As a youngster Meridian, Mississippi was very much on my radar. My father, a professor of mathematics at The School Across Town (aka Vallagret University), taught a weekly night class down there for many, many years. I never went with him, but the name at least was very familiar. We must have passed through there on the way to Dauphin Island, but I don’t remember stopping much – Daddy liked to forge ahead. For a couple of years in high school the band competed against Meridian (the football team came with us, too, for support), which meant we were bussed to the stadium and right back home after the battle of the bands. Still not seeing much of the town.
Culinarily speaking, I had heard of the historic Weidmann’s restaurant, most likely from my father. A few years ago I heard an interview of the owner of Squealer’s Barbecue, and I was intrigued. Not only does she espouse the same philosophy of barbecue as I do (it’s about the meat, not the sauce), she is also not afraid to deep fry a Twinkie. Still, though, it was only head knowledge until this week.
A few months ago I received an invitation to be a judge at the very first Eat, Drink, Meridian. The event was the brainchild of Becky Childress, the events manager at the Northeast Conference Center and Hilton Garden Inn. Her idea was to bring together food purveyors from the Meridian area, then let attendees try everything and vote for the best. All of a sudden Meridian became a destination, and I ate well – very well – to boot.
There was no real rhyme or reason to how I chose my first taste. I just wandered until I hit the Spoonfudge table. Their store is in Sebastopol, another place I have heard of but never seemed to get to. But I have over a hundred reasons to go now. The Spoonfudge ladies, Tarah Boykin and Aleisa Johnson told me it was not the place for what you need – it’s the place for what you want. I like.
Spoonfudge is essentially like it sounds: spoonable fudge in a jar. There is actually a spoon attached to the jar for easy spreading on something like, say, your tongue. (And the jars are small enough to keep to yourself – freedom to double dip!) That night they were featuring Fudgey Fudge and Salted Caramel flavors, and had smaller tasting jars of The King’s P-B Nana, Yo Mama’s Blueberry Pancakes, and Spunky Pretzel. Oh, yes – I tried them all. On the website there are about 60 flavors available now and I’m pretty sure the nice fudge ladies told me there were upwards of 120 total flavors that they rotate through their inventory. That’s a different flavor every three days year- round if I’ve done my math right.
On my first trip to the Spoonfudge table I limited myself to reasonable portion sizes, just enough to taste. When I returned at the end of the night, I hit their s’mores bar. A sterno flame set up in a clay pot full of charcoal briquettes (for effect – this was an indoor event) provided the toasting apparatus for a variety of marshmallow flavors. I spooned Fudgey Fudge (a traditional chocolate flavor) on a graham cracker and toasted a plain marshmallow to establish a s’mores baseline. Then I toasted a pumpkin spice-flavored marshmallow and spread Salted Caramel onto the cracker. Yummy. And thankfully I did not set off the smoke alarm.
Since I ate dessert first, a savory table was appropriate for my next tastes. Christy’s Fine Food Catering and Olde Time Sweet Shop from Stonewall, Miss., sponsored the next table. For appetizers they had a trio of hot dips: spinach artichoke, crab, and salmon dill, served with little bitty buttery toasts that were pretty good by themselves. I didn’t expect the salmon dill to be my favorite, but it had a mouth-warming element (from horseradish, maybe?) that really made it stand out from the pack. Christy’s stood out, too, by winning the award for Best Appetizers. After the dips they skewered up a chunk of brown sugar chicken and a couple of tiny just-cooked cherry tomatoes. Sounds simple, but this was one of my favorite bites of the evening. The sweetness of the brown sugar sauce on the chicken contrasted perfectly up against the acidity and tartness of the tomatoes.
Did I call Christy’s a savory table? I spoke too soon. On the other end of the table I succumbed to a vanilla-on-vanilla cupcake and a petit four. They say a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. True dat. You give me a little plate of petits fours and I’m done. This one was round instead of the usual square, and the cake was cloud-tender. But there was much more to try, so I stuck with petit one.
The table next door, Cater’s Market, had sweet and savory also. Brownies, Oreo bars, lemon bars and pecan bars were all cut up into bite-sized portions and arranged in checkerboard fashion. That was all fine and good, but I had my eyes on a big pot of shrimp and grits. Their interpretation was a little different than I’d seen lately, which is why I keep going for this combo – nobody does it the same. Instead of using the grits as a base and layering shrimp and whatnot on top, this was all tossed in a big soup pot together. The grits themselves were cheesy and were studded with bits of sausage and baby shrimp – maybe a bit of green onion here and there. I have come to realize that shrimp and grits has become comfort food for me. I was comforted.
Doggone. I’m not even halfway around the room yet and I’m already out of words for this week. There is much more good eating in metro Meridian to come. But if you are heading that way this week, I’ve given you lunch, dinner and over a hundred flavors of dessert to choose from. You won’t go hungry.