Saturdays in the South: Starkville, Mississippi

First published in Current Magazine in 2007. Since then Sly Croom has been shown the door making way for former Florida offensive coordinator, Dan Mullen to start things anew at MSU.

Starkville, Mississippi has long held a reputation as a town that time forgot, a real life Brigadoon. Mississippi State University has often been referred to as a cow college, after all Davis Wade Stadium (the second oldest stadium in the nation) is literally built in a pasture. However, hyperbole is rarely accurate. The reality is that Starkville is an old fashioned Southern town while at the same it is a diverse community of multiple cultures, a burgeoning technology hub, and best of all, few witnesses.

The city is cashing in on its classic Southern charm by attracting retirees from up north. Sure Yankees talk funny but they know a nice place to live when they see one (see Fairhope, AL). The heart of the boon in Oktibbeha County comes from the ever increasing role of the university established there in 1878. MSU is rumored to have a five acre marijuana farm they maintain for government testing which may be why it is the largest university in the state.

State’s accolades on the field of play encompass three major sports: basketball, baseball, and football. There is metered enthusiasm in Starkville this year about the football team which is coached by Alabama native Sylvester Croom. Old Sly is a veteran of the SEC having played and coached for the great Bear Bryant at Alabama. Ticket sales have already eclipsed the 2006 total and expectations are high in the area known as the Golden Triangle. Even a 45 – 0 pasting to start the season would do little to dampen spirits since football is merely an excuse to get loaded.

The heart of the MSU tailgating experience is “the Junction.” In the early days of State there was a train depot at the site; the railway is how students got to campus in the 19th century. After spending many years as a parking lot the area was redesigned by the landscaping firm Nimrod Long and Associates of Birmingham (no kidding, that is really their name) into what they call the “premier tailgate experience.”

NLA developed the Junction to capitalize on both it history and to accentuate the game day atmosphere. Cullis Wade Depot acts as a visitor’s center and houses a bookstore operated by Barnes and Noble (home of the only escalator in Starkville). The addition of lighted walkways through what is a giant open space helps to accentuate the most striking aspect of the park, co-eds.

Saturdays in Starkville see the Junction transformed from open green area to a sea of maroon as the Bulldog faithful prepare for another SEC showdown. It is here that the Famous Maroon Band starts their march to the stadium to the delight of inebriated fans. Regardless of the week’s opponent, the Maroon Nation focuses its collective hatred on one school, Ole Miss. As they say, “You can’t spell dumb without UM.” Pop-up tents and the perfume of booze create a carnival atmosphere as young and old break out their best recipes to please the masses. Chief among the fixin’s is Mississippi Blues Barbecue. An MSU tradition, it employs a sauce made with fresh blueberries and pairs well with anything containing alcohol, like sorority girls.

The most famous tradition associated with MSU sports hearkens back to the rural image of the school; it is the ubiquitous cowbell. Legal according to the NCAA but not so in the SEC, the cowbell is the badge of courage for every Bulldog and a bone of contention between MSU alum and the powers-that-be. The fact that they are the only school to have its tradition outlawed makes it that much more important to smuggle one into Scott Field. Bulldog faithful suggest wearing your cowbell like a codpiece, the cowbell Gestapo are not likely to check there. State fans vow they will sneak them in until the ban is lifted. It is a moral imperative and one of the few morals they actually employ.

After Jack Cristil has uttered his immortal words, “You can wrap it in maroon and white,” some fans stagger back to their tailgate sites. Others head to “the District” to get their party on. Chief among the haunts frequented by MSU faithful is The Little Dooey (100 Fellowship St.) home to some of the finest Delta style barbecue to be found. ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit once pronounced Dooey’s the best place to grub in all of college football. What’s not to love with lip smacking barbecue, smoked chicken salad, and the most infamous drink in Starvegas, the Pickled Pig (made in the Boar’s Head, Dooey’s bar).

Mugshots Grill and Bar (101 N. Douglas Conner St.) is the local favorite for both giant burgers and for watching the other games (especially rooting for whomever is playing Ole Miss). Mugshots’ bar will keep the brewskies coming which is handy for those wanting to work up the ‘nads to try one of their famous “peanut butter burgers.”

Dave’s Dark Horse Tavern (Hwy. 182 East) is a pantheon of pub grub with all (and we mean all) of your favorites like New York style pizza, Chicago style pizza, wings, and cold suds. Rick’s Cafe (Hwy. 182 East) has little in common with Humphrey Bogart, but rather resembles the world’s greatest rock and roll club, Bogart’s in Cincinnati. Rick’s is for those who like to party “Old School Nasty” and has $1 drinks on Saturdays. It is definitely the place to get your hair band fix. I believe it was Nietzsche who said, “Where there are hair bands there you will also find trashy bleached blondes with ample cleavage.”

Regardless of your tastes Starkville has something for you. Looking for great pizza and beer? Look no further than the Old Venice Pizza Company (110 E Main Street) they actually have an all pork pizza (andouille, pulled pork, & sausage). If you are craving wings and beer then visit Ravin‘ (1011 Louisville Street) whose menu features the spicy little nibbles as well as catfish, burgers, and appetizers of all sorts. For seafood and beer lovers try Remington’s Hunt Club (400 Hwy. 12 W) which features seafood baskets and some of the sauciest waitresses in the South. For early morning eats drag your hung-over butt to Shipley Do-nuts (418 Highway 12 E) for kolaches (a Central European pastry) and do-nuts. They do not serve beer at Shipley’s which creates a conundrum; what are you supposed to dunk the do-nuts in? I suggest dark rum.

Mississippi Blue Barbecue Sauce
Recipe Type: Sauce
Author: Stuart Reb Donald
Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 15 mins
Total time: 30 mins
Serves: 8
  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup minced onion
  • 1 tablespoon minced jalapeno chili
  • 1/4 cup catsup
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
  1. Heat oil in a non-reactive saucepan. Add onions and chili and cook over moderate heat stirring until wilted, about 3 minutes. Add catsup, vinegar, sugar, mustard and Tabasco sauce and bring to a simmer. Add blueberries and simmer over low heat, stirring until thickened, about 10 minutes. Purée the sauce in a blender or processor until smooth. Pass through a strainer and season with salt and pepper. Use this sauce the same day it is made.

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Stuart in 80 Words or Less
Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
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2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
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2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
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2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up
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