Pigskin Pursuit

An eight year odyssey across the backroads of America during the ultimate College Football roadtrip.

Tag: Mississippi State 2011

Mississippi State vs LSU – More Cowbell!

Despite what Ole Miss fans would tell you, there is another premier college football program to be found in the state of Mississippi. Although those of the Oxford ilk may not have many positive things to say about their Starkville brethren, for the last couple of years the Mississippi State Bulldogs have fielded the more competitive team in the Magnolia State. Naturally, I wanted to investigate the game day experience there first hand.

With lofty preseason expectations and a top 20 ranking, the Bulldogs Thursday night game against LSU made for the perfect opener for an SEC weekend doubleheader, so I penciled this one in early in the season with a Saturday chaser in Tuscaloosa. Joining me on the long weekend journey would be my father, whose only previous experience south of the Mason Dixon line was his annual winter pilgrimage to Florida. An SEC night tilt in Starkville would be a perfect induction into the real south.

Swallowing my pride and ponying up twenty bucks for some closer parking, we hustled into campus quickly, making our way over to Davis Wade stadium to fetch a few tickets before kickoff. From the outside, the stadium is a far more imposing venue than its 56,000 capacity would belie, the soaring grandstands towering above the adjacent brick architecture. Although LSU would be the biggest opponent this year, we snapped up a couple of tickets for less than the $50 face value and marched into the North endzone passing in front of the imposing student section on our way to our seats.

The most predominant feature of any Mississippi State game is, of course, the cowbells. A tradition tracing it’s roots back to the 1930’s when a cow accidentally wandered onto the field during a rivalry game against Ole Miss. Mississippi State went on to win the game, and inspired by the power of the cowbell, fans began bringing their own ringers to games and welding handles onto them for better performance. The tradition survived even after the SEC banned the bells in 1974, as fans continued to sneak them in. In 2010, that ban was finally lifted, recognized by the SEC as a unique tradition, and today Bulldog fans are free to “ring responsibly” during time-outs and after MSU scores. They are kindly reminded of their cowbell responsibilities by a handful of jumbotron reminders, along with a pre game announcement by head coach Dan Mullen.

The clanging cacophony of cowbells in Davis Wade must be experienced first hand to fully grasp the magnitude of this racket. During critical breaks, there may be as many as 40,000 fists thrust into the air rattling away, cowbells echoing throughout the stadium in unison. It creates a thunderous, head splitting din that makes it nearly impossible to focus, never mind communicate in any fashion.

Unfortunately, all that clatter wasn’t enough on this night, as the Bulldogs fell short to LSU 19-6. In typical Tiger fashion, the LSU defense was absolutely stifling, punishing the MSU quarterback and giving their punter an exhausting hip flexor workout. Mississippi State was fortunate to even manage the two meager field goals they were able to chip in. Regardless of the outcome, there are worse ways to spend a pleasant Thursday night amidst the bedlam of SEC football with your father in the seat next to you.

Special thanks to my father for joining me on a fantastic weekend in Mississippi and Alabama. Always great to share any ballgame with Dad, and look forward to more future journeys together! We’ll see what’s in store next year for us…

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Blue City Cafe – Memphis BBQ on Beale…

On the return trip back through Memphis on Sunday, the exhaustion of a two game Southern road trip weekend was starting to take its toll. After dropping Dad off at the airport for an early morning flight, I had time for one last meal in Memphis before making the final charge back home to Saint Louis. Though tempted to simply pull back into the BBQ Shop after an epic Thursday visit and order up a few slabs of their ribs, there were still a handful of places on my Memphis list to check off.

After exchanging a few texts with my friend Joe, a former Memphis resident and fellow BBQ aficionado, he pointed me in the direction of the Blues City Café on infamous Beale Street. Besides Joe, Blues City has an impressive list of accolades, having been featured on various food shows and magazines.

I found street parking a few steps away from Beale, and casually wandered down the street waiting for the doors to open at 11AM. Beale is one of the main nightlife streets in Memphis, often drawing comparisons to Bourbon Street in New Orleans. On an early Sunday morning the thoroughfare still reeked of the party the night before, garbage lined the sidewalks and shopkeepers were out hosing off their sections of the concrete. Reservations began to creep in about BBQ in such an obvious tourist area.

Once the doors opened, I walked into the empty restaurant and settled into a plush vinyl booth. There were a handful of offerings on the menu, but ribs were the only barbecue option. After my dubious encounters with beef the entire weekend, ribs were the only option I was interested in anyway.

The ribs arrived quickly, with a pile of french fries and a few other sides filling out the plate. Despite my initial reservations, and the touristy location, the ribs had all the hallmarks of some excellent cue’. They had a well developed crust on the outside, sliding easily off the bone to reveal the pink smoky meat beneath. Although there could have been more depth to the smoke profile (given the location I’m guessing its an exclusively gas fired smoker), and they didn’t share quite the same fanfare as the BBQ Shop ribs, this was still skilled BBQ by any measure. Certainly worth a stop if you find yourself wandering down Beale Street in Memphis, just be sure to arrive a bit later in the afternoon once they’ve hosed the place down a bit…

http://www.bluescitycafe.com/

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Little Dooey BBQ in Starkville

Despite being a formidable Southern college town, barbecue options in Starkville are actually somewhat limited. Only a handful of places show up on a google search, one of which includes Applebee’s. As much as I enjoy pizza shooters and jalapeno blasters, real barbecue was the only option we were looking for on a Friday afternoon.

Fortunately, the Little Dooey has been dishing out barbecue and southern food in Starkville since 1985, and it’s the place to stop for a bite if you’re in town for the Bulldogs. We pulled up to the rickety building, encouraged by the giant iron pit proudly displayed out front. A couple ESPN banners hung from the rafters, and an ancient Coca Cola chest sat on the trodden plywood floor. The menu is broad, featuring a slew of barbecue offerings along with assorted other Southern options like catfish and fried sides.

I opted for a three meat plate, featuring ribs, pulled pork and beef brisket, accompanied by a pile of deep fried okra. The food arrived a few minutes later, flopping over the sides of the flimsy paper plate. A quick visual inspection and a couple bites confirmed that the cue’ here was mediocre. All of the meats lacked smokiness, the pulled pork was especially dry and stringy. Ribs were soggy and flopping off the bone, presumably from too much time under a heat lamp. The brisket was barely discernible as beef, and confirmed my position that one should stick with pork exclusively for BBQ in the South.

In all, I expected more from the Little Dooey. It was the day after a game, so there wasn’t a massive influx of people to feed. The worn little building has a certain Southern charm to it, and with a rusty iron smoker decorating the front my expectations ran high. Unfortunately the food just didn’t deliver. Maybe they ought to fire up that old iron pit and breath some new life into the barbecue here, or maybe next time I ought to try the fried catfish instead…

http://www.littledooey.com/index.htm

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BBQ Shop in Memphis – Gettin’ Sauced…

Hot off the runway, I slung my fathers bag into the back seat of the car and sped back North into Memphis for a quick BBQ lunch. We were under the gun to get into Starkville before kickoff, and this would be his only chance to sample legendary Memphis Barbecue. According to the discerning taste buds of my friends Merritt and Dave, if you had one stop in Memphis, BBQ Shop was the one to make.

Walking down the sidewalk, a gleam spread across Dad’s face, the telltale aroma of BBQ wafting through the air as we approached. Sliding into a table we placed our orders, opting for a sampling of the pulled pork, brisket and signature ribs that are the foundation of Memphis barbecue. Given my usual aversion to all forms of obfuscating sauces, I prepared my usual request for dry ribs with sauce on the side. Through experience, this is the only accurate barometer for evaluating regional nuances in barbecue skill.

“I’d like that whole order dry please. Sauce on the side.” I explained politely in my customary fashion. Dad cringed, gun-shy about how a cleaver wielding southern pitmaster in the back might receive my blasphemous demand. He’d been in the South for all of fifteen minutes, and I was about to drag him into a spat about regional barbecue preferences. I’ve made this simple request dozens of times, usually to little resistance.

Not so this time.

“The ribs come with sauce”. The waiter explained, brushing away my request.

“I know. I want them dry, please, sauce on the side”.

“Where are you from?” He inquired raising an eyebrow, dumbfounded at such an outlandish affront.

“Texas. We like our barbecue dry.”

“Well you’re in Memphis and we serve them with sauce here”.

“No thanks. Make it dry. But I’ll try your sauce on the side.” I responded curtly, beginning to lose my patience.

“Listen, we’ve won awards for our sauce. I don’t want you to leave here without trying them the way they are supposed to be.”

I stared back blankly. I’ve heard the “award winning” spiel before. I searched his face for weakness, waiting for him to flinch first.

“Tell you what” he responded “I’ll meet you in the middle. We’ll make half of em’ dry for you, and we’ll put sauce on the other half. That way you can try them both ways. Sound fair?”

“Let’s do it.” I relented. I’d never had someone protest this vehemently, so perhaps there was something special about this sauce. With all that fuss, there had better be.

Our food arrived a few minutes later, and with eager appetites we dug in ferociously. The pulled pork was fairly standard, albeit a touch on the dry side and thirsting for a bit of sauce. Beef brisket was forgettable, having been chopped and losing the moisture that a properly sliced brisket would retain. As I would stubbornly learn the rest of the weekend, a properly cooked brisket eludes Southern barbecue joints. For all the accolades of their pork barbecue, I wouldn’t bother ordering beef in this part of the country again. They just don’t seem to grasp it.

The ribs, on the other hand, were a different story. Having eaten as much barbecue as I have at this point, there are very few instances where I am genuinely surprised. There are even fewer where that surprise is for the better. This was one of those rare instances where I was not only surprised, but completely blown away by something magical.

These ribs were absolutely phenomenal. Quite literally some of the best I have ever had – anywhere. Ever.

They were expertly cooked, showing a fat pink smoke ring and pulling effortlessly from the bone. The sticky sweetness of the sauce perfectly complemented the deep smoke profile permeating the pork. The sauce here is deftly applied to the meat, not slathered on carelessly. The ribs are then finished in the smoker for a few minutes, so the sauce melds perfectly with the ribs. Notes of brown sugar and cinnamon offset the saltiness, applied in just the right proportion to work together. One of those elusive instances where all the ingredients complement each other harmoniously.

Simply put, these are in the Top 5 ribs I have ever eaten. Period. (You can email me for the other four.)

I saluted the waiter on the way out, tipping him generously, and thanking him for the unusual display of fortitude in his product. If I’m ever within a few hours of Memphis again, I’ll be returning for these ribs alone. And I won’t be protesting the sauce the next time around…


Special thanks to my friends Merritt and Dave for their recommendation of BBQ Shop in Memphis. It’s a daunting task to send BBQ recommendations my way, but they offered up an entire list of Tennessee BBQ joints to try, and highlighted this one as not to be missed. Walk-off homerun on this one guys, absolutely perfect food. Now I can’t wait to visit you in Nashville for more!

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