OXFORD, Miss. (TLV) — It’s time to put another gold star on Oxford’s culinary map—Delta Steak Company has finally opened for business! This new restaurant is located on College Hill Road, housed in the same spot that was once Sugar Brown’s Southern Table. Chef James Allen Sanders runs the show with his beautiful wife Erin; the couple is originally from the Greenville, Mississippi area.
Allen was formerly a cook at Bourbon Mall, located “near” Leland in the heart of the Mississippi Delta. In reality it was “near” nothing—it took about 25 minutes on winding backroads to get to the restaurant once you had left Highway 82 in Leland, but the atmosphere and eats were well worth the drive. It’s where I had my first Broiled Portabella Mushroom Cap (good enough to be dubbed “vegetarian steak”), and also where I was introduced to Fried Hot Tamales. Bourbon Mall burned down in mid-2010, but thankfully those two delicious dishes are on Delta Steak Company’s menu. In North Mississippi, Allen worked for Aramark on the Ole Miss Campus, then moved to Olivia’s Corner Market in Taylor before he opened this new Oxford eatery.
Last year, TLV featured Allen as “Cook of the House,” and when we asked him where his best recipe ideas come from he responded, “By taking really good ingredients and not getting fancy with them—let the ingredients stand on their own.” Allen has recently professed a desire to use as many local ingredients as possible in his kitchen, made or grown in Mississippi.
Though there’s a lot going on in some of Allen’s dishes, the menu is far from pretentious. “Delta food,” in my opinion and experience, often means comfort food or traditional Southern recipes seasoned with a strong Cajun influence…or deep-fried. So many of the dishes are so very Delta-inspired, I forgot for a moment I was in Oxford! From the locally-grown “Fried Green Tomatoes” appetizer (topped with a crawfish sauce just before serving) to the “Stuffed Catfish” (farm-raised in Mississippi, stuffed with hot sausage, peppers, and other goodies, and topped with Laffite sauce), Allen has brought the Delta to us.
I had a hard time deciding what to order, but opted for Shrimp & Grits—as one of my favorite dishes I’ve ordered it in lots of places all over the South and have a decent basis for comparison. I first tried the base of “spicy cheddar cheese grits”; they were seasoned well—just spicy enough, without being overloaded on cheese. The Gulf-caught shrimp on top were succulent—large, butterflied, and perfectly sautéed with colorful bell peppers, thinly-sliced mushroom, Country Pleasin’ brand Andouille sausage (made in the Jackson, Miss. area), and a garnish of crispy bacon and scallions. The small drizzle of “green chili Tabasco cream sauce” was the final touch and left me impressed—for me, this bit of spice and tang balanced out the richness of the grits and made all the difference. And the yeast dinner rolls included with my dinner were used to sop up every bit of food left on my plate!
Though almost full I was easily convinced to order “Bourbon Pecan Pie.” Pecan trees flourish in the Delta—as a result I have eaten pecan pie at more places than I can recall and not just anyone’s recipe will do. Allen’s pecan pie has a buttery crust which is thicker than I’m used to but holds the slice together nicely. Fellow pecan pie lovers, please believe this transplanted Deltan when I say the filling is the heavenly consistency your grandmother always strived for, and there are more than enough pecans to balance it out.
I was happy to take photos of food other than mine as it was being plated for service—otherwise I wouldn’t have seen the giant, thick-cut T-bone steak or the Potato Crusted Salmon (“A fresh salmon filet, crusted with Yukon Gold potatoes and pan fried, served atop our spicy cheddar cheese grits and fresh sautéed spinach, topped with sauce Bearnaise” – this will certainly be the next item I order). The kitchen staff was quick and focused, and the food arrived in a very timely manner. The professional-looking servers were all friendly and seemed excited to see the restaurant open, looking forward to the busy season ahead. Delta Steak Company has a comfortable environment and is full of small touches that show you the owners care about the experience you’ll have while you’re there (my sweet tea was served in a Mason jar – my favorite kind of drinking vessel). You no longer have to drive down miles of backroads to get good food inspired by the Delta—and you won’t have to fight the crowd on the Square, either.
UPDATE: Delta Steak Company’s liquor license was finally approved and the restaurant’s bar will be open beginning Friday, October 4, 2013.
This article originally appeared in TLV #187 (September 5 – 19, 2013) – Click here to download the PDF of this issue for just 99¢