Well, Jay Reed, local foodie and author of the Eats One Ate food blog, has had no shortage of delicious meal options during our 5th annual Starkville Restaurant Week. Earlier in the week, he visited City Bagel Cafe to offer a review of Italian nights, and launch our new video series, Mississippi’s Culinary Town, with local kid chef, Mark Coblentz. This week’s SRW Restaurant Reviews are sponsored by Mitchell Distributing, and we hope our video episodes will give you the chance to meet local chefs and food crafters, visit some of our favorite restaurants and culinary events, and listen in on the conversations where foodies become friends.
In our second segment of Mississippi’s Culinary Town, the guys visited Central Station Grill, one of the long-standing pillars of Starkville’s restaurant scene. Watch as they sample some old favorites, new items with a New South zing, and see if Mark can stump Jay on desserts! Take a look at the next stop on our tour of Mississippi’s Culinary Town, and scroll down to read Jay’s review of their experience…
OLD FAVORITES & NEW SOUTHERN SPECIALTIES AT CENTRAL STATION GRILL
It’s not often when dining out that I am served a true four course meal. Every now and then I’ll share an appetizer, nibble on a salad, dive into an entree with sides, and share a dessert – I guess you could call that four courses. But on a trip to South Africa as a young teen, I was not only introduced to the idea of a meal served in courses, I also learned about the fish course.
I’m from Mississippi. For me, the fish course is the entree, the main event, the fish de resistance – and it’s often served fried with hush puppies on the side. So you can imagine what I must have been thinking as I sat in the formal dining room of a hotel in Durban, South Africa, after receiving a plate of fish I assumed was my main meal – then watching as another plateful of food come my way. All of a sudden I was uptown.
Fast forward to 2017. When Mark Coblentz and I went to Central Station Grill to get ready for Starkville Restaurant Week, it was a little like going back to Durban – minus the beach across the street. We began with a traditional appetizer, moved on to a fish course that really was an entree, devoured a steak, and finished with a dessert. (Okay, it was six desserts. But they were little.)
We began with one of the Grill’s tried and true appetizers, the Panko-Crusted Fried Cheese. This item has been on the menu since the beginning, when the Grill was in its original location in the Cotton District. But lots of restaurants serve fried cheese – what makes this one such a stalwart?
After putting away a split order of mozzarella and pepper jack (with Mark’s help, of course), I can testify that in the world of fried cheese, these are stellar. I recommend a dip in the marinara to give the mozzarella sticks a contrasting zip to the luxuriousness of the cheese; a dunk in a little ranch dressing gives a cool touch to the mildly spicy pepper jack.
I was especially impressed by the fact that these are made in house. The cheese comes in big blocks, is hand cut in the kitchen, dipped in a buttermilk mixture and finished with a roll in panko crumbs before hitting the fryer. Now that you know they are house made, try to wrap your mind around this fact: they use more than a ton of cheese per year making this dish. One ton. Two thousand pounds. Of cheese. People seem to like the Panko-Crusted Fried Cheese. It’s a keeper for sure.
The Baja Fish Tacos are a little bit newer to the menu. Around the time the fish taco craze was working its way inland, Central Station Grill was also moving from the Cotton District over to the historic Borden building, and they were added to the new menu soon afterwards. I have a few dishes that tend to outrank all others when I am menu-gazing, and fish tacos are a part of that select group. Fried, seared, or grilled – I’ll try them all. So when we were told we’d be tasting tilapia tacos, I was on board.
The Grill’s version starts with a pan-seared tilapia topped with a house-made pico de gallo, drizzled with a chipotle dressing, and nestled in a flour tortilla. The pico makes a real difference, bringing that Baja, California freshness to the plate. On the side are chips and queso, another cheese specialty made from scratch. Though I will concede that the folks at the Grill might not consider the fish tacos to be a true separate fish course, I bet they wouldn’t mind if you did.
The next course they brought is one of the newer items on the menu, the Honey Bourbon and Bacon Sirloin. This is a six ounce slice of sirloin, served on a crostini spread with Boursin cheese, and topped with a house made bourbon bacon jam. Flavors and textures were aplenty here. Mark and I both noticed that the crostini stayed crispy throughout, despite all that was happening on top of it – another magic trick of Chef Leon Jefferson, no doubt. The cheese brought the rich and creamy, the steak delivered the savory umami, and the bacon jam – well, let’s just say that I wish bacon jam came on more things in life.
When it came to dessert, I was at a disadvantage. Mark huddled with the kitchen staff and got all the inside knowledge on the dessert shooters we were about to be served. I was challenged to observe and taste each one, then try to guess the flavors. School would have been much more fun if I’d had more tests like this.
I really like the idea of a dessert shooter. I’m not going to deny that when pressed, I can put away a giant piece of the Grill’s Snickers Bar Pie with little to no assistance. There is a time for such indulgences. But if I’m using my noggin and exercising good sense, my sweet tooth can be satisfied with a few bites of dessert, and the Shooters are just the right size for that.
For our flight of shooters, Mark gave me a score of 5.5 out of 6. Not too bad for someone who’s never cooked competitively on television, don’t you think? The Key Lime was pretty easy – it had a green layer and a tiny slice of lime on top. He tried to tell me it was cherry pie, but I wasn’t fooled. The brownie was pretty easy – it had an unmistakable stripe of brownie. The apple pie was the only one with apples and crust; that was a no brainer. The Snickers was like the pie, but in a glass – and smaller. Much smaller. I knew one was a berry cheesecake, though I had trouble pinpointing the exact berry – but I got full credit for that one. My downfall (i.e., my half-point deduction) was with the double chocolate. Apparently I missed the “double” part, despite the chocolate syrup in the middle and the chocolate chip on top. But I’m proud of my score.
Whether you are a traditionalist or a foodie looking for cutting edge Southern cuisine, you’ll find it at the Central Station Grill, and they are making it fresh.
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. We are honored to have Jay contribute our yearly Starkville Restaurant Week restaurant reviews. (photo courtesy of Bill Dabney Photography)
Mark Coblentz is a 14-year-old chef from Starkville, Miss. He was in the Top 10 of this season’s MasterChef Junior series on FOX, and was a finalist on Chopped Junior on the Food Network. He is an 8th grader at Armstrong Middle School where he plays center on the football team.
Thank you to Mitchell Distributing for being the title sponsor of our SRW Featured Restaurant Reviews. The restaurants reviewed provided additional sponsorship. All views and opinions are those of the reviewer, Jay Reed.