Published on November 18th, 2015 | by TLV News0
Voyage to the Valley: a Guide to Water Valley’s Homegrown Local Businesses, part one
Oxford is home to many pleasantries, but an unfortunate side effect of this is that many Oxfordians seldom venture out into its surrounding territories. But in case you didn’t know, Water Valley, our sleepy neighbor only fifteen minutes away, has undergone a major resurgence in home-grown locally owned businesses in the past few years. Many local artists and entrepreneurs have been drawn to set up shop recently in this free-wheeling, funky, and historical small town. If you’re looking for an excuse to get out of town and get a change of pace from the Oxford grind, why should you have to venture any further to enjoy authentic Southern small-town charm? We recently spent an awesome afternoon there, and wanted to tempt our readers to come experience their own Water Valley staycation.
301 N. Main St, 662-473-4323
Intentions of surveying main street and the colorful murals it is home to were interrupted by the rain. Running down the streets with newspapers over our heads, we found shelter at BTC Grocery in the center of Water Valley. Our appetite for charm was not left unanswered. It happened that the menu was in its second week of hubbub from the introduction of 5 new menu items. We ordered two sandwiches, the Miz Mickey’s Parish, which was stuffed with deep-fried soft-shell crab, cabbage, carrots, and Donna sauce, and the Yo Megan!, which entails Yalobusha beer-braised sausage wedged between a Philly roll with mozzarella and tomato gravy. While we were at it, we threw in an order of gravy cheese fries to share as a side. We explored the actual grocery part of the business while we waited for our food. In the words of the owner, Alexe van Beuren, BTC hits the spots that the local Piggly Wiggly misses — Brown family milk, free-range eggs, grass-fed beef, etc. The food at the restaurant is made from scratch under the leadership of the ever inventive chef Dixie Grimes, who is especially known for her sauces and marinades — like the Lola sauce that goes on the burgers (rumored to be made from 25 different ingredients), the Coca Cola gravy, and the blueberry horseradish. The store recently began an antique section where various trinkets, artwork, and clothing are sold.
RIP IT UP! VINTAGE JUNK
213 N. Main St, 662-350-5121
Our appetites momentarily sated with delectable sandwiches, and our constitutions fortified with gravy, my colleague and I ventured back out onto the drizzly but charming Main Street. Our next foray into Water Valley’s assortment of homegrown local businesses was Rip it Up Vintage Junk, the recently opened venture of local musical luminaries Tyler Keith and Laurie Stirratt. This store is part antique/ vintage store, part constantly evolving treasure trove curated by these two fast friends, fellow packrats, and celebrated raconteurs. On display when we visited were a truly dazzling array of curios and knick-knacks, ranging from original Atari games for $5 each, classic modern furniture and kitchen accessories, a rare vintage James Bond lunchbox, a working jukebox, a turn of the century Persian rug, guitars, amps, records, vintage fedoras, a Tiffany lamp, reasonably priced second-hand clothing, and Blue Willow chinaware. Tyler and Laurie were puzzling over the provenance of a recent acquisition when we came in, a mysterious piece of furniture with a definite Indian aesthetic, perhaps too large for a coffee table but too low to the ground and short from end-to-end to be a bed. Business has been going along at a steady clip since they opened the store this past August, and the store was filled with a steady buzz of people inspecting their wares and offering guesses as to the nature of the mysterious Indian furniture – a child’s bed, someone offered. People visit the store from far and wide: “People bring in stuff, we go to their houses and we look. There’s just so much stuff around here,” Laurie explained to me. “I’d love to go on a big buying trip up to the East Coast… But luckily we haven’t really had to do that. I want to, it’s just finding the time. I’m trying not to be a pack-rat. I kind of already am, so [having] the store’s been good for me. It’s really been a fun experience. Water Valley’s coming around so much. We weren’t really sure what to expect, business-wise. But all kinds of people come in from everywhere, taking road trips from New York. [Water Valley] is kind of a destination spot now. We have bands out here on Friday nights, and do movie nights on Thursdays when the weather is good. No one messes with us. In Oxford, [these informal gatherings] would be shut down in three seconds.” After purchasing a vintage 101 Dalmatians coffee mug and very nearly purchasing a suede and flannel fedora, Team Local Voice decided to take a brief driving tour of Water Valley, in hopes of discovering some mysterious treasure to take back to Rip It Up for commission… Although our brief foray failed to turn up any loot, we did find ourselves immersed in pleasantly pastoral countryside, enjoying a relaxing drive through one of North Mississippi’s best-kept secrets.
YALOBUSHA BREWING CO.
102 S. Main St, 855-925-6273
Although it was just short of 4:30 pm, my colleague and I came to the estimation that it was already 5 o’clock somewhere nearby, so we bypassed the happy hour at Sonic in favor of a more adult brand of beverage. Luckily, the friendly staff at Yalobusha Brewing Company were more than happy to slake our thirst and provide a glimpse into their craft brewing process with one of their on-demand brewery tours. Andrew Bryant, the drummer in local band The Water Liars, led us through the building and offered insights into their step-by-step, in-house brewing process. He showed us their industrial cookers where the grain mash is cooked in water and then methodically mixed with yeast to begin the brewing process, their four large 900 gallon fermentation tanks which complete the process of developing alcohols from the grain sugars and yeast cultures, and the wooden barrels where they age their brews. Andrew was also kind enough to provide us a glimpse of the brewery’s secret stash – the walk-in cooler where they store new hops varieties and kegs upon kegs of seasonal and experimental brews not currently available to the general public.
Owner Andy O’Bryan and master brewers Tony Balzola and Amos Harvey opened the brewery in 2012, in a large converted warehouse building downtown which formerly housed Hendricks Machine Shop and Foundry as far back as the 1800’s, and was more recently home to a Ford dealership which opened in the 1940’s. Although still a regional operation chiefly distributed within Mississippi and Louisiana, their business has been steadily expanding since opening, to include an occasionally rotating current roster of nine distinctive brews, four of which are widely available in stores. The other five flavors are exclusively served at Yalobusha Brewing Company, so the only way to try them for yourself is to come on down for a tour. I started, perhaps fool-hardily, with the “One and Done,” a stiff imperial IPA exclusively served at the brewery, with a pleasantly pungent hops bouquet and botanical notes of citrus and pine. It was reminiscent to me of the Pacific Northwest style of craft breweries – no accident, perhaps, since Harvey and Balzola first trained to brew in Idaho and Oregon, respectively, before venturing back to spread the craft brewing revolution to the South. Other favorite samplings of mine included “Midnight in Mississippi,” a nicely malty black porter with subtle flavors reminding me of German chocolate cake balanced out with a rich finish, and “Mississippi Blues Trail,” a supremely drinkable and well-balanced, low ABV saison with light notes of white pepper, fresh lemon zest, and a mild back-end note of what I could have sworn was blueberry. Stocked with fresh cheer, and that warm fuzzy holiday spirit that only a flight of mini-beers can provide to discerning gentleman of our caliber, my colleague and I decided to pick up some seafood from The Crawdad Hole, right down the block. After taking in their funky, inviting ambiance and chatting with the delightful young ladies working at the register, we returned with our bounty of a pound of boiled shrimp, corn, and taters, to enjoy it at the comfortable picnic tables in the Yalobusha Brewing Company lobby while we finished the six mini-beers each made available to us with our tour – I’m not one to leave the quota on my drink ticket un-punched, unless more serious duty than eating seafood awaits me. But let me tell you: this was some serious seafood.
102 S. Main St, 662-613-0514
While enjoying our selection of beers from Yalobusha Brewing Company, it seemed only natural to browse the well-appointed record store housed in the brewery’s side wing, Valley Vinyl. Owner Dell Clark is the proprietor of the largest record collection in the state of Mississippi, although the sort of guy who is humble enough to neatly bury that lead when you talk to him. A music lover through and through, Clark has an extensive collection of rock, soul, and roots records on offer, almost exclusively comprised of vintage pressings, and for great prices. He also has immaculately restored tube amplifiers on sale; and while I must admit that some of the technical details he mentioned went right over my head, I was lucky enough to have him provide a demonstration of what his array of speakers can do with his custom-built beast of an amplifier, when he turned up the Third World record he was playing to prove his point about quality engineering. Let me tell y’all, this is the type of sound that you can feel deep down in your cockles – it’s that shit that makes you want to boogie-woogie. Although he will close down the store in Water Valley on November 28th and focus on his flagship record store in Tunica, it is definitely worth paying a visit to Valley Vinyl to grab a steal of a deal on some delicious vinyl and to talk to Clark about his collection and his true audiophile’s outlook on musical recordings.
THE CRAWDAD HOLE
129 S. Main St, 662-816-4006
For our last stop as we walked over to the Crawdad Hole, the rain had stopped but my colleague almost tested gravel on the slippery sidewalk several times. It was probably a good idea to get some food in after the 6 mini beers we each had at the brewery before we made the drive back home. As we approached The Crawdad Hole, we could see the red green and blue lights refracting through the window, creating a color model that gave me the feeling of looking inside a tv set from the 90s. A few tables outside the front of the restaurant were adjacent to three glowing old-school rolling number gas pumps. We walked in, letting the screen door swing shut behind us and approached the menu, which was somehow even more swoon-worthy than the ambiance. We ordered a pound of boiled shrimp, going off a suggestion from the folks at Yalobusha. The worker that took our order then had only one question to ask — “butter sauce or cocktail sauce?” — to which I replied “yes.” Everything they serve comes out of either Mississippi or Louisiana. Crawfish season goes roughly from February to July, but the restaurant serves several other items and stays busy all year. For the time being, they are open on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, and they often have live music on Thursdays.
Our daytrip was coming to an end, but we didn’t have time to hit everything we wanted to. Water Valley also has two art galleries, Bozarts and Yalo. This was my second time to visit the city, but I am already planning my next, to show the brewery to as many friends as I can, but also to check out the galleries, which have rotating exhibitions that feature local, regional, and national artists. Although part of its claim to fame is small-town charm, there are plenty of things to do in Water Valley – too many to include them all in one day, in fact.