Chef-inspired creations abound at a restaurant in Oxford

Nov. 15 – OXFORD – Pinpointing Erika Libby’s culinary type at SoLa is not possible, however the restaurant provides a touch, saying it presents “quirky delicacies and excessive spirits.”

In reality, anybody who dines at SoLa — positioned close to The Sq. at 401 S. Lamar — may take pleasure in a Smash burger or a blue crab omelette someday, and the following they could possibly be consuming Jamaican noodles made with smoked pork, peas and peas. Indian, eggs, jam and cheese. Brussels sprouts, or maybe brown butter scallops with pearl barley risotto, curried candy potatoes, Thai basil, black garlic molasses, and candied jalapeno bacon.

So, it is a fusion restaurant? Sure and no. Pondering of SoLa’s meals as a mix of flavors from New Orleans, the Mediterranean, and Asia provides a great glimpse into the wonders that occur in her delicacies.

“I prefer to name it chef-driven,” Libby mentioned of SoLa, which began in 2014 as The Wine Bar.

Laib is not any stranger to the Oxford restaurant scene, having spent 16 of the previous 17 years. After a short hiatus working at a resort on Jekyll Island off the coast of Georgia for a 12 months, she returned in 2012 when one in all her chef buddies would assist her open The Wine Bar.

“On the time, I used to be making an attempt to depart the restaurant enterprise to pursue a profession in catering, and I used to be doing quite a lot of weddings and such, so I bought a part-time job with them to assist in the kitchen.” She mentioned.

What’s on the record?

What’s on the record?

A sampling of what SoLa and Lipe have provided in latest weeks contains:

Glass noodle soup with spinach, chuck roast, bone broth and mushrooms

Chorizo ​​cabbage, rosemary candy potatoes, jalapeno-cranberry sauce, and spicy carrots

Curried roast beef, okra, and soup noodles with andouille and jalapeno

Beef Stroganoff made with beef tenderloin, gris, bitter cream mushroom sauce and contemporary dill.

Grilled swordfish with Appalachian tomato broth, panang curry, black rice, and lemon lima bean butter.

Pork dish and fermented black bean pasta dish

Eggplant parmesan sandwiches with truffle fries and basil mayonnaise

Ham and mozzarella soften on sourdough with whipped feta cheese, sizzling honey and arugula.

Lipe helped open The Wine Bar which was owned by Dr. and Mrs. Lee Valentine of Meridian. She was and stays basic supervisor and accomplice within the restaurant, which was reimagined and rebranded as SoLa in 2019.

“We joined forces, and I instructed them I’d assist them do it regardless that wine wasn’t actually my factor,” she mentioned. “So we did it from 2015 to 2019, once we determined it wasn’t a wine bar — it needed to be a restaurant to do what we needed it to do. I am concerned with meals, that is what I do, so let’s rebrand it as a restaurant and I make my very own meals.”

There was some concern, in fact. Rebranding is a chance, as uncertainty about how prospects will reply all the time looms over such a transfer. And in a mecca like Oxford, the meals must be particular.

The title SoLa is impressed by its location on South Lamar, a tribute to New Orleans – NOLA.

4 years later, it appears the change was certainly the precise transfer.

“We’re type of in our groove now, and it feels fairly good,” Libby mentioned. “All of the arduous work is paying off, and we’re beginning to see the fruits of our labor.”

SoLa is open for dinner solely 4 days every week – Wednesday – Saturday after 5pm – in addition to brunch from 11am to 2pm on Sundays. There may be elevated demand when working hours are shorter, which fits Lipe completely. Its workers can work the present hours; Any greater than that, and a second shift of staff must be educated and employed.

“We like the place it’s,” Libby mentioned. “We considered including lunch, however possibly that will likely be one thing sooner or later.”

Cooking components

Libby labored at her mom’s café in Batesville the place she grew up and labored in deli and sandwich retailers in highschool and school. She bought her first job in an expert kitchen when she was 20 years outdated.

“I bought a job at Caper’s Restaurant, which was positioned on Batesville Sq., and fell in love with the rhythm of the enterprise,” she mentioned.

On the time, Libby was majoring in artwork in school, however wasn’t actually positive the place her profession would take her. Whereas working at Caper’s, she knew she had discovered her calling.

“It was a small, 60-seat restaurant that served lunch 5 days every week and dinner three days every week,” she mentioned.

After about 9 months there, she bought a job in New Orleans at a Creole restaurant. It was a dream come true, as she and her household spent quite a lot of time within the metropolis when she was rising up.

She later returned to Batesville the place she grew to become govt chef at Caper’s, then got here to Oxford to work at Waltz on the Sq. – now McEwen’s – for a number of years. Then it was Jekyll Island for a short while earlier than returning to Oxford.

“I fell in love with cooking once I began working professionally, however I fell in love with meals lengthy earlier than that,” Libby mentioned. “I come from actually huge Southern households; each grandmothers have been glorious cooks. We had huge Sunday dinners, and quite a lot of entertaining at dwelling. So I used to be all the time concerned with meals and tradition. However when it was coupled with restaurant tradition, that is the place the magic occurred.” ”

Her work in New Orleans and Jekyll Island launched her to a world of flavors that type the idea of her cooking at present. Whereas SoLa’s conventional Wednesday spaghetti night time (created from her grandmother’s recipe utilizing Bolognese sauce) and Thursday ramen night time are a success, the menu is an eclectic mixture of themes and components.

Lipe’s specials and delicacies will tantalize anybody’s palate.

Libby mentioned she finds it troublesome to explain the meals she makes when requested, however mentioned maybe a greater time period is “chef-inspired.”

“It is all we’re in on the proper time,” she mentioned. “I take advantage of New Orleans as a focus. When individuals consider New Orleans meals, that is not essentially what I am speaking about. It isn’t jambalaya and gumbo, though you may see that every now and then, nevertheless it’s very a lot about immigrants and their meals that you simply discover. Like Vietnamese.” Flavors like that which can be so completely different from what I grew up with, and I needed to learn to use them and why they used them. So, some ethnic backgrounds and flavors that I found that I like to include.”

However Libby would not simply convey flavors collectively. She desires to know the way it works, why it really works, and solely then put it collectively.

For instance, rooster wings with fish sauce and lemongrass. Not a typical group for positive; They each have robust, distinct flavors that complement one another properly because the fried rooster absorbs them and produces that coveted umami.

“Fried rooster, lemongrass and fish sauce are three of my favourite issues and it was enjoyable to determine the way to put them collectively,” she mentioned.

SoLa’s menu is maybe a chief instance of what’s known as “third tradition delicacies,” the meals of people that grew up exterior of their mother and father’ cultures. It is positively what Libby listed.

“It is type of a brand new time period, however I adore it,” she mentioned. “It isn’t appropriation, it is homage and an try and do justice to him.”

Residing and dealing in a metropolis that celebrates good meals is each difficult and provoking, however Lipe is totally okay with all of it.

“I get quite a lot of inspiration from cooks within the metropolis, and all of us construct one another up,” she mentioned. “There is not any downside with having your personal identification in the event you’re true to your self and being organically impressed by components and seasons and issues. Everybody has corn and tomatoes on the identical time. There are only some variations of succotash and caprese that you are able to do.”

dennis.seid@djournal.com

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