Not long ago in Hernando, there were very few dining options: a barbecue joint, an ice cream and burger drive-in, and a small sit-down place on the square, open only for breakfast and lunch.
But progress came to this once-sleepy North Mississippi town, and with it came restaurants, many of which have come and gone, some that have stayed the distance and some, like the Blue Daze Bistro, that are on the new side but have the feel of established spots.
Blue Daze has the makings of a ladies-who-lunch place. It's in a converted house, there are silk flower and twinkle lights arrangements as decorations, autographed wine bottles on mantles and herbs growing along the side of the building. But don't be fooled; sure, there are ladies lunching, but the clientele is a mix of them and local workers in to enjoy a hearty lunch.
The chicken salad is an excellent example of this popular lunch staple. We're all partial to a particular style
of chicken salad. Some like theirs with grapes; some want Miracle Whip holding it all together. Some want big chunks of meat, and others like it pulverized. I'll step out on a limb and say that very few people would find anything to complain about with the version served at Blue Daze.
The chicken is a bit more finely pulled than ideal, at first blush, but it turns out the pieces are just right. The proportions are on target -- the meat is the right size for the finely diced red onion, celery, green apple and pecans. It's a fantastic recipe, with the savory onion, a tiny hint of bitterness from the celery, the sweet apple and the buttery nuttiness of the pecans. It's bound with the right amount of mayonnaise, too -- enough that's it not at all dry, but not so much that the mayo interferes with the other flavors.
You can order the chicken salad on a sandwich, which is massive, with an inch or more of filling on thick wheat berry bread, or on a bed on greens. I chose the latter and was treated to a large plate of tender mixed greens, including baby arugula, thinly sliced red onion, cucumber and a few slices of ripe roma tomato. The house-made red wine vinaigrette provided a tangy bite to the greens and the creamy chicken salad. All very nice.
Also good at our lunch was the spinach artichoke dip, a creamier, cheesier version than I expected. The dip was thick and served warm with those great fresh tortilla chips from Las Delicias in Memphis (purchased at the Hernando Farmers Market, our server explained). The crab cake sandwich was another hit, though the dressing was a bit too tangy for the delicate crab meat. Next time, I'd ask for mayonnaise instead. The potato salad on the side was very simple -- potatoes, onion and just a hint of relish -- and certainly tasted like it was made fresh.
The onion soup was a bust. While it was too salty to eat, it was oddly flat, and the flavor of wine, an integral ingredient, was undetectable. Yet we came away from lunch with a favorable impression and looked forward to going back for dinner.
The restaurant is open for dinner only on Friday and Saturday at present, and the menu is limited to seven dishes, plus the lunch salads and a couple of specials. One pasta and one chicken dish stood out as favorites, neither a healthy selection by any stretch.
The Cajun cream penne pasta with shrimp, even though decadently creamy and rich, was more restrained than I've seen this served in the past. The thick sauce coated the penne, which was cooked just right, yet it didn't drown it. The sauce had a bite of cayenne to it, but it was very manageable for any palate, tempered as it was by the cream. The shrimp were tender and large, and the portion was excessive.
The chicken Florentine was also too much food, and I'll tell you in a moment why this is a complaint. The lightly breaded chicken breast was beautifully sautéed, cooked until brown and crisp at the edges and tender throughout. Lightly cooked spinach, shallots and walnuts topped the breast, which was served over a bed of linguini richly sauced with asiago cream.
The order of Italian meatballs with marinara and linguini didn't make the cut, though both the meatballs and the marinara were good on their own. But the meatballs were enormous and, well, meaty, and the sauce simply too light to give sufficient backup.
My complaint about dinner is that I feel the prices are a few dollars too high for value. There is no bread served before the meal or with it, and the house salad would add $5 if ordered straight from the menu. I think most people would be happier with a smaller side salad, a decent piece of bread and a smaller entrée. That said, I could be wrong. I saw only two diners, besides me, ask for a to-go box.
Lunch prices were entirely reasonable.
Blue Daze has a Facebook page and posts daily specials, which appear to be a mix of some of the same things --Taco Tuesday -- and new dishes. The restaurant just celebrated its first anniversary, recently got a liquor license, and will start serving dinner on Thursday nights beginning Nov. 3.
-- Jennifer Biggs: (901) 529-5223
Blue Daze Bistro
Address: 221 E. Commerce St., Hernando.
Telephone: (662) 469-9304.
Hours: Lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday through Friday; dinner 5:30-9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday (and Thursday beginning Nov. 3); brunch 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday.
Reviewer's choices: Blue Daze chicken salad ($7.79); spinach artichoke dip ($6.49); chicken Florentine ($17.99 at dinner); Cajun cream penne pasta with shrimp ($15.99 at dinner).
Alcohol: Full bar.
Poor: Zero stars
Good: One star
Very Good: Two stars
Excellent: Three stars
Extraordinary: Four stars