This past Saturday I didn’t count. This is not a self-esteem issue; there is no therapy involved. I guess I need a direct object to be clear: this past Saturday I didn’t count calories, carbs, or points. There were simply too many good things to eat at the Taste of Starkville event at the Cotton District Arts Festival.
As the streets were just beginning to come alive, I happened upon the ladies of the Magnolia Honey Company. All their products, including a variety of jellies, Juliet’s Jezebel Sauce, Chocolate Lace Fudge Sauce, even pickles, are sweetened entirely with honey. In the morning I tried a few on a tasting spoon and a cracker — later in the day I drizzled a few other flavors over my homemade ice cream. Sweet stuff.
If gyros were your thing, there were lots of good choices. Zorba’s had a chicken teriyaki version and a traditional lamb with fresh lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and z-sauce. Dave’s Dark Horse Tavern featured their lamb gyro dressed with grilled peppers and onions and crumbled feta. Three very unique wraps, but I only got to taste two of them — I’ll have to try harder next year.
Wraps are very portable foods, great for festival browsing without making a giant mess. Bulldog Deli had a very unique hummus wrap, made special just for the Taste of Starkville, which had hummus, olive salad, mixed greens, and tomato. It was a great blend of flavors, and it provided a total veggie option. The Sweet Peppers Deli club wrap was packed with thin-shaved ham and turkey, cheddar cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomato and honey mustard. Both were such cool, refreshing bites, I almost wished it was hot outside.
Another way to manage shopping and eating on the street is to carry your food on a stick, and there were plenty of opportunities to do just that. Chef Carnell McGee of Harvey’s Restaurant worked his magic on three kinds of kabobs this year — beef, chicken and pork. All were seasoned with the famous sauce that has made the Harvey’s Marinated Steak a legendary dish, which I’m sure I ate on a prom date many moons ago. Having it again, and on a stick no less, made me want to party like it was 1999.
Just down the street a bit was the Central Station Grill booth, which had a couple of other stick options. Seafood lovers drifted towards the grilled shrimp skewers, while those partial to true carnival-style food had their corn dogs. The corn dogs were offered with plain yellow mustard for the absolute traditionalists, but for those — like me — who are always looking for a different twist on the norm, a plum mustard was available. You’ll have to forgive me but I’ve got to say: it was plum yummy.
The other local favorite offering stick-based cuisine was The Veranda. Chef Jay Yates and his staff featured grilled Conecuh Sausage brushed with homemade barbecue sauce and served on a stick. The Evergreen, Alabama-made sausage was also a big part of his chicken and sausage jambalaya. I think I even spotted a little of the barbecue sauce drizzled on someone’s tray of jambalaya (which I thought was a wonderful idea.) But the sauce did not stop there; it also graced the fall-off-the bone St. Louis-style ribs, which Taste of Starkville Judges chose as Best Festival Dish.
Morris’s Barbecue was also on hand with their own signature sauce. Along with their famous rib tips, I had a bite of pulled pork that was amazingly tender. They also sold bags of fried pork skin — the real deal, not for the faint of heart.
Alongside all the eating, shopping and fellowshipping, I also got a little educating. When I made my way down to the Crawfish Hole’s booth, I had to ‘fess up and admit that I wasn’t sure how to get to the good stuff inside that bright red shell. I’ve had crawfish tails fixed a half-dozen different ways in recent years, but the only required skills on my part were to lift my fork and open my mouth. I probably haven’t had them boiled since college days and that was at least three or four or twenty years ago. The Crawfish Hole crew was patient with me as they guided me through the process, and didn’t shame me when I opted out of sucking the head. Maybe I’ll try that next time, and there will definitely be a next time.
I’m always looking for the next unique deep-fried delicacy, and Frankie’s Spud Wagon took care of me with his Spud Puffs — balls of mashed potato, rolled in Italian bread crumbs and a touch of Parmesan Cheese, topped with all kinds of fun sauces. I tried them covered in brown gravy, my son got his with chili, and I heard another customer raving about the pulled pork on top of his.
We also tried The Frankie, a giant baked potato topped with pulled pork and slaw, and The Big Sexy, smothered in roast beef, onions, carrots and gravy. Be sure to look for the Spud Wagon at various locations around town in the next month or so.
With all those savory options, dessert was definitely needed by this point. Despite the fact that I was wearing a jacket and caught myself shivering once or twice, I still had to have my ice cream. And my custard. I veered from my usual selection at Bops and got the Amazin’ Grace concrete, with raspberry flavor and pieces of cheesecake, which I enjoyed as I watched the Poetry Slam. After emptying that cup, I moseyed on down the street to listen to Charlie Worsham sing, and picked up some of Jonathan Miller’s homemade ice cream produced on the premises with his fascinating John Deere contraption.
Kudos to all the culinary artisans who stuck out the cold and wind to feed the masses. Another memorable day is in the books and in the belly.
Jay Reed is a local foodie and pharmacist. The culinary tastes expressed here are his and do not necessarily reflect the appetites of the Starkville Daily News or individual members of its staff. He welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org .