Bulldog Bites: Gumbalaya nachos at Stagger In, Preston Brown on the mound and notes from around MSU athletics

“Isn’t there supposed to be queso on this?”

“Yeah, salsa, too. I don’t see very much of either.”

It seemed as if our blonde-haired, blue-eyed, college-girl server had messed up the order. Or someone in the kitchen, perhaps, but she was easier to blame. She was right there.

unnamedBut whatever, these were the Gumbalaya Nachos, a mashing together of words for a joining of most every greasy and delicious item on the menu at Stagger In, one of my favorite spots in Starkville. You’re not gettin’ anything fancy at Stagger, and certainly nothing likely to be served at a Presidential dinner, but it’s just really good enjoyable bar food. Deep fried cheeseburgers, cheese fries and cheese sticks. Some of the town’s best chicken wings, onion rings and sandwiches. Really good blue plates. Plus, a ton of TVs.

It’s nice.

But about these nachos, THE GREAT GUMBALAYA NACHOS, as the menu lists in all-caps, consist of seasoned tortilla chips, queso, salsa, jalapenos and fried crawfish, all topped with gumbalaya, a Mississippi mix of gumbo and jambalaya. It’s exactly as dangerous, mouth-watering and satisfied-groan-inducing as it sounds.

So we got our nachos, topped with the advertised crawfish and gumbalaya, even if we didn’t see a lot of the hot white queso every chip I’ve ever known desires to be crunched and eaten with. That was our problem, though. Not Stagger’s, not the nachos’, not our server’s. However, it was a problem solved a few chips in. As we deconstructed the mountain from the top, more and more ingredients started to appear.

“Oh, there’s the queso.”

“Yep, found the salsa, too.”

Each chip was like a new page of the same cheesy book. New tastes, colors and salty-textures emerged with each bite.

It appeared we owed unspoken apologies to our server who, in addition to getting our order exactly right, has a lot in common with the nachos. She looks like any other college girl waiting tables to get through school, but she doesn’t sound like one. She speaks perfect English, but with a distinct, if not light, accent.

“Where are you from?” we ask.

Russia, it turns out. She was born in Moscow, where she lived until she was adopted at the age of 11 by an American family in Memphis. Natalia moved to the states, blended right in by looks and grew up to be a big Mississippi State fan, necessitating the move to go to school in Starkville.

Over Christmas, she had a blast in Atlanta watching TCU take down Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl as she attended with her Ole Miss-fan boyfriend (who also likes TCU. Tough spot to be in). It’s been recommended, apparently, that she find a more suitable man dressed in Maroon and White, but she insists the one she has is quite nice, thank you very much.

They say not to judge a book by its cover. Perhaps we should also say not to judge an appetizer by its top chip. Or a blonde by her ponytail. We take away from the work of The Artist (be they of the culinary or heavenly variety) when we make assumptions before discovering the creation as it was meant to be.

Anyway, I recommend the Great Gumbalaya Nachos at Stagger In. Tell them Bob sent you.


Sports Stuff

BASEBALL: As you know, Mississippi State baseball gets started this weekend, the Bulldogs playing four games in three days. The Friday (4 p.m.) and Saturday (noon and 4) games have been moved up to make things a bit more enjoyable weather-wise, though the 1:30 Sunday contest remains in the same spot.

JKDBMSZRESIEKNU.20141109025414On Friday, it appears we can expect junior pitcher Preston Brown to get the Opening Day start on the mound. Beyond that? Little tougher to tell, but from what John Cohen has said, senior Lucas Laster is likely to start a game, as well, and would seem a good candidate for the next one after Brown, being a senior with several wins and starts under his belt. After those, Cohen mentioned two other names as possible starters: freshman Jesse McCord and sophomore Austin Sexton. With four games, it’s possible those are the four starters right there.

Ross Mitchell has moved to the bullpen, though it’s not crazy to think he could end up starting games here and there over the course of the season depending on what happens with the rest of the staff. Former starter Trevor Fitts has moved to the bullpen, too, but that seems a bit more permanent. Really, I’m as interested to see the relievers as I am the starters.

Elsewhere, you’ve likely seen already, but sophomore catcher Gavin Collins is out the first few weeks of the season with a hand injury. It looks like MSU will replace him with a combination of junior Josh Lovelady and senior Cody Walker.

Speaking of Collins, he was picked first-team All-SEC by league coaches, who also picked MSU to finish fifth in the SEC West.

Also, if you’re out grilling, we’re doing Taste of the Lounge again this year! I’ll be roaming the outfield with a camera and a microphone every home weekend, so feel free to let me know if you’re cooking up anything fun.

SOFTBALL: Every year I’m somehow still amazed at how many games they play in a short period of time. After opening the season with five games last weekend, Vann Stuedeman’s team is hosting SIX games this weekend. That’s a lot of softball. They play Thursday and Friday afternoons, then have doubleheaders on both Saturday and Sunday. I’d tell you the times, but chances are that any time want to go watch softball this weekend, MSU is playing.

Also worth noting, the Bulldogs are climbing up the receiving votes section of the Top 25 after the 5-0 start last week.

MEN’S BASKETBALL: After a 4-2 run in SEC play, Rick Ray’s team has had a rough week, losing its last two games. The loss to Alabama Tuesday night in The Hump was a particularly close one, and an odd one statistically. As Ray pointed out after, MSU out-rebounded Bama, shot a higher percentage, took more free throws and had the home crowd. Yet, Alabama won. The main reason, Ray said, was turnovers. MSU committed too many and it led to a lot of Bama buckets and the Tide winning by four.

The Bulldogs are on the road Saturday, playing at Missouri at 3 p.m. on ESPNU.

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Hey, they play tonight! Vic Schaefer’s team is up to 13th or 15th in the country, depending which poll you prefer, and they’re playing at also-top-15 Kentucky on the SEC Network at 6 central tonight. I recommend watching.

Most recently, they got a huge win on Sunday by beating Texas A&M (also top-15! The SEC is good.) in overtime at home. It was big for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which that the coach Schaefer beat is his best friend in the business and the guy who helped make him who he is now.

I mentioned last week that MSU could be in position to host in the NCAA Tournament, and that win went a long way in making that more likely.

Oh, and point guard Morgan William was named the SEC Freshman of the Week.

WOMEN’S GOLF: Hey, look, another really good team. The No. 3 Bulldogs are in Tallahassee to open their spring season this weekend. I wrote more about them here, if you like reading or golf: https://hailstatebeat.wordpress.com/2015/02/11/msu-womens-golf-setting-sights-on-ncaa-championships/

FOOTBALL: Nothing huge, but a couple things worth mentioning here. 1. MSU had 20 players named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll yesterday, highlighted by a 3.8 GPA by linebacker Richie Brown, who is majoring in industrial technology. I understand that to be a difficult major.

  1. Dan Mullen, Dak Prescott, Curtis Virges and Jay Hughes all visited with about 2,000 high school kids at a college fair in Jackson on Wednesday, talking to them about the importance of education. Very cool deal. See the video below.

TRACK AND FIELD: The men’s and women’s squads are split this weekend with the men heading to Birmingham and the women all the way off to Ohio for indoor competition.

TENNIS: The men are off for the weekend, but the women are headed to Winthrop and beautiful Rock Hill, South Carolina, for a match against the Eagles on Friday and a tilt against East Tennessee State on Saturday. The men beat both Samford and New Orleans at home last week, while the women (who are up to No. 74 in the ITA rankings) had the weekend off.

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