27 June 2015
I found myself in a state I have a soft spot for, Mississippi, in the middle of a hot and humid summer season. Why? Lots of reason, but one of them was to eat.
I had made it to Memphis two night earlier and had driven to Little Rock. The previous evening I had a shaky dinner at the much-lauded South on Main, although the crew was excellent there and tried their hardest to rectify kitchen issues. I chose to not write a review not just because of that, but the place was so dark none of the pictures came out (one of my pet peeves, when I can’t see the food or menu). Any review would not have accurately reflected the evening, and my feelings for the place are profoundly mixed. So moving on…
It was a long drive to Oxford, Mississippi from Little Rock, having to deal with Memphis traffic (and inevitable roadworks) en route. Had a few detours with stops to make in all 3 states, but I got to town middle of the afternoon and found my motel (yes, with a “M”). Was trying to save a few bucks and I regretting it the moment I opened the door. FFS, this was a roach motel at the worst. It was utterly disgusting…
I left my bags at the cleanest places in the room and just hoped there are no bedbugs… Ugh, you try to save a few bucks and also try for post-dinner convenience you can end up paying for it in the most disgusting way…
I decided to go to dinner early, way early. My booking was at 1930 but I went by 1800 — just to get out of that motel. Dinner tonight was at the much-loved City Grocery in the town’s Courthouse Square. I love these charming areas in smaller towns, with no Walmart or McDonalds in sight. I entered City Grocery and was shown to my table by a stunning but somewhat standoffish hostess. I checked out the menu as I relaxed with a cocktail and it looked excellent. My excellent server, Taylor, after going through the specials, gave me her recommendations from my questions, and I went with her for both starter and main.
I enjoyed the cocktail and then oddly, they placed a walk-in group at the table next to me — when the restaurant was still empty at an early hour. This is another one of my pet peeves…the reason I’m dining alone is not that I’m lonely. The last thing a single diner needs is to hear the inane conversation of other people, or to have a large group “feel sorry” for them. Sigh… But no matter, my starter arrived.
This was a special of the day, squid in two ways. The body grilled, the legs fried. This actually worked very well. The body was grilled perfectly, with plenty of flavour. The legs were breaded well, and not in an obtrusive way. An excellent start to this meal and shows off the kitchen’s quality here. May sound simple, but I’ve had terribly-executed squid in many a Michelin places. Good recommendation from my server, as I was leaning towards the gazpacho instead earlier.
I relaxed and ordered some wine, waiting for my main course. In the meantime, the group that was placed next to me walked out without ordering…only to be replaced by another group — at the same table. I guess they pre-positioned reserved tables, but this annoyed me a little… I forgot about it when my main course arrived.
Oh, what a wonderful duck dish. The duck breast was full of flavour, and cooked perfectly. No drying out from the quick grilling here, but added to the appeal of this excellent dish. If I dare say, the best duck dish of the year so far — just a slight better than the excellent duck at Tulsa’s Juniper (though here the sides are far, far superior, even when I’m not a slaw fan in general). A fabulous main! Great tip from my server (I was toying between this and the trout).
I wasn’t planning on a dessert but this meal was so good I decided to order one. The restaurant was filling up quick, and I can see why this place is so beloved by not just locals but even those who drive a good hour and more to get here. It was definitely worth the trip for me. And here comes the dessert, as recommended by my server.
Oh, chocolate and brownie heaven here. I’m not a huge dessert person, as my readers know, but this was very nice. Rich without being overwhelming, my server has a hat trick tonight! I relaxed and finished my drinks and a coffee before heading out into the still blazing sun (it was still early). That was a fantastic meal, and it’s easy to see why City Grocery is constantly rated as one of the very best restaurants in the South for years and years.
Together with Parlor Market down in Jackson (and to a slightly lesser extent, Walker’s Drive-In also in Jackson), Mississippi is proving itself to be a damn good place for excellent dinners. I’d love to spend more time in this utterly misunderstood state, but at another time — especially when the humidity drops a bit.
Now to deal with the disaster of a roach motel I’m in for the night…sigh…but this dinner will keep me going, that was how good it was!
152 Courthouse Square
PS…it was nearly not enough. The evening turned out to be disastrous as the room turned out far more disgusting than I first found it. I found grime, mildew, mould, and hair everywhere. The ironing board was an open invitation to the ER for a tetanus shot, there was empty bottles on the floor (not mine!), and there was an ultra FUNKY odour coming from the bathroom sink… I ended up sleeping in the car for part of the night… I’ll leave you with a pix of the “fridge” in the room — it was, shockingly, the LEAST disgusting thing in this place…
But at least there were no bedbugs…no comfort to my poor friends Sybil and Simon Majumdar (who talked me into taking this detour to Oxford) who were eaten alive at their own version of a roach motel…