We love catfish. We have a favorite place in town — Catfish Cabin on Airways — the catfish of my youth and still some of the best around. We also make very good catfish at home. Both are stories for another day. Today, well, ok, donut day really, the story is about the best catfish in the south — Old Taylor Grocery Store and Restaurant in Taylor, Mississippi, about 8 miles south of Oxford.
We could have asked for directions, but we’re adventurous, not to mention owners of a Toyota Prius with a snazzy GPS system. When we entered the address in Taylor, MS, we noticed a distinct vibration from the GPS that we clearly interpreted as, “Mississippi? What? Are you crazy? I’m a hybrid. I should be in California being driven by some hippie named Alice.” After a bit of complaining, the system fired up and led us straight to their front door.
Taylor is a very small little town. The road winds through until there it is — Taylor Grocery right in front of you as the road makes a sharp bend to the left. To the right of the road is a small parking area next to the volunteer fire department. When we arrived, there were eight other cars in the lot and I commented on the size of the crowd. A security guard directed us to a parking space (no painted lines).
As soon as we were parked, he let us know that the electricity was out in the restaurant. We decided that, at the very least, we should get out and look around. That way we could say we had seen the place. Luck was with us though because as soon as we closed the car doors, the lights came back on.
In case the name of the place wasn’t clear, Taylor Grocery Store and Restaurant occupies the space once held by a grocery store. The cash register is still up front on the counter. The center of the room has been cleared out to make room for tables, but the shelves line both sides of the space where the groceries once were. The shelves along one wall serve as the pantry for the restaurant. There’s nothing quite like dinner eaten while contemplating a gallon jug of Louisiana hot sauce. The other shelves, next to the register hold t-shirts of course. Maybe soon I’ll post a pic of Squirrelly, Jr., in his. No chance at all of linen or crystal, but to someone who grew up visiting a country store for rag baloney sandwiches, this was perfect ambiance.
The setting is simple but rich, and the food does its part to match. For our appetizer we went for what I think of as a barbecue joint specialty, the sausage and cheese plate which was very good. Cheddar cubes and good sausage made better with a sprinkling of chili powder and a dip in barbecue sauce.
The main course calls for a simple decision — whole or filet? Mama and Squirrelly, Jr., went for filets, while I went for whole fish. Good catfish is in the balance between sweet moist flesh and crispy browned crust. Taylor Grocery is right on the mark.
I have never had the opportunity (or the financial wherewithal for that matter) to try otoro, the fatty part of the belly of bluefin tuna, that delicious and expensive piece of sashimi said to simply melt on one’s tongue. As good as otoro must be, I doubt that it could be any better than that tiny bit of meat that clings to the dorsal (back) fin of a whole fried fish. To eat the meat, you gently suck the meat from the bones with your lips. Using your tongue, roll the meat against the roof of your mouth. This has the benefit of letting you check for bones, but the primary benefit is that the sweet, fatty meat simply melts on your tongue. Who needs otoro?
For sides we had salads with a nice vidalia onion dressing, large baked potatoes, brown rice, and french fries with rotel dip. The dressing was very good. It may have been from a bottle, but we’re not complaining. Next time we go back, we’ll ask. Of course rotel is from a can, but it’s not everywhere that you can get a guilty pleasure like this dip.
Dessert was peach cobbler with vanilla ice cream. Perfect southern cobbler, canned peaches and slightly doughy crust all pulled together by ice cream melting in the southern heat. The service was equally sweet if a bit too eager to please.
When we left, I realized that my earlier impression of a crowded parking lot was misguided. Eight cars had grown to over thirty, and there were enough people waiting outside to fill the restaurant twice over. Next time we go, they may not wait until we get there to turn on the lights, but at least we’ll enjoy the company in the parking lot.
Taylor Grocery and Restaurant
4-A Cr 338
Oxford, MS 38655