In the seventies, there were a lot of things we didn’t have, like debit card pin-pads at fast food registers, double drive-thru windows, and super-sized value meals. Compared to Starkville today, we were also sorely lacking in Mexican restaurants. Truth be told, I barely remembered Starkville even having a Mexican restaurant in that decade until I did a little phone book research in the library, where I re-discovered Pedro’s. But I mostly remember the sign, not the food. Back in the day when Columbus seemed like the big city - it had a mall, after all - our family usually went there for Mexican, to the Mexican Kitchen. What kid couldn’t love a place that had a covered wagon on the roof?
Like making a reservation on cell phones and ordering pizza by internet, the Chinese buffet was also a thing of the future. But we didn’t need that in Starkville – we had the House of Kong. There your own personal buffet could be served at the table, by way of set dinners with fun names like the Starkville Dinner, the Mississippi Dinner, and beyond, depending on how many were in your party. House of Kong was the place I learned to enjoy egg drop soup and sweet and sour pork. Others have written to me in the past few weeks about their favorite House of Kong dishes, too, like Young Chow Fried Rice and Chicken Egg Foo Young. This series has generated a lot of response, but House of Kong has generated the most impassioned stories. One couple I know got engaged there – another long-time Starkville resident talked about how Mr. Kong would always come out and visit with his family. Everybody seems to remember the excellent food made fresh. It wasn’t a flashy place - it was in a simple white building (later painted red before shifting locations), on what was at that time the outskirts of town, near Templeton Motors. But flashy is overrated – House of Kong was just plain good.
Another reader suggested I write about fried chicken. I love fried chicken. It was a staple holiday food (Christmas and birthdays, especially) in our house, which probably explains why we didn’t go out for it very much. But in the seventies we did have a Kentucky Fried Chicken. And I mean the old-style Kentucky Fried Chicken, with the pointed roof and the red and white stripes – not this new-fangled KFC. Like today, fried chicken was also a staple behind the glass and under the heat lamp of most superettes in the area. Our family favorite was a Texaco station that had excellent tenders. In later years, when I worked for Green Oaks Superette, I would occasionally get the assignment of picking up the fried chicken from the store at the Blackjack/Oktoc fork and delivering it to the other locations. The interior of that old green car would really smell good by the time I got back to Green Oaks.
I do feel I need to mention at this point that chicken and the ever-present tater logs were not the only delicacies I delivered to the hot boxes all around town. There is no telling how many chili cheese dogs I must have eaten during that early career, particularly around closing time. I had an iron stomach back then – perhaps that’s why I don’t have one anymore.
The cafeteria at Mississippi State had a pretty strong following for Sunday lunch in those days. Our family didn’t go to the cafeteria too often, but we were regulars at the State Fountain Bakery. My memories may have been enhanced because my two favorite cookies are still available there today. It is my contention that these cookies are absolutely the best in the SEC and therefore, the world, because we all know that the SEC rocks in pretty much everything.
My father, an MSU professor, would usually bring home two varieties in his white paper sack – fruit bars and chocolate chip. The fruit bars are dark, moist, and rich – but not to excess. They hold a strong second place only to the chocolate chip. But this is no ordinary chocolate chip cookie. This is a recipe I have never seen duplicated. Somehow, the batter in this cookie stays absolutely white when fully baked, not the usual golden brown.
Whatever ingredient or technique that makes this cookie so white must be what also gives it the unmatched and indefinable flavor that sets it apart. My brother and his daughters request a boxful every time my folks go east to visit, and it’s one of the first foods I put in my mouth when we moved back to Starkville. Try one or twelve. They are one of the few things worth the effort of parking on campus.
Next time we’ll wrap up this series with a recap of a few places that time didn’t forget, but apparently, I did.