Since 1999, when this column began, I have always ended the year with a top ten list of the favorite meals I enjoyed throughout the previous 12 months. That’s not going to happen this year.
It was a strange year. I managed a 10-month remodel/new-addition project at our restaurants that kept me close to home base for most of the year. Other than my annual trip to Chicago in May, and a book-promotion tour that kept me crisscrossing the state for the final two months of 2013, I stayed close to home.
A comprehensive end-of-the-year list would only include a couple of excellent meals in Chicago (including donuts at The Donut Vault and the burger at Au Cheval), and a few on the road in Mississippi, but mostly meals eaten at establishments owned by me. Whereas I’d love to write about meals eaten in my establishments, I try not to do that too often, opting to focus on other people’s restaurants.
So the reader will be spared another end-of-the-year top ten list. Instead, I would like to offer up a few wishes and hopes for the New Year:
In 2014, my wish is that everyone will get to eat fried chicken at Peggy’s in Philadelphia, Miss.
I hope everyone who eats shrimp in 2014 will eat only Mississippi Gulf shrimp, and support restaurants that serve Mississippi Gulf shrimp. The same goes for all fresh seafood caught in Mississippi Gulf waters – crabmeat, fresh finfish, oysters and the pride of the Delta, Mississippi farm-raised catfish.
Even though we lost her in 2013, I hope everyone continues to eat at Leatha’s BBQ Inn in Hattiesburg as Bonnie, Carolyn, Myrtis and the other family members who have always worked the barbecue joint continue to maintain the tradition of serving some of the best barbecue on the planet here in South Mississippi.
I hope everyone gets to eat lunch at Lee McCarty’s Gallery restaurant in Merigold. It is one of Mississippi’s true culinary experiences. Actually, if a list of true Mississippi culinary experiences existed, a lunch at The Gallery, combined with an in-person visit with McCarty, should be near the top of such a list.
I wish a brisket burrito with rice and beans from La Guadalupe in Jackson and a tamale from Mama Alma’s in Hattiesburg to those who want to enjoy “real” Mexican food in 2014.
Did I mention fried chicken at Peggy’s?
I wish everyone a year full of freshly baked croissants from Cest La Vie Bakery in Hattiesburg.
May your year be filled with bowls of gumbo – my favorites are served at Mary Mahoney’s in Biloxi, Crescent City Grill in Hattiesburg, and Nick’s in Jackson.
I wish a ball of Mississippi State Edam cheese in every refrigerator this fall, and bushels of sweet corn and peaches in every pantry this summer.
After a year that included an F4 tornado that ripped through my hometown, I truly hope we have a disaster-free year.
May we all realize how blessed we are to live in a state with such bountiful culinary resources, and may we never forget that the greatest resource – our people – keep us more blessed than most.
Robert St. John is a restaurateur, chef and author of numerous books.