By JAY REED
A top ten list just wouldn’t be the same without the other five, right?
Last week we covered a tempura-battered hot dog, shallots, lamb fries (not French), macarons (not roons) and a fried oyster BLT. Not a bad start to end the year. Let us now be complete.
No. 6 — September brings the full force of college football, an ever-so-slight break in the heat of summer, and the Prairie Arts Festival in West Point. This year there were many enticing food options, but most were practically identical to the ones we had seen the year before. I’m all about consistency, but when it comes to street fairs, I am even more all about finding the latest, greatest UFO‘s: Unidenti-Fried Objects. This year’s festival was saved by a vendor known as The Swine’s Behind, who offered a UFO I had only dreamed of. He called them Smoke Bombs. Applewood smoked pulled pork, rolled into a golf-ball-sized bite, battered, deep-fried and served with homemade “Swine Lotion” BBQ sauce. Despite the temptation, I will refrain from calling this nature’s perfect food. Smoke bombs. You want one. Or four.
No. 7 — Last year, I included arugula as the green entry in my year-end list. This time around, it made the cut again because I discovered teeny-tiny arugula. I’m not talking about baby arugula, either. I’m talking about microgreens. I found the first batch on a summer Saturday at the Community Market, and was happily re-united with the same vendor at a random meeting a little later in the fall. Microgreens are tiny versions of the larger plants (through some process of cutting about which I am not fully enlightened), usually less than two inches tall, but packed with little bursts of flavor.
They come in several different varieties, but I am partial to the arugula. In hindsight, I remember seeing them as accents or edible garnishes on a few fancy plates — but when I bought them myself, I just sprinkled a handful on my salad to give it a burst of peppery arugula flavor. Bigger, in this case, is definitely not better.
No. 8 — If UFOs are the goal at street festivals and food trucks, the dish I seek when eating indoors is shrimp and grits. Something I had barely heard of five or six years ago has become one of my favorite southern plates. The fun part of my search for this Carolina low country staple is that every chef puts his or her personal spin on it, which suits me just fine.
My latest find is the version at Big Bad Breakfast in Oxford. Ironically, this truly was a breakfast food by heritage but I have always had it for dinner. This day, on a fall football weekend, I took a leap of faith and ordered it for breakfast. BBB’s version is not too complicated: jumbo shrimp sautéed with Tabasco/brown-sugar cured bacon and tomatoes, with grits, red-eye gravy, and two eggs.
I don’t know if it was the eggs that made the difference or the gravy — I guess it could have been the tomatoes. Or the bacon. I do know that these shrimp and these grits were big and bad in the best possible way.
No. 9 — Late in the summer we made a couple of runs to Dothan, Ala. to deliver and pick up Daughter from a week with her grandparents. I’ve already written about what we ate along the way — this story is about what we didn’t eat. Just across the street from our hotel was a little place that looked like it used to be part of a fast food franchise. The sign outside said, in big letters, “FUJI.” Okay, that gives me a hint about the food inside.
Then I read the two words in fine print underneath: “Hibachi. Yogurt.” My first thought: Are you kidding? They even appeared to have a drive-thru. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to see how that scene would play out. But it gets better. Driving around to find something I actually planned to eat, we ran across another restaurant called “Taj.” Another hint. Probably Indian.
Underneath Taj: “Café and B.B.Q.” Really? Indian barbecue? How fascinating. Well, it would be if that was truly the case — the finer print said, “Indian Cuisine and Southern BBQ.” Http://www.yelp.com  reviews are mixed, and I think that will have to suit me. Maybe this is what they mean by “fusion cuisine?”
No. 10 — Last and absolutely not least, I want to give a big shout out to all the local home cooks who contributed to innumerable pot-luck dinners, church fellowships and receptions of all sorts this year, and thus contributed also to my need for an exercise-related new year’s resolution. Usually I don’t write about these events simply because there are umpteen tables chock full of food and no way to attribute the proper credit. A bit overwhelming, to say the least. Sometimes, however, I have sources. Like the yummy S’mores brownies my friend the Calligrapher brought to the Cotton District Arts Festival poster unveiling, or one of the most creative (and tasty) dip presentations I have ever seen, put together by another friend, aka "House Mother," at the wedding of the Calligrapher’s daughter.
Thanks to these and a sea of other memorable nibbles, it’s unlikely I’m going to pass up any pot-lucks this year, either. My resolution may have to be walking home from town when they are over.
Please wave in support when you see me.
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 .