Move over Mr. Bill (Faulkner), Oxford’s literary fame around the world may be pushed aside by Chicken-On-A-Stick.
The late-night delicacy of the Chevron Service Station at “four-corners” (intersection of University Avenue and Lamar Avenue) is a mystery to those who have not enjoyed it but for those who have – like generations of Ole Miss alumni around the world – it’s a culinary happening never forgotten.
Thinking of Chicken-On-A-Stick brought Conor Diskin “right back to my days as a foreign student over from Ireland.”
In the line after a couple of beers (too many) with the lovely lady behind the counter saying ‘what’ll be honey’ . . . was only ever gonna be one thing. All of us from Brazil, Australia, Germany, etc. drowning in ranch happiness,” Conor recalls.
“I still have dreams about it xoxo! ” he adds.
Conor was a student at Ole Miss in 2013-14. He has returned to Ireland and lives in Dublin but says he can never forget Chicken-On-A-Stick or Four Corners.
“The lady behind the counter is Southern personified,” he adds.
Three or four pieces of chicken breast folded and skewered on a stick, battered and deep-fried, Chicken-On-A-Stick has provided sobering late night relief to Ole Miss students for years. The tradition started with Mike McPhail who operated Four Corners Chevron for many years.
“I go the idea from a guy from LSU who was in town for a ballgame. He told me how they put shrimp on a stick and suggested I try the chicken. After experimenting with various ways and different batter, we came up the Chicken-On-A-Stick, and it was immediately a tremendous success,” McPhail said.
The McPhail tradition has been picked up by other convenience stories, particularly in Mississippi. But even a search of all things Google suggests the rich Oxford tradition of fried chicken is perhaps unique to the region. Google presents many images of chicken being cooked on a skewer and some fried, but none match the look, and perhaps the taste, of Chevron’s Chicken-On-A-Stick.
Greg Brock, an Ole Miss journalism graduate and long-time Senior Editor of the New York Times, remembers a visit to Four Corners Service Station last September.
“I was visiting Oxford and invited three friends from New York to go. One of them, from Connecticut, went nuts over the chicken on a stick. That’s all he talks about now. Every time I go down, he asks: can you bring me back a chicken on a stick? ” Greg recalls. “He was down again for the film festival . . . went directly to get chicken on a stick THEN came to my house.”
“. . .And where those lose directions to the late-nite at some dude’s house down Lamar you got at the bar were ‘confirmed’ by the drunk girls parked at the front door, the windows down in the dead of winter, yelling at the top of their lungs for their sober friend to ‘get cigarettes tooooo!”, recalls Jim Price, editor, and publisher of the Neshoba Democrat in Philadelphia, Mississippi.
Bill Dabney of Oxford says “waiting in line (for Chicken-On-A-Stick) with other revelers becomes an impromptu party,” while Barin von Foregger adds “this place defines late-nights in Oxford, and is what makes the new hotel (on the opposite corner) look silly . . . Don’t mess with local fare.”
Galen Smith Sr. of Bowling Green, Kentucky, recalls driving the late Willie Morris “several times on a late night run to Chevron in 1985-86.” “He loved fried chicken and George Deckle Tennessee Whiskey,” Galen recalls.
Kristin Anderson Hammons of Madison worked at a local bank and recalls Monday mornings were a challenge for bank tellers. “I wanted to hide. Monday’s were the worst after big weekends. I needed to shower after those deposits,” Kristin recalls. “Navigating the parking lot at midnight was never fun,” adds Heather Staggs of Oxford.
Greg Brock remembers the time “the lady at the counter put it in a white bag and handed it to me. Then she said: Darling, do you want that in a plastic bag?’ A bit puzzled, I said: ‘Ah, no. This is fine.’ Pointing at the bag, she said ‘Honey turn it over.” I turned the bag over, and the entire side was soaked in grease after about 30 seconds . . . I got the plastic bag. I got it to take home. Instead, I sat there in the car and ate the whole thing!”
Memories seem to become sweeter as the years pass and for Ivy McPherson Hayes of Memphis, a return visit to Four Corners Chevron was particularly sweet.
“Most fun ever was 30 years later going with my daughter and her friends. Loved it then and love it now,” she said.
Mrs. Hayes daughter, Maggie, is now a senior at Ole Miss.
So HottyToddy.com asks Oxford friends and alums, “What’s your favorite memory of Chicken-On-A-Stick?”
By Jim Roberts, a HottyToddy.com contributor