Tomato gravy at Big Bad Breakfast. (Andy Staples)
OXFORD, Miss. – A truly great Southern cook can turn something healthy into a delectable assault on the senses and the arteries. Green beans? Cook them with ham hocks and lard. Squash? Make a casserole. Tomatoes?
That’s what they do every day in the kitchen at Big Bad Breakfast, the early riser in Chef John Currence’s foodie empire in this sleepy college town in northwest Mississippi. Currence, the proprietor of the acclaimed City Grocery, opened BBB in 2008 to nurse the hangovers of those around the campus where they brag that while they certainly don’t win every football game, they’ve never lost a party.
The cornerstone of the menu is Big Bad Bacon, a thick-cut delicacy house-cured with a brown sugar rub and Tabasco pepper mash so that it starts sweet, gets salty and finishes fiery. At Heaven is a Buffet, we salute anyone who can improve upon nature’s most perfect food. So Currence, BBB chef Jason Nicholas and charcuterie manager Kirk Lovejoy already had my sword. BBB earned my love with that tomato gravy, though.
I understand liquefied tomatoes can be crafted into all sorts of tasty treats. I’ve eaten enough marinara sauce, chili and salsa to know that. But having grown up being fed by relatives from South Carolina to Alabama, I appreciate the Southern desire to turn the healthiest foods on God’s green earth into caloric timebombs just because they taste better that way. Combining tomatoes with roux falls into that category. While at BBB, I sopped up as much of that wonderful gravy as I could with a biscuit. I would have down the rest of the bowl like a college sophomore shooting Jagermeister had I not feared it would embarrass my company.
My main dish was something called Dear American Airlines. It consisted of sourdough, country ham, egg, cheddar cheese and urbs baked in a cast iron crock. It was quite delicious, and something I’d be happy to order at any other restaurant. But the next time I visit BBB, I’m ordering an abundance of Big Bad Bacon, at least two biscuits and tomato gravy. And next time, I won’t feel the least bit guilty about chugging the last of that 100-proof gravy.
The Dear American Airlines at Big Bad Breakfast. (Andy Staples)