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It was a Sunday afternoon, and I’d spent the last five hours studying and scrolling through Instagram. Both my pantry and energy levels were nearing empty, so I suspected it would be a takeout night. This suspicion was confirmed when a video of steaming pappardelle bolognese appeared on my Instagram feed. I had been following Tarasque Cucina for months, and it was time to place my first order.

About 15 minutes later, I found myself walking into a room with massive windows, beautiful brick walls, and handmade wooden tables. I looked down at my old jeans and Flight of the Conchords tee. But before my nerves could even fully register, I was greeted by a friendly voice saying, “Hey, you ordered the bolo, right?” By the time I’d paid for dinner, I had chatted with Lauren about concerts, Stranger Things, wine pairing, and my knack for procrastination. I instantly forgot that I’d never been there before.

My experience was exactly what John and Lauren Stokes hoped for when they opened the doors of Tarasque Cucina in February. John, an Oxford native, has cooked professionally for over twenty years in kitchens across the country, from Mississippi to Alaska. Lauren, originally from Maine, has experience in front of house operations and catering.

Both had dreams of owning their own restaurant, and things fell into place when they partnered with Jake Sessums, owner of YoknapaTaco, the only taco truck feeding the Oxford area. They found a small, but cozy building just off Highway 6, and the space actually helped to define their venture as a pickup and delivery operation. Dedicated to quality food and service, John and Lauren decided to build the restaurant slow and steady. John says most people are surprised to see the sparsely outfitted kitchen, which consists of a six-burner stove and a small refrigeration unit.

John and Lauren realized that Old World comfort food was something missing from Oxford’s restaurant line up. “We’re in a college town, and let’s be realistic – spaghetti is delicious, but it’s what you want to eat at home,” said John.

In addition to spaghetti, the menu features rigatoni with sausage and peppers, linguine with shrimp in cream and chocolate cream puffs.

Every dish from Tarasque is designed to be delicious on the day you order it or the next day. “When we decided to do takeout, we were determined to make the absolute best food for consumption in the home, be it that night or the next day as leftovers,” John explained.

John began to tweak his recipes, experimenting with various flavors and temperatures. The charred radicchio salad — complete with spiced walnuts, balsamic glaze and Gorgonzola  — is one of the items that John says he would’ve made differently for dine-in service. “I would’ve never cooked it this way, but turns out, it’s better this way,” he laughed.

Location continues to factor into John’s creative menu planning, as he works closely with local farmers using seasonal ingredients. “Over the summer, we had someone show up with around forty pounds of eggplant and we said, okay let’s go — eggplant parmesan, baba ghanoush,” John said. Over the course of two weeks, they served eggplant in five different ways.

For Lauren, one of the most exciting things about takeout is truly getting to know the people who take their food home. When you visit Tarasque, you’ll be greeted by Lauren. In the kitchen, you’ll find John and Ryan Breeland, who joined the team in April, preparing your dinner. “Anyone who comes in can pop into the kitchen and say hello and put a face with the person who’s cooking for you,” Lauren invited.

They often get photos of clients’ children covered in fresh tomato sauce, or take requests for dine-in events when regulars have guests. “It’s so special to be in people’s homes and feed their families,” Lauren added.

If your ultimate dinner destination is your own home, Tarasque Cucina is the way to feed your friends and family, or even just yourself. They are currently open Thursday through Sunday, and those in the Oxford area can place a takeout order by calling Lauren or have Landshark Delivery bring it right to your door. To see their full menu and plan your perfect dish, check out www.tarasque.net, or follow @the_tarasque on Instagram for videos of steaming bolognese and updates on their latest specials.

Tarasque Cucina • 14 County Road 307 Oxford, MS • (662) 380-0381

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