Unexpected entrées star on the menu at Restaurant Tyler in Starkville, Mississippi.

Ty Thames

We know there's no place quite like the South―and this month's Mississippi-born chef admits it took seeing the world to appreciate plump local blackberries, pecans from just down the road, the sweet potatoes of tiny Vardaman ("Sweet Potato Capital of the World"), and the comfort of a Southern accent. Less than a year into the launch of Restaurant Tyler, chef Ty Thames's whole background whirls together on the plate: a touch of Vermont here (culinary school), a notable dollop of Italy there (a Michelin-rated inn near Parma), and sophistication throughout (The Ritz-Carlton and other top Washington, D.C., spots). The fusion of elements comes together best in the sweet potato gnocchi, lush with homegrown sweet potatoes and braised wild boar sausage, topped off with truffle sauce, wild mushrooms, and Lazy Magnolia Southern Pecan beer. The flavors of the South and elsewhere blend quietly, without fanfare. Ty returns to his roots with catfish and crawfish; he overnights fish from Honolulu for the same menu. It's all about bringing fine dining to Starkville. "I was looking for a place where I could highlight Mississippi the way I wanted to," he says. "And I've found it here." 100 East Main Street (facing the Oktibbeha County Courthouse); www.restauranttyler.com or (662) 324-1014. Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily. Entrées start at $15.•

Change Of Pace
To step into more casual dining, Ty offers the Barrister's Room upstairs. The menu ranges from po'boys and Black Angus burgers to specialty desserts from downstairs. Entrées start at $8.