As part of our celebration of Starkville’s vibrant culinary scene during Restaurant Week, the Starkville Convention and Visitors Bureau is very excited to welcome Jay Reed to our website for a series of guest posts. Jay pens the popular “Eats One Ate” Starkville Daily News column, as well as a blog of the same name. Beginning tomorrow and running through Sunday, we’ll be posting reviews from the spots where Jay is eating during Starkville Restaurant Week as he gives us the highlights of his conversations with the chefs, his thoughts on the menu offerings and atmosphere, and of course, his take on the culinary delights. We caught up with Jay last week to learn more about how this Starkville son developed his interest in local food, and to give our readers the low-down on the “One” behind “Eats One Ate!”
Jay Reed spent most of his growing up years in Starkville, and after graduating from Starkville High School, began a journey that would lead him through education in that shall-remain-nameless “school up north,” travels around the world, and right back to his hometown. Through nearly ten years of living overseas, Jay began the practice of traveling journaling, which is where he says some of his love of writing about food began.
“It was largely because of our travels that I discovered my fascination with food,” Jay recalls. “I kept a travel journal, and one day I noticed that I was writing more about what I had eaten than what I had seen or done. The next step was the realization that I was planning trips around the places I wanted to eat – sightseeing was optional if we had time between meals.”
In the spirit of travel food writers like Calvin Trillin, columnist for The New Yorker, Jay began seeking out specific local food experiences in his travels, visiting outdoor markets and glimpses into how real people spread their tables. With a few more years of culinary adventures under his belt, and a greater knowledge of how his own local culinary culture in Starkville has evolved, Jay now says he wishes he had delved even deeper into the foods and food stories of the places he visited.
“I look back and think, ‘I should have tried that after all,’ he says. “And I would have spent more time asking questions of the neighborhood bread baker and the people who cooked the goat.”
When Jay and his family returned to live in Starkville, he brought this growing inquisitiveness about food and culinary experiences to his hometown at a time when the community was experiencing a revitalization of its culinary scene and a renewed interest in locally grown and crafted food choices. The “Eats One Ate” weekly newspaper column launched as an expression of those interests and a continuation of how he had approached food experiences in his travels. As the column gained a following, Jay also began to grow his involvement in the culinary culture, serving as a judge for a number of local and regional food and cooking competitions, as well as serving on the Starkville Community Market board. He launched his companion “Eats One Ate” blog in 2013 to expose his culinary ruminations to a wider audience.
Through his work with the Starkville Community Market, Jay says he has seen the advantages for a community to know where its food originates, and to build relationships with local food producers. The realities of living in a society where most of the foods we buy are mass-produced mean that we often don’t know where our food comes from. We don’t know what chemicals were used to grow it or preserve it. We don’t know how long its been off the vine or how long it has traveled to get from the farm to our grocery store. Plus, we don’t know what poor labor conditions may be fostered for those who work to get it to us.
“On the other hand,” says Jay, “if I get some tomatoes and a basil plant from Lancaster Farms for a Caprese salad on Saturday, I know it was probably picked on Friday, if not that morning. And if I was so inclined, I could take a bite out of the tomato, add a basil leaf I picked off the plant, and not worry about what else I might be ingesting. To take that a step further, if I know that a local restaurant is buying those same products, I am more inclined to order the salad.”
Jay says that this focus on being close to our growers and food producers harkens back to some of his earliest food memories when he would fish with his grandfather, and then immediately prepare and eat what was harvested. Those values of sharing the produce of family and community gardens, of not being wasteful with food, and of knowing when and how our foods are grown are becoming more and more important as we seek to foster healthier lifestyles and build a community that values authentic food.
The growth of the Starkville Community Market and the growing vibrance of the Starkville restaurant scene go hand in hand as we’ve seen more and more of our culinary businesses thrive with a focus on locally grown and sourced ingredients. Having lived away from Starkville for a number of years, Jay says the change is evident.
“I remember a time when downtown Starkville would lock up tight around 5:30 or 6:00 in the evening. Now it is often hard to find a parking place at night, and I love that because it means the restaurants are there and they are thriving. I remember Michael’s Restaurant being the only fine dining we had for several years, and now we have multiple places with celebrated chefs. I don’t think a culinary competition would have flown back in the 1980’s, but now we see several different ones every year,” Jay comments. “Starkville has come a long way.”
As we embark on the annual Starkville Restaurant Week, the event’s popularity over the last four years is further evidence of the community’s love of authentic food and commitment to a growing culinary scene. The week debuted as the largest restaurant week event in the state based on the number of charity ballots cast in the first year, and it has sustained a loyal following since. The 2016 edition includes 29 restaurant favorites, many of which are locally owned establishments boasting chefs of regional and national renown. As we prepare to see Jay’s reviews of some of the favorites, we asked him to take a look at the list of the 2016 participating restaurants and give us a list of ten menu items “Eats One Ate” loves! This list should give you a good start for Starkville Restaurant Week, and stay tuned for the upcoming SRW Feature Restaurant Reviews!
TEN ITEMS “EATS ONE ATE” LOVES:
- Chick-fil-A: There is only one fast food restaurant that I will willingly visit when out of town, and it’s Chick-fil-A. The original sandwich never gets old.
- Dave’s Dark Horse Tavern: Street gyro at the Cotton District Arts Festival.
- Central Station Grill: Low Country Shrimp and Grits. I am a shrimp and grits snob, and they do it well.
- Harvey’s: Black-Eyed Pea Hummus. I am a little greedy when sharing this.
- The Camphouse: Barbecue Shrimp appetizer. Deliciously messy.
- Oby’s: Around the World Sub. No matter what I try there, I always come back to this sandwich.
- Stromboli’s: The Brooklyn Stromboli. It has become a comfort food.
- Two Brothers Smoked Meats: Deep Fried Pecan Pie crusted with Brown Sugar and Crushed Pork Rinds. Enough said.
- Little Dooey: Shocker Plate with pulled pork, corn salad and greens.
- Shipley’s: Hot glazed donut right off the line.
Starkville native, Jay Reed, is pharmacist by day and inquisitive eater by
night any time. He writes regularly for Starkville Daily News and Eat. Drink. Mississippi., and publishes a blog entitled Eats One Ate.
Thank you to Mitchell Distributing for being the title sponsor of our SRW Featured Restaurant Reviews. The restaurants reviewed in the series provided additional sponsorship. All views and opinions are those of the reviewer, Jay Reed.