Mississippi Magazine|July - August 2020
The culinary culture of the rolling Mississippi hills just might be more diverse than you thought. There certainly is a healthy dose of amazing barbecue and some sumptuous home cooking as well, but there seem to be no limits to the imagination of local cooks and chefs. That diversity makes ferreting out the places that locals love the most that much harder, but I can assure you, it was a labor of love.
Ajax Diner has been an Oxford standard since it opened in 1997. I love this place and all of its quirkiness and contradictions. Imagine a place that is long and thin, very retro in many ways (check out the red vinyl upholstered booths in the rear dining area), with walls covered in as eclectic a collection of memorabilia as I have ever seen. The ceiling is studded with frilled sandwich pricks, it serves soul food, and it is on the famous Oxford town square. There are Christmas lights strung about, and the music is rock ’n’ roll. See what I mean?
The menu is comfort at its best, with Southern favorites like pot roast beef and gravy, chicken and dumplings, and turkey and dressing, that comes with two sides and jalapeño cornbread. While I was waiting for a manager to interview, the table next to me ordered The Big Easy, which is country fried steak and mashed potatoes with lots of gravy and green beans, and someone else ordered meatloaf with the same sides.
This is a place to visit when you are serious about filling up, chilling out, and having a good time with friends.
Dixieland BBQ is in Batesville, not too far away. I expected to see a lot of barbecue in this part of the state, but I assumed that it would be Memphis style, which is pork made with a dry rub and layered with sauce as it cooks. This place serves country-style barbecue—slow cooked, juicy, and falling apart tender. I loved every bite. The cook I talked to told me upfront that this was a “woman’s business,” meaning no men worked here. Sabrina Willey Smith is the owner, and over the years, she has turned this place into a local favorite. The only seating is outside, but that will be amended soon when they move across the street to a new site that will be called the Pig and Out.
The rib plate I had was stunningly good, served piping hot, and falling apart. I was urged to try the homemade banana pudding, and it didn’t take too much urging for me to dig in (all of the desserts are homemade), and it was delicious.
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July - August 2020