By Elizabeth Tettleton Mason
What do loaded teas, Irish setters, Saturday brunch, and Conecuh hot dogs all have in common? Three guys and a dream to bring fine-dining quality food to a not-so-typical casual bar setting.
Quack’s, situated on the Oxford Square, is just steps away from the local comfort-food staple, Ajax, and the historic Lafayette County Courthouse.
Joe Bittick, Luke McKey, and Will Pipes are leading the way to a new type of bar on the square – one where they want you to have a ‘secret handshake to-get-in’ feeling, and ‘where everybody knows your name’ vibe. They’re settling into their freshly renovated space that once was home to Irie, Rowdy Rebs, and Billups, but carefully making choices that are already paying off.
You might write off ‘the new bar’ too quickly, until you walk up to get your first drink. Months leading up to the opening of Quack’s, Will Pipes started buzz around the square with an engaging promotional idea: signage for Quack’s with their logo and a QR code soliciting photo submissions of people with their dogs. Covering every inch of the bar are photos of locals, college students, and tourists with their beloved furry friends.
Luke pointed out Joe’s dogs, and then his dogs – Including a photo of his Irish Setter and her brood of puppies. “We plan to have the other counter surfaces covered in more photos too,” said McKey. “It’s an idea we had that also makes us different.”
He’s right – I have never found myself staring at a bar top more than that night, and the irony of being served dogs on top of dogs wasn’t lost on me. Hot Dogs are the mainstay of the Quack’s menu, but these aren’t your ordinary wieners.
“Making a hot dog is easy,” said Joe Bittick, head chef and co-owner of Quack’s. “But we want this to be different,” he said. “We’re applying high quality products with fine dining standards to redefine the ‘bar’ and ‘hot dog’ experience.”
Locals of Oxford may recognize Joe from his years at McEwen’s. Bittick has been in the restaurant industry in Oxford long enough to know what the people want: a good time and good food.
Luke brings to the table the bar business know-how and Joe brings the passion of creating delicious eats, and Will brings an eye for selling the brand.
Few places in Oxford have brunch on Sunday AND Saturday, as well as late night fare that meets the crowd closing down the bar at night and the industry workers hungry and exhausted after a long shift. After hours, you can find Joe and his team prepping the late-night menu at the back door of Quack’s that opens up into the alley next to Funky’s.
“I really wanted a way to also do something for them, the industry folks,” said Bittick. “There are few places besides McDonald’s, Chicken on a Stick at the Chevron, or Cook-Out where you can eat after the bars close.”
The late-night menu hosts the best-selling dogs from the day menu, plus pork rinds and chili cheese fries.
The day menu is robust with unique toppings, and nods to classics like a Chicago dog Featuring crawfish tails, etouffee sauce and Conecuh sausage, I knew that the Coast Trash was going to be the dog for me (and I’m not a hotdog person).
Before I could even order, Joe showed up with a paper boat of piping hot bread pudding, drizzled with chocolate and caramel sauce – “here Liz, try it while it’s hot! I’ll be right back,” and Joe ran off again. If you’ve never met Joe, his brain and his feet run at full speed. He’s one of those kitchen guys that is just as exuberant when he’s exhausted after a double as when he first walks into work.
He brought us other delicious things to try on top of what we ordered – one of which was his “chicken filet sauce” – which tastes nearly identical to the ‘holy’ grail of sauces with a similar name. He shared with our table of four his process for creating his chicken patties on the chicken sandwich (I was told one of the secret ingredients off-the-record) – one of two non-beef or pork options (the other being the Vegan-friendly LightLife Plant Based dog). If you want to meet someone excited about experimenting in the kitchen, Joe Bittick at Quack’s is one to meet — but it’s not just the kitchen where the team at Quack’s are experimenting.
“We are testing out new things all the time,” said Luke McKey. “In any business you have to know when and how to pivot, and we are still learning what that means for us.”
One way they are breaking the mold is with their loaded tea-cocktails. Partnering with JXN Avenue Nutrition near PakMail and FireHouse Subs off Jackson Avenue, the Quack’s bartenders are mixing the loaded-tea craze with Jackson, Miss. distilled Cathead Vodka. Currently, you’ll find Frog Spit (with Cathead Honeysuckle Vodka) and Bunny Hopper (with Cathead Raspberry Vodka).
Partnering with the community is what they want to do more of, while bringing people together to have a good time and enjoy great food.
“We want to be a fixture in the Oxford community,” said Will Pipes. “Like our relationship with JXN Avenue Nutrition and their loaded teas, to finding ways to partner with nonprofits, we want our social impact in Oxford to grow,” he said. “We hope you’ll see us at Double Decker, campus, or supporting great programs like The Grove Collective very soon.”