Oxford Ole and New
Diverse culinary finds and independent shops await in the Mississippi college town
As home to the University of Mississippi, Oxford might easily fall prey to the party-hearty reputations that plague many college towns across the country. But there’s much more to this city than Ole Miss football and frat parties. Besides a vibrant culinary scene, Oxford is home to quirky, independent shops and, at one point in time, literary legend William Faulkner. Less than a five-hour drive from Atlanta, it’s perfect for a weekend getaway. So pack your bags and let Oxford impress you with its unique way of redefining the modern Southern city.
Where to Eat
The name Snackbar might not evoke fine dining, but once you taste the marriage of Southern and Indian flavors from James Beard-nominated chef Vish Bhatt, you’ll be impressed. Think catfish bibimbap or Keralan fish with collards. Another spot, The Neon Pig, located at the corner of a strip mall, serves as part grocery, part butcher and part restaurant. Try the famed Smashburger, a blend of brisket, short rib and bacon. Or go for the Slaw Burger, topped with a house-made curry slaw. For a posh spot, head to James Beard semi-finalist Saint Leo for upscale pizzas and pastas. Make an early-morning visit to Bottletree Bakery, whose staff begins baking biscuits, scones, bagels and bread for the day around 2 a.m. The Humble Pie, shortbread filled with sweet blackberries or the fruit of the day, is a must-try. For a heartier start, drop by Big Bad Breakfast for the Yardwork Skillet, featuring vegetables such as squash, tomatoes, mushrooms and a sweet potato hash. Add a side of the brûléed grapefruit—the candied top of the fruit is a crunchy, sweet complement to its tangy flesh.
What to See
Oxford Square, or The square, as it’s simply called, features the historic Lafayette County courthouse as well as plenty of clothing boutiques and specialty shops. Visit Neilson’s, the South’s oldest department store, open since 1839. Here, you’ll find boutique apparel, cosmetics and fine china, among other bridal registry items. Square Books is a popular spot for authors’ signings and the backdrop of the radio show “Thacker Mountain” that airs Thursdays at 6 p.m and features author readings and live music in the spring and fall. The show is recorded at Square Books and is free to attend on a first come, first serve basis, with no tickets required. Winner of both Pulitzer and Nobel prizes for his novels, William Faulkner purchased a home near Oxford in 1930 and lived there until his death in 1962. Today, visitors can tour the house, named Rowan Oak after the rowan tree that is a symbol of security and peace. The grounds are surrounded by peaceful trees, including eastern red cedar trees that were planted after the yellow fever epidemic that swept the South. (The cedar trees are not native to Mississippi but thrive there.) The property is closed on Mondays, except in the summer when it is open daily (admission is $5.) Faulkner’s grave is not far from his home, and it’s customary to have a shot of whiskey as a toast when you visit. Who says records are dead? Not End of All Music, tucked into a nondescript building that holds all kinds of musical treasures as well as a listening room. Trivia: The logo on its branded tote bag was designed by Atlanta restaurateur and high-profile fan Hugh Acheson.
Where to Stay
In the heart of the town square, The Graduate Oxford Hotel pops with bright, bold pink, green and blue. Sit a spell and enjoy one of the vintage books that line the walls of the lobby. Guest rooms are adorned with college memorabilia and vintage decor, but modern amenities such as Wi-Fi and luxury Malin+Goetz toiletries keep things pleasantly current. A stay isn’t complete without sipping a cocktail at the rooftop bar, The Coop, while overlooking the square. The bar’s decor comprises a funky mix of damask wallpaper, chandeliers and chicken motifs—a design scheme you’ll be happy to discuss over a delicious cocktail.
Big Bad Breakfast
Bottle Tree Bakery
End of All Music
Graduate Oxford Hotel
STORY: Malika Bowling
Photo: Malika Bowling