When I hopped up onto the porch at Taylor Grocery on an unusually brisk Mississippi October night, I had no idea that the folks I would encounter inside would set the tone for one the most welcoming weekends I have ever had.
Taylor grocery is a landmark in Taylor, Mississippi about 20 minutes outside of Oxford. It occupies an old dry goods store that was originally build in 1889, and after changing owners a few times, they have been frying up catfish dinners inside since 1977. The interior and exterior are worn from generations of patrons, and their mantra is a chuckle worthy “Eat or we both starve”.
After greeting the owner and proprietor Lynn, I was informed that despite being alone I was going to spend about an hour on the front porch waiting for a place to sit. Overhearing this, a moment later I was tapped on the shoulder by a fellow that introduced himself as Regan. With a welcoming smile and genuine sincerity he invited me to join him and his eight other friends for dinner that evening when their long awaited table was available. I’ve certainly encountered some great hospitality in some of the SEC trips I have made, but this show of kindness was completely unprecedented.
After a short wait out on the porch, the entire table was ready and Regan, true to his word, waved me over to come join the entire group. At this point, all of them were warmly beckoning me to join, and dumfounded at such remarkable hospitality, I slid into a chair at the end of the table grateful for such warm company.
I spent the next couple of hours exchanging stories with the entire crew (Regan & Allison, Jonathan & Gretchen, Nathan, Andy) all of whom were banded together by various connections to Ole Miss and making their annual pilgrimage back to campus. Obviously, they provided me with a handful of recommendations for the weekend wanting to ensure that my entire Ole Miss experience was a noteworthy one. As if dinner weren’t enough, they insisted that I join them for their tailgate the next day, and I quickly accepted, humbled yet again by their remarkable openheartedness.
For having no real plan when I walked into Taylor Grocery, this amiable group of friends welcomed me as one of their own, and made it one of the most memorable meals I have had on my travels.
As for the food itself. Despite being a regular fish eater, as a habit I generally eschew catfish, as I find it has a bit too strong of an “earthy” flavor for my taste (and by “earthy” I mean tastes like an old boot dredged up from a murky river bottom).
Not so the case with the catfish at Taylor Grocery. They had a reputation for having the best catfish in Mississippi, and after downing a plate of it I can see why. The fish is a pristine flaky white filet that is deep fried to perfection with just the right amount of crunch from the battered crust. All the catfish is farm raised, so it’s delectably light and clean on the palette, free of that earthiness that plagues other catfish. It was truly some remarkable catfish.
While at Taylor Grocery I was introduced to yet another undiscovered Southern delight by some of my new well informed friends: Rotel Cheese sauce.
I’m quite sure a jukebox scratched somewhere in the joint, when, to mixed looks of sheer pity and astonishment on their faces, I informed our table that I had never even *heard* of Rotel, much less actually tried it. Mothers instinctively covered their childrens ears at my blasphemy, and a few hound dogs ran and cowered beneath the porch. Regan, with aplomb far better than I, quietly urged me to “simply try some”. Judging by the popularity of Rotel at the table, I needed little convincing.
Rotel, for my unenlightened Northern audience, is a canned mix of green chilies and diced tomatoes that is mixed with cheese sauce. Don’t be fooled by its simplicity, however, Rotel cheese sauce is one of the most addictive substances ever devised by man. I timidly dipped my first french fry into the sauce for a taste, only to find myself dumping the entire cup on my plate seconds later, and straining to resist the urge to lick the remaining contents out of the cup. You could put this stuff on ANYTHING, and it would taste phenomenal.
While the food and atmosphere at Taylor Grocery is exquisite, it was truly the company that made it such an extraordinary evening (and weekend) for me. I cannot overstate how thankful and humbled I am by the entire table of new friends that welcomed me into their group in a remarkable show of hospitality. Especially towards a guy wearing a Notre Dame sweatshirt in Oxford on a football weekend…
Special thank you to Regan, Allison, Jonathan, Gretchen, Nathan, Andy and the other names that I forgot. You are the kind of folks that make my travels so enjoyable, and give Ole Miss such a well deserved reputation. Thank you again for what would become such an amazing weekend.
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