Like you, we’re restless, and eager to travel. Here’s where we want to go…
With all the places in the world I could go, and all of my favorite Southern cities I could easily drive to and be in a restaurant booth by lunchtime, I want to go five miles away. I want Oxford, Mississippi’s world famous Ajax Diner to reopen so I can have my favorite meat and three, and since we’ve essentially told calories to step right off during this time of COVID-19, some fudge pie.
Ajax is truly a staple of my entire adulthood. In college, Fridays were “leftover days” at the sorority house (and let’s be honest, no one wants to revisit Monday’s chapter dinner), so we’d traipse down to the Oxford Square donning our finest XL frat party t-shirts, shorty shorts and Rainbow flip flops, for some country fried steak, broccoli rice casserole, mac & cheese and enough sweet tea to hydrate us after a blurry Thursday night at J.W. Forrester’s, which was “the” place to be in the early 2000s.
My husband and I had one of our first dates there, I guess as a test to see if I was a salad girl or an “eat ‘til it ouches you” girl. Ladies and all y’all, I got the meatloaf, which is, in fact, stuffed with cheese. I think that’s the lunch he knew he’d marry me.
Eventually we moved away, and each time we returned to Oxford, we’d wait in line for the doors to open at 11:30. That’s actually a sight to see, all these folks waiting in line in temperatures best described as “Hell degrees Fahrenheit” for the doors to open. And it’s not special to events or weekends — it’s every day of the week. Except Sundays, when they’re closed. Or since March 16, 2020.
Oxford is a unique town. Its population is half college students, thousands of retirees, and people like us, who found a way to move back in our late 30s because we just couldn’t wait a few decades. We shut down early, and Ajax made the brave decision to completely close the kitchen and send their employees home until the clouds lifted, however long that may be. This place is such an institution that the community got together and “tipped” their employees to keep roofs over their heads.
You see, it’s not just The Big Easy sandwich that keeps us coming back, although where else in America can you get a country fried steak burger topped with butter beans and mashed potatoes and gravy? It’s the staff itself. We know them. They’ve been there forever but they’re always glad to see you, almost like it’s their first day on the job. And they don’t age. The food tastes the exact same every day, because the same guys have been cooking in the back, probably since the doors opened in 1997, with the same recipes. I have eaten there at least a hundred times since 2001, and I have never experienced a slip in flavor or a stumble in consistency. Many incredible Southern chefs started in that little kitchen as dishwashers.
So yes, the day they open their doors again, I will stand in the sweltering Mississippi heat, six feet behind the person in front of me, and wait for the door to open at 11:30. I will even wait some more for my favorite seat at the end of the bar, if someone else snags it first. I will eat until I am ouched, surrounded by people thinking the exact same thing I am: “After all this time, I’m finally home.”
If you want to give a little love back to Ajax Diner, JCG Apparel has fundraiser t-shirts available for purchase. A portion of proceeds will be donated to the restaurant for relief efforts due to the pandemic. You may also Venmo the staff directly @Ajax-Diner2020.