By GWEN SISSON
It is creativity and a passion for flavor that has made The Veranda a local favorite.
Starkville Daily News readers have responded by naming The Veranda the Best Blue Plate Special and Best Desserts in a recent readership poll.
â€śWe are honored to win Best Desserts by SDN readers,â€ť said Owner and Head Chef Jay Yates. â€ś Tammy Jones makes many of our desserts, and I have personally challenged myself to learn how to make desserts the last couple of years.â€ť
Yates said the perfect example of creativity and passion for flavor is in the chocolate covered key lime pie, featuring a graham cracker crust, real key lime juice in the custard and a thin layer of Belgian chocolate on top.
â€śWhen we first made it, everyone was dubious,â€ť Yates said. â€śIt sounds counter intuitive, but once you try it, you taste the reason it was added as a regular menu item.â€ť
Yates said Tammy Jonesâ€™ desserts are just amazing. Some of his personal favorites are her legendary carrot cake, peanut butter balls, chocolate marble cheesecake and the Granny Smith apple cream cheese tart .
As for winning best home cooking, Yates said The Verandaâ€™s blue plate special has been the heart and soul of their lunch business since opening 8 1/2 years ago.
â€śThis is the type of food I grew up on,â€ť Yates said. â€śFried chicken with creamy pepper gravy, pork chops, chicken and dumplins, fried okra and green tomatoes, Vardaman sweet potatoes, cornbread made in cast iron skillets, biscuits and gravy, fried catfish and hush puppies on Friday, and on and on.â€ť
The total price for the blue plate special is $8 for one meat, three sides, cornbread, tea and tax.
â€śConsidering how much other great soul food is getting served in Starkville, it is a high honor to be chosen the best,â€ť Yates said.
At dinner, The Veranda is known for their steaks and seafood. They use Stockyard Angus brand beef, and they cut all steaks by hand.
Yates said these steaks are from the top eight percent of all graded beef in the USA.
â€śI have cut, cooked, and eaten just about every purveyor of beef available, and these steaks are by far consistently the best Iâ€™ve ever experienced,â€ť Yates said. â€śWhen we serve the bone-in cowboy ribeye on some of our busier weekends, our guests go crazy for the flavor.â€ť
Yates said The Veranda uses Inland Seafood, a national company that has sources for fresh fish all over the continental United State as well as Hawaii and Alaska.
â€śWe literally know whatâ€™s being caught when and order accordingly to ensure the freshest possible product,â€ť Yates said. â€śOdds are if youâ€™re eating any of our special seafood, it was swimming the day before. Of course, we source only Mississippi farm raised catfish, as well as other Gulf seafood.â€ť
Yates credits his mom and his grandmother as major influences on his culinary tastes. He said he grew up hunting, fishing, and the family always had a garden in the backyard.
â€śWe had a sit down meal two to three times a day, and always prepared from scratch,â€ť Yates said. â€śGrowing up in that environment, you canâ€™t help but pick up that skill set.â€ť
Professionally, Yates said the various chefs he worked with in South Louisiana and South Florida started him on his way technique-wise and inÂ high volume production of high end food.
Once Yates moved to North Mississippi, he said he was lucky enough to work with the EatWithUs group in the Starkville Harveyâ€™s location. He helped develop menus which provided a good does of on the job training.
Today The Veranda continues to evolve according to the tastes of guests, as well as immersion in the growing restaurant culture here in Starkville and throughout the nation.
â€śThis is the most exciting time ever in terms of being able to express yourself creatively,â€ť Yates said.
At home, Amy Yates says her husband, Jay, is the â€śking of the one pot dishesâ€ť which she loves because it means less cleanup. She said he makes really great casseroles.
Recently, Jay made tuna casserole and added bacon and sugar snaps and Amy said it was so good. Typically, Amy said the working couple eats pretty simple stuff at home.
â€śHe makes the best hot ham and cheese,â€ť Amy Yates said. â€śOne thing he has taught me, just because it is a simple dish, doesnâ€™t mean it should lack flavor. Salt and fresh cracked pepper on a sandwich can make a huge difference, and we probably have seven different mustards in our fridge, but itâ€™s nice to add different flavors.â€ť
For a healthier meal, Amy said they will have broiled fish and green vegetables. Amy loves Brussels sprouts and Jay will add honey and walnuts to give them extra flavor.
â€śAnother talent of Jayâ€™s is being able to go through the pantry and pick out stuff that I would never even think of putting together,â€ť Amy Yates said. â€śHe is able to take just a few ingredients and make the most delicious meal out of it.â€ť
Amy Yates said is a great thing to do the day before going to the grocery store, because it cleans out the cupboard and provides gives a better idea of whatâ€™s on hand.
â€śIf Iâ€™m cooking at home, Iâ€™ll usually go to a one pot dish, like gumbo, red beans and rice, spaghetti, Arroz con pollo, etc.,â€ť Yates said. â€śUnless weâ€™re entertaining, in which case weâ€™ll get creative and do a lot of tapas, dips, high end cheeses, olives, etc., I love turning leftovers into new dishes. I believe thatâ€™s why soups and quiche were invented.â€ť