Friday, April 3, 2009

Hunt Begins for New "Worst Restaurant in Oxford"

A king its own right. A king of awfulness. The location of the now-defunct San Francisco Bread Company
at 1501 W. Jackson in Oxford, Mississippi.

Every trip Jessie and I have made to rent a movie over the last four months has always included some detached speculation about when the San Francisco Bread Company located next door to Movie Gallery would go out of business. It was never a question of "if," mind you, but a definite "when." The dining room seemed ominously dark Wednesday evening when we rented Australia, and a drive-by yesterday did little to change our impression that the franchise operation had gone legs-up. Since I had been wrong several times before in declaring the beast dead - the SFBC had been an artful practitioner of playing possum - I resolved to toe the corpse this morning on my way to campus. I pressed my cupped hands to the cold glass to get a better look inside. An artificial Rose of Sharon standing gaudily next to a soiled comfy chair seemed not to comprehend what the barren pastry case, upended chairs, and scattered paper products on the floor silently understood. The establishment that had earned our esteem as "the worst restaurant in Oxford" was no more. I considered casting my eyes heavenward in the expectation that I might see a gliding ring of vultures but remembered that even carrion have culinary standards.

Our one and only visit had come last September during one of Jessie's periodic hankerings for Panera Bread - more specifically, their broccoli cheddar soup. Since the nearest Panera location is in suburban Memphis, and she had long since crossed the "hungry and feed me soon" line, a sixty mile drive was out of the question. As chains go, I like Panera well enough. It is a good concept, and when properly executed delivers upon pretty much everthing it promises. As an aside, Panera offers recipes for many of their dishes online, including soups - but not the ever-popular broccoli cheddar. I'll be trying this copy cat version soon to prepare for future random cravings. Those who share Jessie's soup tastes but lack a personal chef should know that they can buy it pre-packaged at Costco.

At first glance, San Francisco Bread Company seemed to hold out promise as being a fellow player in this achingly bourgeois restaurant niche, yet something wasn't quite right. We've all seen the familiar horror picture trope where out-of-towners enter a quaint but strangely empty hotel and are subsequently punished for their stupidity in chosing to spend the night by being hacked into pieces by a lawnmower blade-weilding psychopath in a hockey mask. We suffered no physical harm, but neither were we smart enough to get back in our car when we were unable to ascertain whether or not the place was still in business by the time we tried the front door.

We began shedding our expectations, including soup of any kind, not long after crossing the threshold. In spite of being squarely within the dinner hour, the place was empty save one employee who hunched at a table and faintly mouthed the words to her copy of Chistopher Paolini's Eragon. Nobody seemed to notice our presence, so we studied the menu selections. That is to say, the remaining selections, for someone had taped copier paper on the menu board so as to obscure some of the entrees and all of the prices. By this time, our reader had stepped away from dwarves and goblins long enough to alert a compatriot to our presence, and, with a deep sigh, returned to her perch and book.

We placed our order, which came fast enough, and headed to the fountain drink dispenser with sandwich baskets and empty paper cups in hand. Drinks filled, Jessie and I selected a table, sat down, and took the first full measure of the dining room. Other than the quiet mumbling of the employee, the only sound in the dining room came from a wall-mounted television tuned to CNN with the volume turned very low. It had the effect of giving the space all the cheer of a Jiffy Lube waiting area. Which, in retrospect, may have been appropriate.

To say that the soda was flat doesn't begin to describe the thin cola syrup water in our cups. We tried again, but all of the fountians were equally lifeless. Perhaps it was the scent or taste that set Jessie off, but she ate very little of her tuna salad sandwich. As for my meal, it included a variety of mystery-meat roast beef reminiscent of the humorously-named (and no connection to the singer) Charlie's Pride brand sold by Wal-Mart. It was also of a salinity more suitable for use during Commodore George Anson's 1740-1744 circumnavigation of the globe than for deli sandwiches. We left the restaurant with the taste of buyer's remorse in our mouths.

Subsequent internet surfing revealed that ours was not an isolated incident. Google reviews included that of "Elizabeth," who said after a February visit "the girl had her face smashed against her hand while we ordered and was very rude. They seemed mad that we wanted to dine in, and then my meat on my turkey wrap was FROZEN! gross! They were rude, weird, and no one was eating in there during lunch. Sketchy..." Gross indeed, Elizabeth. "Charley" echoed our own sentiments by pondering, "how this restaurant stays open, I have no idea." Wonder no more, my friend.

One does wonder, however, what will happen to SFBC's prime West Jackson location. We can only hope that this dreadful establishment is gone for good. Then it will be time to crown another as "the worst restaurant in Oxford." Suggestions are welcome, but consider that crappy dining experiences and sub-par food at overrated establishments do not necessisarily constitute the sort of utter wretchedness that SFBC embodied. For instance, it is neither shocking nor noteworthy that the International Buffet will cause gastrointestinal distress or that the young waitresses at Old Venice Pizza are rude. So discern for the true bottom, the dining experience that both underwhelms and frightens. The one unparalleled in its very afulness. But for now, the king is dead.


  1. In a way, it's a sweet thing that you had this place to remember. There should always be the hellish dining experience to compare all others to. For us in Greensboro, it was a much ballyhooed soul food seafood place on Holden Rd. When we attempted to eat our inedible, expensive meal there, we were surrounded with the groans and curses of the diners around us, which began just after we ordered. It was surreal and strangely fun, and the restaurant didn't last long.

  2. I love how annotated this post is.

    Worst restaurant in Greensboro? Cafe Pasta. My favorite restaurant in Greensboro? Binh Minh.

    Keep these review coming; I need to know where I should and should not eat once I move down there.