The Quick Bite:
The Restaurant: The Veranda
The Chef-Owner: Jay Yates
Appetizer — Stuffed Fried Green Tomato
Entrees — Striped Bass with Shiitake Risotto and Marinated Avocado
Shepherd’s Pie with Garlic Toast
Dessert — Chocolate Eclair Parfait
What a great night to sit on the veranda. The sun was setting, the air had a touch of crispness to it, and it was the end of a long Monday. We were hungry, too, but we had only ourselves to blame for that. The Wife and I had both saved our appetites for dinner; we knew something special was coming. Because it wasn’t just any veranda we were enjoying – it was the veranda at The Veranda.
This was not our first visit, of course. We have taken friends there, we have taken family there, we have had working lunches there, and we have celebrated birthdays there. In fact, because The Veranda is not terribly far from our neighborhood, and because the daily specials are posted on their road sign, I have been known on occasion to stop and order takeout just because I inexplicably developed a craving for shrimp and grits or a strawberry cronut.
The Veranda caters to people like me. I am the “specials guy”. I order from the menu when necessary, but I’m more likely to take a shot at whatever the chef has dreamed up that day. Maybe it’s that creative spirit inside me that connects with the artistry of the chef. But Chef-Owner Jay Yates told us that they also love to feed people like The Wife, who is perfectly happy to order the same dish every time she returns. The staff actually like that some of their customers have a favorite dish. For that group it’s about giving them an experience where they say, “That was even better than before.”
There are more stories to be told, but let’s allow the food to tell some of them.
Last night’s meal was my style: it was all about the specials. It is Restaurant Week, after all, a tradition that Chef Jay, Executive Chef Andrew Matthews and the Veranda staff get excited about. We started off with a relatively new item, soon to be added to the menu: Stuffed Fried Green Tomato. Traditional fried green tomato slices with a remoulade sauce for dipping have been on the menu a long time. And they are good: I order them almost every time I’m there for lunch. This new twist, however, elevates the Southern classic to something elegant. In truth, it is more stacked than stuffed: a thick slice of fried green tomato is the base, topped with a smear of cream cheese laden with onion, bell pepper, garlic, shrimp and crawfish. Lump crab meat goes on next, followed by another slice of fried green tomato. All that is topped with a sauce thick with asparagus, green peas, red onion and bacon – oh, and more shrimp and crawfish tails hither and yon. It was beautiful. So we took a picture and commenced to demolish it.
For our entrees we chose one off the Restaurant Week menu, and one from the nightly specials. The Restaurant Week specials are Spaghetti and Meatballs and Shepherd’s Pie. Simple, right? Well, not so fast. Both start with ground beef, but it’s not what you might expect. At The Veranda, they cut their own Stockyard Angus steaks, and in that process there are bits and pieces of high quality beef left on the cutting board. This week those cuts are finding their way into the meatballs and the base layer of the shepherd’s pie.
If my father had been with us, he would have ordered the spaghetti and meatballs – it’s his go-to meal. For sentimental reasons, however, I opted for the shepherd’s pie. There are not too many school lunches I wax nostalgic about, but I did look forward to shepherd’s pie day. Let me be clear: the Veranda’s interpretation resembled Sudduth Elementary’s in basic structure only! The foundation was the aforementioned ground steak, mixed with peas, carrots, and a demi glace flavored with port, onions and garlic. Mashed Yukon Gold potatoes served as the top layer, sprinkled lightly with herbs. (Sudduth definitely did not sprinkle ours with herbs.) If this is what shepherds eat, maybe it’s not such a rough profession after all.
I don’t think I’d be going out on a limb to say that our second entree may have been one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten at the Veranda. It was inspired by a recent fishing trip to Smith Lake where Chef Jay caught a 32 pound striped bass. This was no fish story, I saw the video. The centerpiece of the plate was a filet of wild caught saltwater striped bass, seared and topped with a citrus butter. No fancy enhancement was needed for the fish itself; but we were equally thrilled with the sides. The bass sat atop a shiitake mushroom risotto. Risottos can be tricky to make – proper ones require some degree of skill. The Wife and I both took a bite and “wows” flowed from our buttery mouths. Equal exclamations emerged when we tried the marinated avocado slices tossed with grape tomatoes, red onion, and a sun-dried tomato vinaigrette. The acidity of the red wine vinegar and tomatoes was ideally juxtaposed with the creaminess of the avocado. We were completely taken.
To close, we shared a Chocolate Eclair Parfait, a creation of Tammy Jones (Yates’ business partner and part-time dessert maker), who also personally rolls all the Peanut Butter Balls on their dessert menu. The parfait was a luxurious layered dessert with a graham cracker crust, custard, and bittersweet Belgian chocolate ganache. Somehow, the flavor lingered for longer than I expected, and made my mouth very happy.
But you certainly don’t have to ask me. Query all the culinarily savvy Starkvillians and visitors that The Veranda has taken care of for thirteen years. Consider the 45,000 skillets of cornbread that have left the kitchen. Or the million plus fried cheese logs. Remember all the “Best of Starkville” awards and the perennial wins in the Taste of Starkville at the Cotton District Arts Festival. That’s not all, but it’s enough to say: check out The Veranda, for the first time or the fiftieth.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
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.