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Kelly English Talks the Second Line in Oxford

Besides authentic po'boys, guests can expect super-comforting dishes such as this skillet of andouille, crawfish, and pimento cheese.
Besides authentic po’boys, guests can expect super-comforting dishes such as this skillet of andouille, crawfish, and pimento cheese.

“It’s been my dream to have a connection to Oxford,” says Chef Kelly English. The timing is right, he says, to open an outpost on the Square—a second location of his Memphis restaurant the Second Line. “I’m really excited to be a part of such a special community that is so special to so many people. I want this to be another great thing in Oxford.”
Ole Miss alum English has come a long way since the shifts of his youth at Oxford places such as Buffalo Cafe and Pearl Street Pasta. The nationally known chef is most talked about for his Restaurant Iris in Memphis and more recently for its next-door neighbor, the Second Line. Oxonians who haven’t ventured to those restaurants may have had the pleasure at least of his street food creations a while back as part of Big Bad Pop-Ups with John Currence in Oxford.
Restaurant Rebel
Named by Food & Wine Magazine as a “Best New Chef,” English is inspired by the familiar flavors from his childhood in southern Louisiana.
After putting himself through college at the University of Mississippi by working as a cook in local kitchens, New Orleans native English decided to get serious about his passion for food. He graduated from the prestigious Culinary Institute of America at the top of his class, and studied both in Spain and France. The majority of his culinary education, however, came under the direction of award-winning celebrity Chef John Besh. In addition to Restaurant Iris and the Second Line, English will open his latest concept, Magnolia House, slated for May, 2014, in Biloxi’s new Harrah’s Gulf Coast.
Chef Kelly English
Chef Kelly English

After making a mark in the world, it’s not uncommon for successful Ole Miss alums to pine to reconnect with Oxford. English now comes full circle as a Rebel with his announcement last month that he’ll bring the Second Line to the space occupied most memorably by Smitty’s and later 208. Most recently, the location housed the short-lived La Paz.
While he’s been away, English has maintained a close friendship with Currence, “so much so that I asked his blessing before we went through with this,” he says. “To think of what he’s done for dining and culture in Oxford, it’s astounding.”
Everyday New Orleans
English’s Big Easy roots manifest themselves in the New Orleans-inspired cuisine of The Second Line—real New Orleans food such as roast beef po’boys with an old-school Italian salad, not blackened dishes, which English classifies as Crescent City “tourist” food. Do not expect fried shrimp, but that does not mean you should expect hoity, overwrought cuisine.
“The Second Line is your everyday New Orleans restaurant,” English says. “The food we serve is the backbone of what people love about New Orleans. It’s the middle class of food. The reason po’boys are so much better in New Orleans is that outside New Orleans, people try to make them too fancy. You go to New Orleans and order a po’boy, it’s going to come with mayonnaise, lettuce, and pickle on it and—stop. That’s what comes on a po’boy. And it’s not expensive pickles; it’s the cheapest pickles you can find in the store. And it’s iceberg lettuce.”
In an age of successful chefs opening new concepts with upscaled versions of classic comfort foods, English though it better to leave well enough alone. “When we did the Second Line, I never wanted to inflict my ‘vision’ on a po’boy,” he says. “I wanted to bring po’boys outside of New Orleans that I would be proud to serve in New Orleans.”
It’s not a surprise, since we’re talking “everyday New Orleans”, that English sums up the menu as food he’d crave if he’d had a little too much to drink—such as a skillet of andouille, crawfish, and pimento cheese.
English has another straight-up homage in store, but not from New Orleans. “When I was in school, (the space we’re moving into) was Smitty’s, and at the Second Line, we’ll have a Smitty’s country-fried steak on the menu, because I’m a nostalgic guy,” he says. “It’s something we don’t do in Memphis but will in Oxford.”
As part of their renovation of the space, English and his partners plan to remove the shimmering blue tiles from the restaurant’s exterior, which are associated in most Oxonians’ minds with the space’s 208 era.
“I want to open in the spring semester,” English says. “There’s a lot of things we need to do … I’m saying May, because every other restaurant I’ve opened, we’ve set a date, and it’s passed by, and we were late opening. I want to be the first person ever to open a restaurant early.”
— Tad Wilkes, tad.wilkes@hottytoddy.com

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