My friends and I are always comparing lists.
I throw out questions such as, “What are your three favorite Beatles songs?” Or “What are your three favorite restaurants in New York?” Occasionally the questions become more specific, such as, “What is the best fish dish you have ever eaten?”
Those types of queries are easy for me. I remember that kind of stuff. I can tell someone, in great detail, about things as trivial as the best orange I ever ate— May of 1989 on my soon-to-be father-in-law’s sailboat, just north of Ship Island in the Mississippi Sound, in the middle of the afternoon. It was hot. Someone packed several naval oranges in an ice chest that had become a slushy mixture of very cold water and ice. I took one bite out of that end-of-the-season orange, and knew that I might never eat another piece of fruit that good, ever again. As it turns out, I haven’t.
I know the best lamb I have ever eaten— my grandmother’s house, Easter 1971. The best foie gras— The French Laundry, July 2005. The best French fries— Ajax Tavern, Aspen, CO, June 1994. I can even remember the best mashed potatoes I have ever eaten— Watershed restaurant, Decatur, GA, early on an early Tuesday evening in 2003.
Last week I took three of my friends to lunch at Parlor Market in Jackson, and ended up— in a single meal— eating three food items that instantly made my best-I’ve-ever-eaten list.
I have been trying to eat dinner at Parlor Market since they opened, but have been bound by business commitments and haven’t been able to travel as much as I would like. I had an afternoon open, and a friend coming into town, so I jumped at the opportunity.
Prior to Parlor Market’s opening, I knew— from looking at the menu, and talking to Chef Craig Noone— that, if he executed his concept, the restaurant would be one of the top ten restaurants in Mississippi, from day one. Execute, he did. I would actually put Parlor Market among my top three in the state after only six months.
I can be a fairly jaded diner. I appreciate great food, and love eating out, but it’s not very often that I eat something and, even before I am finished, tell myself, I’m going to do this in one of my restaurants or books. The first dish that arrived to our table was the Parlor Market’s Deviled Eggs appetizer and, in that instant, I added another item to my all-time-greatest lists. Trust me, you will see or eat this dish in one of my books or restaurants, soon.
The Parlor Market’s deviled eggs were made using comeback sauce instead of mayonnaise—brilliant. They were also topped with house-pickled red onion, which was another stroke of genius.
Comeback sauce was invented in Jackson, and is still served all over town. Everyone has a different take on the recipe. Parlor Market has taken their comeback to another level with the addition of smoked peppers. The smoked peppers added another dimension to the flavor profile of that time-honored condiment. To be honest, it was a dimension that I never thought needed to be added, until I tasted it. Noone makes those types of choices throughout his menu, knocking it out of the park, every time.
The second appetizer we were served was a spicy pimento cheese, which also made an instant leap onto my all-time, best-ever list. Smoked cheddar and bacon are a good start to a well-conceived version of a potentially boring classic.
There was nothing boring about Parlor Market’s pimento cheese. It was bold and flavorful and even the previous titleholder of the best pimento cheese I’ve eaten— my grandmother— would have thrown in the dishtowel.
Six courses later, I ordered a Mason Jar Cake as one of our four desserts. Pastry chef Whitney Maxwell’s dessert was made with strawberry cake, black pepper icing, strawberry sorbet, and balsamic syrup. Excellent.
I might not be the foremost authority on deviled eggs or pimento cheese, though I have eaten my share. I most definitely know strawberry cake, as my across the street neighbor in my childhood, a wonderfully sweet woman named Mildred, held the title of— best strawberry cake I have ever eaten. That is, until last week.
Sadly, Whitney has dethroned Mildred. Had my dining companions not been so miserably full at that point, I would have ordered a second helping of dessert so they could have a taste. It was so good, I ended up eating the entire dish myself, opting not to share.
I would always rather end with a fruit finish over a chocolate dessert. Miller’s Mason Jar Cake was the perfect ending to a near-perfect lunch.
At the end of the meal, I told one of my dining companions, “If three items off of Parlor Market’s lunch menu made it on to my best-ever list, what must the dinner menu contain?” It’s a question I look forward to answering.
And for the record, my three favorite Beatles songs are: “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “Dear Prudence,” and “She Said She Said.” As for the other two restaurants in my Top Three in Mississippi, I’ll leave that list for another column on another day.
1 dozen Eggs, hard boiled, peeled and cut in half
2 tsp. White balsamic vinegar
1 /3 cup Mayonnaise
1 /4 cup Sour cream
1 1 /2 tsp Salt
2 Tbl Yellow mustard
Pinch of white pepper
1/8 tsp Garlic, granulated
Paprika and sweet pickled relish to garnish (optional)
Remove the yolks from the hard cooked eggs and place in a mixing bowl. Add all ingredients and beat with an electric mixer until smooth. Use a pastry bag to fill the egg whites. Sprinkle with paprika and place a tiny amount of sweet pickle relish on the eggs. Makes 24 halves