OXFORD • While Darryl Parker and Jonathan Smith were enjoying a meal with a mutual friend last fall, they discovered they had several things in common.
They’re both passionate about food. They both love to travel. And they enjoy sharing stories about the South.
From that conversation, Oxford Food Tours was born.
“One of the things we love is when people come in from out of town and we get to show them how we live and how we eat,” said Smith, 25.
“It’s a food tour, but in my mind, it’s a party,” Parker said. “It’s people who don’t know each other coming together.”
Two different tours are offered on various days, except on Saturdays when there’s a home football game.
The Historic Oxford Square Walking Food Tour is offered Saturdays from noon to 3 p.m. The cost is $75 per ticket or $49 for children. The walk is less than a mile and comfortable shoes are recommended.
The Booze & Bites Cocktail Tour is offered Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 5 to 7:30 p.m. and Saturdays from 4 to 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $120 each and participants must be at least 21 years old.
Once the two men came up with the idea for walking food tours, they first reached out to different restaurant owners, chefs and bartenders around the Square in Oxford.
“We then spent November and December gathering research on Oxford, getting anecdotes,” Smith said. “We contacted different food tours around the country to see what worked or didn’t work for them.”
Parker, 50, is a shuttle driver for the Hampton Inn in Oxford and often engages the people who ride with him.
“When Southern Living magazine named Oxford the best food city in 2018, I ran into more than a dozen people who said they came here because they wanted to eat in this town,” he said. “The idea of a walking food tour just made sense.”
On a typical food tour, participants will visit five to seven restaurants. For example, they might start at The Growler with a meet and greet and a cocktail and appetizer. They might head to The Blind Pig for a small Cuban sandwich and some homemade chips.
“Often the owners or chefs will come out and tell the history of the restaurant or the building or the dish,” Smith said.
The next stop might be McEwen’s for some pork tenderloin.
“McEwen’s is the only restaurant in our network that has asked to surprise us with what they make,” Smith said. “Chef Tait takes care with his dishes.”
A visit to Tallahatchie Gourmet might yield some seafood gumbo or shrimp and grits.
“We talk about the significance of the Square along the way,” said Parker, an Oxford native. “We talk about the buildings, the Civil War, Faulkner, the Courthouse, the Blues Trail markers, the red phone booth.”
A stop at Soulshine for a slice of pizza and then Pistachio’s for some gelato round out the tour.
“We ask the restaurants to put forth their best food sample,” Parker said. “We want you to have just enough to make you think, ‘That was really good. We need to go back there.’”
Smith stressed that even though there’s not a complete meal at any one restaurant, the walking tour provides plenty of food.
“We haven’t gotten a bad review yet,” he said. “Our most common complaint is that it’s too much food.”
The booze tour offers four stops with cocktails at each and maybe some nibbles along the way. Stops might include The Graduate, St. Leo Lounge, The Summit – for a balcony experience – and the Chancellor’s House for drinks and appetizers.
“Both of us typically do the tours,” Parker said. “One of us leads the tour and the other is kind of behind the scenes. The behind-the-scenes guy might slip out at the end and pay the restaurant for the food and then head to the next stop to make sure they’re ready for us. The customer never sees any of that.”