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The Food King: Smitty's

From Oxford Town 215 (William Faulkner Centennial Issue) September 25, 1997

THE FOOD KING

"Food is Good." - The Food King

Howdy folks, and welcome back to the Food King, your Oxford Town guide to good grub, wherein we attempt to steer you where you need to be driving, food-wise, that is. Just remember, the Food King'll set you straight. He'll tell you what's up, what's not, and where you ought to be eating, if you don't know already. He'll try to point you in the right direction, and generally keep you up to snuff on local restauranteering and such. Just remember, we ain't out to be pernicious, we just out to eat.

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Recently, the Food King was trying desperately to rouse himself at the crack of noon with a staunch cup of Joe from ye olde Bottletree Bakery, when he overheard something that just broke his cold little heart; a beautiful woman lamenting the fact that she didn't know where to go in this town for a country breakfast, with grits, biscuits, the whole works. Upon further investigation, I discovered that this poor lost lass had just recently moved here, and was not yet acquainted with many of our local treasures. Well, those little brain cogs started a spinnin' as the Food King remembered the days when O-Town editor emeritus Chico Harris would con gorgeous women into going out for food or drinks, all under the pretext of journalism. (The Food King knows a good scam when he sees one, and remember, genius must always be acknowledged, no matter the source.) What kind of self-respecting Southerner would I be if I allowed this situation to continue unabated? It was my sacred duty to save this fairest of Southern flowers from wandering endlessly in a sea of chalky grits, watery eggs, and soggy toast instead of biscuits. Naturally, I invited her to Smitty's for breakfast. I know. I'm such a sweetheart.

Smitty's (located 1 door south of Square Books) is one of Oxford's most venerable eateries and has been dishing up good ol' fashioned country breakfasts for as long as the Food King and most of his kin can remember, so he was confident is his mission to secure some first-rate breakfast. He met his dining companion, Grayson Splane (who's article on author Nancy Kincaid appeared last week) for a late breakfast (although 10 AM is pretty dadgum early for the FK, lemme tell ya'.) As the FK ordered his traditional bacon omelet, he mused on the possibilities of ordering a side of red-eye.

"What do you do with red-eye gravy?" she inquired innocently.

I gasped internally in horror as the inference of the question began to sink in. "You mean you've never had red-eye gravy and molasses on a biscuit before?"

Grayson Splane, the pride of Leland, MS, aspiring writer, and all-around fabulous babe, nodded a demure "no." This was going to be cool; I love it when I get to do missionary work.

Red-eye gravy (for those of you that don't know) is one of the most revered of Southern breakfast staples, ham drippings mixed with (when prepared authentically) a little coffee. You dribble a spoonful onto your biscuit and then top it with molasses for a flavor so country-fied and fulfilling it'll allow a Chicago yankee to imagine he's from Calhoun County, at least temporarily.

While we sipped our coffee, Grayson regaled me with stories of the years she spent in Italy (now that's a country that knows how to enjoy good food) and told me about taking Barry Hannah's creative writing class (one of the finest offerings available from Ole Miss, in the FK's opinion.) But then, the moment of truth arrived, the red-eye express rolled in, and the education began. She eyed me warily (always a good idea) as I showed her how to dribble the gravy and drizzle the sorghum just right. Then trepidation turned to culinary joy as her eyes popped wide from the realization that she'd been missing out on something so good for so long. That's OK, I get that a lot.

It's funny, but every time I bring folks to Smitty's for the first time, they have the same reaction; they like it lots and lots. Griddle-style omelets, thick and appropriately salty ham steaks, golden pancakes and waffles, big fat country fried steaks (you get two!) with a bowl of gravy…this is breakfast like my grandma used to sling, and there ain't nothing wrong with that. Meals are served with grits and a basket of biscuits (all you can eat, within reason) accompanied by a plate of honey, syrup, and molasses. (Personally, I like to doctor my grits with Tabasco and black pepper and pretend I'm Jake Brigance in A Time To Kill. Hey, we all have our little fantasies.)

From time to time the Food King will hear a local speak disparagingly of Smitty's, saying the service can be slow or the food can be a little greasy. To those people, the Food King replies, "Good, that's just one less person I have to stand in line behind for a table this morning." Smitty's serves up true Southern comfort food in large portions in an environment that is equally suited to either a meal with the parents or nursing yourself back to coherence through that wretched hangover.

It's easy for us to take a place like Smitty's for granted. It's been there forever and doesn't change much. But therein lies its strength. I do long, however, for the old days when they would serve an assortment of locally-made homemade jams and jellies with your biscuits. A plate of fig, blackberry, or muscadine preserves would just be heaven, and I can't help but think that there's plenty of folks around here that could help them out.

But minor quibbles aside, Smitty's is a bastion of comfort and consistency in life's passing parade of maddening transition. Every time the Food King's foreign friends invade from the north, he makes sure they all get a Smitty's fix, and they're always just as grateful as Grayson was for aiding in her newfound discovery. By the end of breakfast, she had even managed to get a little molasses in her hair, a sure sign of a satisfying and successful meal.

Our intrepid O-Town editor asked if I could find another woman of equal charm and beauty for my next column.

The Food King should be so lucky.

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Happy Birthday Mr. Bill…

Although the Food King's not really sure what the statue would do if it were to come to life (although that old Bible story about the merchants in the temple comes to mind,) he guesses that Mr. Faulkner would be more than a little embarrassed by all the hullabaloo and would probably just shake his head and sneak off for a little toddy. In honor of our most famed resident's centennial birthday, the FK's staff did a little digging out at Rowan Oak and found several old family recipes, many dating from the 1800's. Despite last column's assertion that this is not a recipe forum, we thought we'd make another exception this week. Special thanks to Cynthia Shearer out at Rowan Oak for the help.

This is exactly how the handwritten recipe appears, so best guess as to amounts of flour and ginger.

Gingercakes (1872)

  • 1 Qt. Molasses-warm & stir in
  • 3 tablespoons soda (level)
  • lard 1/2 cup
  • powdered ginger
  • Flour for soft dough

Roll out thin and bake

Mrs. Sallie M. Falkner, Oxford, MS

(grandmother of William and John)

Next in The Food King…

We hit as many places as possible (What? You never feel like not cooking for a week?)