By Rick Hynum
Oxford chef/restaurateurs Michelle Rounsaville and Trey Bridgers didn’t set out to reinvent the sandwich, but once you’ve tried Thacker 564, their slider-focused eatery at 3000 Old Taylor Road in Oxford, you may never go back to ham and Swiss on white bread again.
Rounsaville, who cut her culinary teeth at Oxford Steak Co. and PRIME Steakhouse, hired her longtime friend Bridgers, a former City Grocery cook and Oby’s manager, a few years back to help her conjure up menu magic at her popular catering/lunch operation, My Michelle’s, located on North Lamar Blvd. in Oxford. Now they’ve melded minds with Thacker 564, putting sliders at the center of the plate—and we’re talking sliders worthy of Zeus himself—and pouring specialty cocktails with an offbeat southern twist.
Artisan Bar Food
Call it artisan bar food, but don’t let the high-end fare throw you off: The idea behind Thacker 564 is to build a community where everyone is welcome.
“It’s all about inviting people to sit down together, relax and have a conversation,” Bridgers said. “Cocktails play a big part in that. That’s also why we went with the sliders—so you can share, mix and match, and never feel tied down to one dish.”
The two partners see the classic sandwich as a culinary palette with unlimited possibilities. “To me, sandwiches and pizza go hand in hand because you can put anything on them,” Rounsaville said. “You can do anything with them. We figured there was enough Mexican and enough pizza in Oxford. We wanted to do something different—something that’s easy enough to execute but complex enough that you’ll think, ‘I’ve never had anything like this before.’”
Most of the sandwiches are based on popular dishes developed at My Michelle’s. But Rounsaville and Bridgers have transformed them into one-of-a-kind miniature masterpieces.
The Transfer, an open-faced brisket slider with a white cheddar mornay sauce, comes on a sweet potato biscuit, topped with housemade pickled banana peppers, red onions and a creole mayo. Yes, it’s a slider, but don’t you dare scarf it down—with its complex layers of rich and tangy flavors, it’s designed to be savored bite by bite. A little bit French yet wholly southern, The Transfer is an entirely new sensory experience for the taste buds.
The Spirit, meanwhile, features pastrami that’s made in-house in a five-day process—four days to brine the meat, four hours to smoke it, and another four hours in the oven. Topped off with whole-grain mustard, Swiss cheese and housemade pickles (made with the same brine as the pastrami) and served on pumpernickel bread, it’s a peppery, zesty delight with just the right hint of smoke.
Other popular sandwiches include the Delta Italian (inspired by Rounsaville’s own Mississippi Delta roots), a ciabatta slider made with chicken meat loaf, fresh mozzarella and marinara sauce, and the one-of-a-kind Mississippi Gardener, featuring a sweet potato and black-eyed pea cake, sweet and sour collards and a spicy mayonnaise on a wheatberry roll. The latest addition to the menu, the Sorority Row, is a cheesy-chicken delight piled with grilled chicken, pimento cheese, housemade fried pickles and Ranch dressing on a Wheatberry bun.
Those housemade fried pickles are every bit as good as you’d expect, but Rounsaville and Bridgers opted against offering them as appetizers. That’s just a bit too predictable, especially when you can serve up fried okra spears—breaded with masa corn flour from Oxford-based The Original Grit Girl—instead. “Georgeanne Ross brought me a bag of this flour and said, ‘Fry something in this and it will be the most crisp, delicious fried thing you’ve ever had,’” Bridgers recalled. “She was right.”
Sunday brunch features the same sandwich menu, with some additional options. “You can add a fried egg to any sandwich and turn it into breakfast,” Rounsaville noted. “We recently did a breakfast slider—blackened chicken and waffles with a housemade root beer syrup, topped with a fried egg. Trey took root beer, cooked it down to a syrup, added hot sauce and a little bit of sugar and drizzled it over the sandwich. It’s phenomenal.”
Cocktails That Tell a Tale
Then, there’s the wonderfully eccentric cocktail menu, developed by Rounsaville herself—and she knows her spirits. Every drink has a story behind it and a catchy name to make it memorable. Whiskey aficionados will get hooked on Claude the Elder, a splendid, flavorful mix of Bulleit Rye, St.-Germaine (a liqueur flavored with elderberries), orange juice, lemon, bitters and a ginger puree.
In fact, purees figure prominently in the cocktails selection—two of the drinks use pink guava puree, including a wine-vodka combo called Frances Loves a Frose (La Vieille Rose, Absolut Pear, St.-Germaine and fresh lemon juice are the other ingredients) and Steal Your Peach (also featuring Absolut Peach, fresh lime juice, balsamic and soda). Ginger puree lends a kick to Don’t Stop the Carousel, made with Hendricks Gin, St.-Germaine, soda, cucumber and lime.
If all of that sounds “southern chic,” you’re not wrong, but Rounsaville and Bridgers aren’t the chichi types. After all, they’re used to feeding the masses in catering events around the Lafayette-Oxford-Ole Miss community through My Michelle’s.
“We wanted this to be very much a southern thing and a Mississippi thing, inspired by our families,” Bridgers said. “Family is important to both of us.”
That family vibe is reflected in the restaurant’s décor as well. Between sips and bites and contented sighs, customers can look around and take in the beauty of the venue, which showcases stunning artwork by multitalented Oxford artist and Studio Whimzy owner Sarah Kathryn Dossett Bridgers, who happens to be Trey Bridgers’ wife. A majestic three-piece installation serves as a visual centerpiece, adding to the elegant yet laidback atmosphere.
Rounsaville sees her crew—most of whom work for both My Michelle’s and Thacker 564—as a family, too.
“We have a great team at both places,” she said. “We thought about assembling a whole new team, but then we thought, ‘Why don’t we just build off the existing team?’ So many people at My Michelle’s have our backs, and they’re just as passionate as we are about what we do, so we decided to keep it all in the family.”
And that family keeps growing, she says, since the restaurant expanded its hours after Thanksgiving to include lunch. The new hours are 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Monday-Saturday, and 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. on Sundays.
And they’re having a good time while they’re at it. Hang out with Rounsaville and Bridgers in the restaurant’s slower hours, and you’ll hear them cracking jokes, teasing each other and laughing a lot. And that’s no small thing for business partners in such a demanding line of work. “It’s been hard, but I don’t regret a second of it,” Rounsaville said.
“It’s fun to focus on a different aspect of food. It’s fun to return to the restaurant and bar scene after being out of it for about eight years. And it’s fun to do something different from feeding 500 people at a time.”
All in all, opening her second restaurant—and the rave reviews that have accompanied it—has been an emotional experience for Rounsaville.
“The response has been overwhelmingly awesome—the flowers, the texts, the emails, the Facebook reviews,” she said. “We’ve gotten amazing community support. I’ve cried a bunch of happy, appreciative tears lately. Exhausted tears, too, but happy tears for sure.”