Taylor Grocery: Fried Catfish and Foot-Stomping Music, Too
Taylor Grocery near Oxford, MS, is an eatery that delivers Southern comfort food with a side of live music.
Never mind the peeling paint, hand-scribbled signs and rusty gasoline pump. You’re in for outrageously delish Southern cooking at Taylor Grocery, an eatery famous for fried catfish a short jaunt outside Oxford, MS.
(I dined at Taylor Grocery during a recent media visit sponsored by Visit Oxford while on assignment for Where to Retire magazine.)
A favorite of both locals and far-flung visitors, Taylor Grocery is open for dinner Thursday through Sunday. No reservations are taken, and the lines can be long. There’s plenty of atmosphere to soak in while you wait. For one, the building is about as old-timey as you can get. Historians say it was built in 1889, although the official town records were lost. Some folks say it was burned out and rebuilt in 1903, but current owner Lynn Hewlett differs.
“I’ve been all through this building, and there are no signs it was ever on fire,” he says.
Over the decades, the building has seen multiple owners, who mostly ran retail operations. Fried catfish, a regional staple, was added to the mix in the early 1970s. Hewlett bought it in 1998, when it was a grocery store that sold catfish on the side. He had different plans and opened the restaurant the following year.
“I didn’t want to be in the country store business,” he says. “I said this is going to be a fish house. The day I bought it, I moved all the bread racks and stuff and put them on the porch and put out a sign that said, ‘Free.’ I gave everything away. Every time I took a rack out, I put a table in, and here we are.”
When people started autographing the walls, at first he tried covering over their handiwork, but then gave in. Now the scrawls, from floor to ceiling, are the decor.
The menu indulges in fried and broiled catfish along with a couple of steaks (bacon-wrapped filet and grilled ribeye) and a few pork and chicken selections. Entrees are served with two sides (such as fried okra, cole slaw and baked beans) and either Texas toast or hush puppies.
Appetizer selections include a cheese and sausage plate, chicken and shrimp gumbo, and fried oysters. Special mention must be made of the Ro-Tel cheese fries. It’s a heap of French fries doused in a sauce of Velveeta cheese and Ro-tel, a grocery staple of canned diced tomatoes and green chiles. Perhaps you’ve made it yourself for a party and served with chips.
Desserts are cobblers, pecan pie and ice cream.
Taylor Grocery does not serve alcohol, but you are welcome to bring your own as long as you observe a few quirks. Your wine bottles must be wrapped in a paper bag. Your beer has to be in cups–no cans or bottles are allowed inside the restaurant. Distilled spirits are not permitted at all. You’ll notice diners running out to their cars and coolers to refresh their beer cups or down their cocktails.
Live music accompanies diners every night. Most of the musicians live nearby or within a 100-mile radius, although two guys from Kenya performed a couple of years ago. They figure out among themselves who will play and when. Not even Hewlett knows who will show up. He doesn’t get involved in all that.
“I don’t pay them,” Hewlett says. “I feed them, and I try to rustle up a little money in the tip bucket. If that works out, good for them. If it don’t, sorry.”
Thursday nights are the slowest. That’s when Hewlett likes to give younger, less experienced musicians the opportunity to take the stage.
“Sometimes that works out,” he says. “Sometimes it makes a long night, but we kind of have to suck it up.”
Is Hewlett also a musician? “Well, that’s a stretch,” he says. “I admit I’m not a good one. I don’t play until late at night. I get better as the night goes on.”
Customers are invited to sign a guestbook near the front door. A review of a few pages shows names and hometowns from all over the world, not just the United States.
“I’m not saying they all come here just for this, but when they get to this part of the world, somebody’s going to say, ‘You’ve got to go to Taylor Grocery,’” Hewlett says.
I picked up a pen and added Chicago, Illinois. I wasn’t the first. I won’t be the last.
Taylor Grocery doesn’t have a website, but here’s the link to the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/taylorgrocery/
Taylor Grocery, 4 First St, Taylor, MS 38673