When he was the star quarterback at Ole Miss, Eli Manning went to his favorite restaurant in Oxford with his family every Friday afternoon before games. Now that he's a two-time Super Bowl MVP, "Easy" Eli still finds time to visit Ajax Diner, the down-home soul food restaurant with the Christmas tree lights on Courthouse Square.
"He just gave his baby her first butter beans here a few weeks ago," says owner Randy Yates, who opened the place 16 years ago.
"I'm a big lunch guy," Manning told 'Men's Journal' at a recent Samsung Smart TV launch event in New York City. "You go in there and you get everything from meatloaf to pork chops to country fried steak, and tons of vegetables – you know, butter beans or green beans or fried okra."
In fact, Manning has a sandwich named after him on the menu: country fried steak served on a bun and layered with mashed potatoes and gravy. It's called the Big Easy, which is, of course, also the nickname for New Orleans, where Eli was born (while his father, Archie, another Ole Miss alum, was quarterbacking the Saints). But Eli doesn't eat the steak at Ajax anymore.
"Orders the same thing every time," says Yates with a laugh. "House salad, no tomatoes, pork chop, mashed potatoes, gravy and butter beans." It's a big deal when the superstar shows up in the diner, says the restaurateur, but then it was a big deal when he was in college, too.
"Eli was probably the most famous 18-year-old in the country," says Yates. "He'd make the 'New York Times' for peeing out in public." [Ajax Diner, 118 Courthouse Square, Oxford, MS; 662-232-8880; ajaxdiner.net].