Built for Instagram: The Graduate in Oxford

Imagining I could link to a couple dozen articles here about places being designed specifically around what’s particularly Insta-hot right now, but you’ve probably read them too. When we walked into The Graduate hotel in Oxford, Mississippi earlier this month, that’s exactly what I was thinking: built for IG.

The location is perfect — just a block off the Square, so in the morning after breakfast at the hotel, we got to walk around before setting off to Memphis. Here’s what’s going on inside:

…globe lamps above a small library at check-in, only to behold that the books are sawed (?) in half and adhered to the cabinetry. Seriously, I found ‘You: The Owner’s Manual’ smashed between ‘The Heat of Ramadan’ and Garrison Keillor’s ‘Wobegon Boy’ which was either crackpot genius or just, you know, somebody grabbing yardsale books and finishing a shelf.

Some of the brand’s philosophy on why they choose university settings, from the founder via Skift:

We morphed into really focusing on university anchored secondary and tertiary markets and what we found was that most of those markets had a very limited — or very lackluster is probably a better word — hotel product in what were some very dynamic and unique markets. We saw there was opportunity there because there was very little competition for doing any kind of lifestyle, boutique or independent hotel in those markets. Then, we also saw after doing some research that there was very low volatility in these markets safety well; they didn’t suffer nearly as badly in terms of the last two recessions and they bounced back much quicker.

art by William Goodman in the lobby

I always associate him first with that big mural at the Mississippi Museum of Art

More lobby fab:

The televisions here are in big frames so they look less like big dopey televisions.

Lest we forget college town, there’s a few reminders strewn about

The Graduate Hotel, Oxford MS

Back to the yearbooks for a sec, the ones on display were late ’60s and ’70s and w o w y e s s s s s

El Burrito! Yassss.

Burger Chef

and the, um, Benzo Burger

Students are welcome to sit in the lobby at the hotel to study, etc and who exactly gets to study in Eames chairs at school?

I do remember, though, luxuriating in the ball chairs in the Oberlin College library a couple of summers, though, so there’s that. Beyond fab.

There’s a restaurant upstairs at the hotel as well as this quick-serve little cafe:

and just outside:

Then there was this one moment when it got just waaaay too Pinterest-y:But but hey, we all overdo it at college I guess.

at the elevator alcove:

and down the hall (though you’d think they’d want to reconsider houndstooth in Oxford, but ‘kay…):

The room was fine — it’s wasn’t super plush or too minimalist. It was comfortable and alright. They’re making a killing on football weekends but overall it’s not luxurious or particularly service oriented. It seemed as though students were running the hotel, and even when we went to breakfast, instead of someone welcoming guests, they were just sitting around chatting and we mistook them for fellow visitors. There was a whole back-and-forth-how-do-we-even-do-this between the front desk and restaurant when we explained we had purchased a package with breakfast included (so it was as though it was a completely new concept to everyone, and they still wanted to charge us tax). Would we stay here again? Nah. But it was okay.

There was a bluetooth speaker you could take into the bathroom for musical accompaniment, Faulkner illustrations framed on the wall, and Malin + Goetz goodness:


For nicer, there’s Chancellor’s House in Oxford (and that’s a lot of greige).

Our stay at the sister Graduate Hotel in Athens, Georgia here.

My husband the UVA grad is prob going to want to stay at the Graduate in Charlottesville to give that one a go, and if you like card catalogs in your hotel, well there’s this.

 

It Was A James Beard Kinda Chanukah Supper in Oxford, Mississippi

We had the best time this past weekend at the Farmstead on Woodson Ridge where the Jewish Federation of Oxford hosted a Chanukah supper with food from chefs Alon Shaya, Zach Engel, John Currence, Kelly English and others from Pom Hospitality (it’s the new group Alon established since his break with John Besh).

Av took Shugie (who dreams of having his own restaurant one day serving his world-famous chocolate sauce) in to meet Alon and Zach and everyone.

There were three latkes: this one with apple by Kelly English

this, with sour cream and caviar by John Currence

…and the one that seemed to be everyone’s favorite, Alon Shaya’s latke with whitefish topped with herbs and everything bagel seasoning (we will absolutely be having this next week at our family’s Chanukah supper):

John Currence made this dish of vinegar-roasted brussels sprouts, spiced yogurt, pickled chickpeas, shiitake ‘bacon’, and sumac — that was great:

Kelly English prepared this slow-roasted lamb belly with speckled beans and zhug. It was woooooow:

and the meal ended with crispy buttered kanafeh with orange blossom honey. Shugie wasn’t feeling it so Shug and I devoured his once we got done with our own servings. Just fab:

Have to say, we go to a lot of events, and this was just perfect: family friendly (so often, these things are just for adults), delicious, and lovely. We sat at long tables and made friends with our seatmates. Oh! And there was a great band & we all did the hora at the end. Lovely, lovely, lovely.

 

Hoop and Brunch Dreams

The boys loved their first NBA game! Av had a gala to attend, so he dropped us off at Smoothie King Center and we got to see the Pelicans play the LA Clippers. First, though, they wanted to get their picture taken with a couple of cheerleaders:

We ordered our tickets as part of a “Pierre’s Party Pack” which included our seats, a meal combo, and an opportunity to go onto the court after the game to shoot a basket. Our seat location wasn’t that great, but it wasn’t bad either. We had a great time, and the Pelicans beat the Clippers!

…at one point in the game, the cheerleaders threw t-shirts to fans, and they tossed one right to Shugie. He was super tickled.

Shug and Shugie loved getting to go onto the court and try to get a basket

Afterward, we Ubered over to Av’s event venue, then altogether went back to the hotel — the places we usually stay were booked for the weekend since some big conventions were in — so I used some old my Expedia points and got the Holiday Inn Express way out by the airport.

Meh.

Last year, there was a week we needed to stay, so I took a chance on Expedia’s hidden hotels — the option they sometimes offer for rooms in which they won’t reveal the hotel name until you’ve paid. It feels a little Priceline-eque, without the Priceline. You get whatever hotel it is — there’s no going back, because in effect, you’ve paid for the hotel when you confirm the last screen.

The thing is, though, you’re able to specify what star rating, what neighborhood, and so on, and in many cases, you can mostly figure out what hotel they’re offering. In this instance, I said I would accept any 4-star hotel in a certain area of the (mostly) Quarter. From the map, I was able to decipher it could only be a handful hotels, and even if it were my least-favorites of the bunch (the Astor Crowne Plaza or the Sheraton), I was still going to get a 4* hotel for…ready?…less than $75/night. I could have never done that using either the direct hotel website or Expedia without this opaque pricing. And who, and where, can you get a hotel room pretty much anywhere for that little? In effect, we saved over half each night.

And it did turn out to be the Astor Crowne Plaza on Canal and Bourbon, which wasn’t what I was hoping for, but it was fine. Of all the dozens of hotels we’ve stayed at here, we’ve never been inside:

Astor Crowne Plaza, New Orleans LA

Lobby, Astor Crowne Plaza, New Orleans LA

Astor Crowne Plaza, New Orleans LA

Astor Crowne Plaza, New Orleans LA 

Sunday, we went over to Metairie to wrap presents for JCRS

and then had brunch at Apolline, which has to be one of our fave brunch places.

Lovebugs.

Pimm’s Cup. Av had the grilled hangar steak with poached egg and hollandiase over potato hash (which was all delish). Shug had the hamburger, and Shugie went breakfasty with eggs and potatoes.

I had the confit duck bowl, and they were so kind in subbing broccoli for the potato hash. It was topped with duck crackings and poached eggs with hollandaise.

#brunchgoals

Lunch Steaks: Desi Vega’s, Doris Metropolitan, And You Can’t Do That At The Table

One day for lunch, Av and I made reservations for Desi Vega’s Steakhouse, which is a nice, light and bright space — not heavy and laden with so many dark woods like other steakhouses

And just as a complete aside…a complete, *complete* aside…there was an older gentleman sitting over there by the front window dressed in his lovely suit, holding court. He was so elegant, so fabulous, you could tell just in an instant that everyone was just at rapt attention to what he was saying. At the end of the meal, I looked over to where he was, and he started flossing his teeth there in front of everyone. Cue the side-eyes of his tablemates. I get it: I wear Invisalign so I have a special affinity for a new box of Oral-B unflavored too, but right at the table? You can be a million kinds of wonderful and not be able to get away with flossing in public.

So.

ANYway, we started with the Who Dat Shrimp, which are Gulf shrimp stuffed with crabmeat and wrapped in bacon, served with a sweet Thai sauce

They sent an amuse of a meatball after the app. I like the idea of drinks served / order placed / amuse before apps, but I guess this is their custom here.

Av had the mixed grill, which is described as ‘marinated chicken breast, medallions of filet mignon and sweet Italian sausage’ but doesn’t the chicken look as though it got really charred, the chef cut off the worst of it, and then put it back on the grill for some marks? Also, among ugly plates of food, this is pretty far up there. Even the steak looks unloved and raggedy. What even.

It was what it was: not particularly good. The service was great, but the food itself, not so much. Even the Caesar salad I had for my entree was just ‘whatever’. And you’re tickling me when you’re channeling the 80s and sprinkling things on the border of a dish. It’s so retro it’s just almost made the complete circle of life and swung back around to be charming.

Another Friday, we had lunch at Doris Metropolitan in the Quarter, which was fun in part because Av knows the people who own the restaurant

Their aging room

from what I understand, they offer their butchering services so that patrons may bring home what they like

Here’s one thing I really, really liked. Not only are you given a cloth napkin for your lap, but the silverware is placed on its own napkin so that it never touches the table. Fellow germ-phobes (germaphobes? germophobes? how about just ‘my people’?), I know you see the beauty and wisdom of this.

bread = amazing

Av was not in the mood for a huge T-Bone or NY Strip, so he ordered the minute steak with chimichurri salsa which was just incredibly delicious. This is one of those dishes you could put on the rotation every single week and never get tired of. So delicious.

I wasn’t big on having a steak like Av was, so even though it’s uncommon for me, I was in the mood for a hamburger. This was one of the great hamburgers ever — the menu describes it:
Wagyu Fat, Gorgonzola, smoked Gouda, mushrooms, caramelized onion, black garlic and garlic aioli, served with truffle fries yes yes yes yes yes. Even (I have to say it) better than the hamburgers at Chez FonFon.

BTW (thinking of fab hamburgers), the 60 Minutes profile of Danny Meyer last monthwas excellent. He talked about what goes into the success of Shake Shack — much of it still a mystery to him — and how every single minute detail is thought out…how much goes into the consideration of the experience at each of his restaurants from Gramercy Tavern across the board, and he talks about his no-tipping policy which makes sense when he explains it:

Meyer says he’s found that the front of the house staff sometimes makes 300 percent more than the kitchen staff. So he has increased the base pay of servers and kitchen staff to balance things out and increased menu prices by nearly 25 percent to compensate.  He eschews the “no-tipping” phrase.  He calls it “hospitality included.” “It’s basically saying, ‘You see that price that it costs to get the chicken? That includes everything. That includes not only the guy that bought the chicken and the guy that cooked the chicken, but it also includes the person who served it to you and how they made you feel.'” 

Menu prices are higher, but in the end, checks are roughly the same as if the diner had added a tip, Meyer tells Cooper. “By the time you get your bill, whatever shock you did or didn’t feel when you saw the menu prices,  should completely dissipate, because you should say, ‘That’s exactly what it would have been if they hadn’t had this new system.'”‘

Yes to fairness and love to the kitchen.

Thanksgiving Pies

Last year, the number was 42 and this year, it’s 49!

We made pecan, chocolate pecan, pumpkin, sweet potato, sweet potato – praline, buttermilk coconut, chess, chocolate meringue (and just one that’s chocolate pecan bourbon that we save for the fam). Av and the boys delivered them to Jimmie Hale Mission, Jessie’s Place, Firehouse Shelter, and Community Kitchens at Grace Episcopal.

Hope you all are having a *wonderful* Thanksgiving! xoxo!

Art of William Edmondson, New Documentary

One of the largest collections of William Edmondson‘s art is at Cheekwood Estate & Gardens in Nashville, and last month filmmaker Mark Schlicher spoke there about the artist and the fundraising he’s doing to finish his documentary entitled “Chipping Away: The Life and Legacy of Sculptor William Edmondson” that he’s devoted work to over five years. (Trailer below)

William was born to Orange and Jane Brown Edmondson sometime in the 1870s — perhaps December 1874 — in Tennessee, and was born and died within a three-mile area. His parents were freed slaves who had been at the Compton Plantation (now Green Hills) in Davidson County, continuing to work there after emancipation as sharecroppers.

William moved into the city of Nashville when he got older, and suffered a leg injury from a railroad job. Unemployed, he started making tombstones for sale using old railroad spikes and hammers to make shapes.

Smithsonian Magazine August 1981 published a quote from him about the inspiration:

‘First He told me to make tombstones; then He told me to cut the figures. I do according to the wisdom of G-d. He gives me the mind and the hand, I suppose, and then I go ahead and carve these things.’ 


In 2011, I visited Mount Ararat cemetery in Nashville, though it’s known that very unfortunately all of Edmondson’s work is no longer extant there. Further, it’s no longer known where in the cemetery he is buried. Nashville dedicated a park in Edmondson’s honor a few years ago and commissioned Thornton Dial and Lonnie Holley for sculptures.

In 1935, Sidney Hirsch, an art faculty member at George Peabody College for Teachers found Edmondson’s place and was intrigued, telling his friend Louise Dahl-Wolfe about it. She worked for Harper’s Bazaar and thought it worthy of a feature, but William Randolph Hearst did not want to feature it in the magazine. She showed pictures of the work to Alfred H. Barr Jr., director of MoMA, and William Edmondson became the first African American artist to have a solo show there, in 1937.

Besides angels and animals (one of his lions was sold by Christie’s in January 2017 at $511,500), he began to sculpt famous people like Eleanor Roosevelt. He even sculpted Sidney Hirsch at one point, and that piece is in the collection at Cheekwood. Note: though Cheekwood has many pieces of Edmondson’s art, they don’t keep it on permanent exhibit. Their current exhibit calendar is here.


Above, one of Edmondson’s eagles I photographed in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. The last time I visited the Edmondson exhibit at Cheekwood — which was a few years ago — they did not allow photography. 

As an aside, Sidney Hirsch himself was a renaissance man in his own right: he was a  model for Auguste Rodin (!) and Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. He served in the Navy. He studied ancient languages. He was a member of Vanderbilt’s Fugitives group of poets and other creatives (Robert Penn Warren was one member), and he was a playwright with varying degrees of success.

Edmondson achieved a certain amount of celebrity after the MoMA show, but had little interest in it, and cared less about the positive or negative criticism of his work. During his lifetime, the art never commanded appropriate market prices.


His ‘Boxer’ c. 1936 set a new world record for his work and for Outsider art when it sold for $785k in 2016 at Christie’s.

“Chipping Away: The Life and Legacy of Sculptor William Edmondson” is slated for a Spring 2018 release, fundraising to complete it here:

Rag Bologna and Hoop Cheese

The Jefferson Country Store outside Demopolis, Alabama — Hoop Cheese, Souse, Rag Bologna

Inside, an old store with wooden floors and glass coke bottles, Moon Pies, boiled peanuts, chips (your choice of Golden Flake and Zapp’s), Little Debbies, cans of Manwich and salmon…there’s probably some 10W30 and windshield washing fluid in there somewhere — you name it. And they’ve got this grill area for making hot ham & cheese, fried bologna sandwich or Conecuh sausage dogs…

If you’re there after the grill closes, there’s always rag bologna (called that because of the cloth sleeve) and hoop cheese with the red wax in the fridge


If you pick up a copy of the latest Southbound (it’s published by Atlanta Magazine and comes with their subscriptions), they ran one of my pics of the Simmons-Wright Company country store in Kewanee, Mississippi

but the most interesting part isn’t the outside but the inside