By Michaela Morris
Grit is a restaurant of tasty contradictions.
The Taylor establishment offers fine dining without the white table cloths in the Lafayette County countryside.
Southern staples are presented with fresh twists, like black-eye pea falafel and pimento mac and cheese.
The menu combines both the familiar and the adventurous. The spring dinner menu includes both beef brisket and grilled octopus.
The happy marriage of intriguing flavors and relaxed mood is the brain child of husband and wife Nick Reppond and Angie Sicurezza. The couple and their team will celebrate the first anniversary of Grit in June. The goal was to offer the fine dining experience without being too stuffy or inaccessible.
“We wanted to be able to provide very fine food in a casual, relaxed atmosphere,” Reppond said. “We wanted to push ourselves.”
The restaurant’s wide windows overlook the grassy square in Taylor’s Plein Air development. The local vibe carries through the entire restaurant. The tables and bar shelves were created by local craftsmen. Local artists are featured in rotating exhibits on the walls of the restaurant.
“We love being in Taylor,” said Sicurezza. “We love how the community has welcomed us. We have a really good local, loyal clientele.”
Onsite smokers provide the brisket, chicken, pork shoulder and smoke tomato gravy. They even smoke foie gras to create a special vinaigrette that dresses the brussels sprouts on the spring menu.
The evolving menu tracks the seasons and reflects the bounty of the region.
“We follow what’s available locally the best we can,” Reppond said. “We’re not going to serve watermelon in the winter.”
In its first year, the menu changed five times as the seasons and harvests turned.
“We’ve developed a lot of relationships,” with farmers around the region, Sicurezza said.
The beef comes from Tennessee, the pork from Como. The herbs and mushrooms on the menu often come from a Water Valley farmer who grows them in his yard and sells at the Oxford Farmers Market.
The summer menu will bring back the tomato pie that was a hit on Grit’s first menu. The recipe comes from Reppond’s grandmother, who inspired his love of cooking. He added his own twist by topping it with argula salad with corn and crab meat.
“People drove for that pie,” Sicurezza said.
Grit’s signature cocktails follow the season, too. The bourbon-based Dason-Mixin drink has featured special syrups made from peaches, pears, cranberries, blackberries and now muscadines.
“I think we will get back to peaches,” Sicurezza said.
The ever-changing menu is a collaboration that pulls on the talents of the kitchen staff, Reppond said. They knock around ideas for the next menu as they cook, blending the expertise developed in different kitchens to produce different flavors.
“It’s not just me,” Reppond said.
Reppond and Sicurezza both have deep roots in the restaurant business.
Reppond, who learned to cook from his mother and grandmother in Memphis, started washing dishes at The Right Place, a Memphis diner, at 15. One day, one of the cooks didn’t show.
“They asked me how I felt about cooking,” Reppond said, and they put him to work cooking eggs.
Sicurezza also had her first restaurant job as a teen growing up in Connecticut. Her affinity for logistics and planning took her to Vancouver, British Columbia, Grand Cayman and Southern California.
Growing up, Sicurezza aspired to live in California, drawn by the laid-back lifestyle she saw in TV shows and films.
“California was nothing like that dream,” Sicurezza said. “The quality of life I was looking for, I really did find here.”
The professional and personal crossroads for Reppond and Sicurezza ran through City Grocery Restaurant Group. Reppond came to Oxford in November 2008 and worked his way through the kitchens at City Grocery, Snack Bar, Big Bad Breakfast and Lamar Lounge.
Sicurezza joined the team in 2009 as a special events coordinator and then director of operations for the City Grocery Restaurant Group. They became a couple in 2010 and married in 2014.
As much as they loved working with John Currence, the pair decided it was time to step out on their own. In 2015, they moved to Taylor and bought a catering company, laying the groundwork for the the restaurant.
Taylor has long had a reputation for music, food and culture, served up with a relaxed Southern style, Reppond said. It’s been the perfect place for them personally and professionally.
Reppond and Sicurezza initially envisioned a cafe or barbecue joint to complement the catering business.
“When we got into this space, it just evolved,” Sicurezza said.
“It had a life of its own,” Reppond added.
The couple has developed a good balance. Sicurezza handles the logistics, planning and organizing schedules and equipment. Reppond handles the creative and the culinary, happily leaving emails and spreadsheets to his wife.
“There’s no one else I would want to do this with,” Reppond said.