "Next Door" (so named because it's next to his hot Sweet Grass restaurant, duh, next door) was on our radar for upscale bar food and it didn't disappoint with luscious green walls, the Velvet Underground blasting overhead and a long bar with an affable bartender.

Given last night, it seemed wise to begin with something hearty such as dirty fries, a deep bowl of enormous hand-cut steak fries smothered in pulled pork, sauteed greens and onions, Pecorino-Romano and a drizzle of Sriracha, that would be right at home in Richmond (hint, hint).

Next came matching salads of arugula, honey walnuts, blue cheese and caramelized onions, except she wanted chicken on hers and I had to have Benton's ham. Chicken over ham? Not me.

We wolfed down our food with Cokes, a sure sign of a late night's overindulgence, and dissected the menu and decor since there was nobody else at the bar to get to know at the moment.

Properly fortified, we spent the next hour cruising the neighborhood, a charming one where no two houses were identical. Lots of stone, lots of porches and all with multi-level rooflines. So unlike home.

Coming to a big, old elementary school, I saw that there were separate entrances for boys and girls on opposite sides of the handsome building, the words "boys" and "girls" carved into the stone over the respective doors.

Since it was after 5, we passed more than a few dog walkers including an adorable 8-month old beagle I had to stop and pet. At one house, a dog lounged in the big bay window, looking up when someone interesting went by.

To our Richmond-centric eyes, the neighborhood reminded us a little of a northside/southside hybrid, albeit one with architectural variations we'd never seen.

Just as foreign to our eyes was their booze bus, already cruising the strip during happy hour, dubbed the 'Roo and featuring a giant kangaroo lounging on top of the bus, martini glass in hand. Not sure how you explain that to the kids, but not my problem.

I'm just here to take in Memphis and have conversations in diners with strangers. Not a worry in the world.

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