by ANNE BRALY
BILOXI, Miss. – Ok y’all … are you ready? Loosen your belt buckles and head on over to the Coastal Mississippi — or The Secret Coast, as it’s known as. No matter which way you go – drive east from Bay St. Louis to Pascagoula, or go in the other direction from east to west — and you’re surrounded with some of the best eats in the South.
The food scene along Mississippi’s Gulf coast is one of legend that takes advantage of the area’s bounty — its seafood, its seasonal harvests and its wealth of talented chefs. It’s a recipe for an amazing gastronomic experience. As food tours go, it’s entirely possible to eat your way across the state’s coast and indulge in a different experience at each table.
Limited seating and other restrictions due to COVID-19 mean that seats are in demand, so reservations, when offered, are recommended. There’s just so much to savor along The Secret Coast, it tickles a foodie’s taste buds with happiness. The secret’s out.
The main drag through Biloxi is lined with casinos and restaurants — some on the water, others along side streets. One thing for certain, you will not go hungry. You’re headed for some delicious surprises in the city of Biloxi.
The Blind Tiger Biloxi Beach (265 Beach Blvd.) What beach town isn’t complete without a great beach bar? The Blind Tiger, across Beach Boulevard from Harrah’s Casino, is all about casual, feel-good eats. Don’t be surprised if, at the height of the dinner hour, your wait is up to an hour to get a table inside in the open-air dining room or out on the deck. Social distance guidelines may make your wait even longer. Be wise and get there early, grab a cold beer and some Royal Reds for starters. The menu takes on a less-is-more approach for good reason — there’s no freezer in this restaurant and this demands freshness with its mahi tacos; fried shrimp, catfish, burgers and a couple of po’ boys. While the menu is limited, the flavors and serving sizes are not.
Best bets: Mahi tacos and an ice-cold margarita.
Magnolia House by Kelly English at Harrah’s (280 Beach Blvd.). Named Best New Chef by Food and Wine magazine a few years ago, Kelly English, a James Beard Award finalist, brings his take on Gulf fare to Magnolia House at Harrah’s Gulf Coast in some surprising ways — a modern take on tradition, as the menu states. Overheard at the next table: “This is the best dinner I’ve ever had.” This writer might agree. English divides his time between Magnolia House and his two restaurants in Memphis — Iris and Second Line — so he leaves daily operations to a well-honed team in Biloxi, collaborating with Magnolia House head chef Joshua Mitchell. Magnolia House offers a menu that you’ll want to take time to fully embrace. Order a glass of wine from a very nice wine list, then sit back and imagine what awaits your palate. Fresh fish from the Gulf — flounder, snapper and amazingly fresh oysters served raw on the half shell or fried and topped with brie cheese and bacon jam — a sweet and savory beginning to any meal. The artistry that goes into plating each dish is something of which Mitchell prides himself, topping King Salmon with his own version of Oscar — crab, lobster and shrimp in a creamy sauce with flash-fried kale. Oh my. Magnolia House offers a welcome change from typical casino fare. Thank you, Kelly English.
Best bets: King salmon Oscar; local snapper with Pontchartrain sauce; fried oyster-and-spinach salad with Creole mustard, bacon and onion.
Patio 44 (124 Main St.) With three locations in Mississippi — two on the Gulf Coast, one in Gulfport and the other in Biloxi, and a third in Hattiesburg, Patio 44 capitalizes on dining al fresco on large patios with expansive views. Local seafood is used whenever possible, including massively huge amounts of lightly fried shrimp on its po’ boys and delicious blackening seasoning on its Mississippi catfish. The menu embraces the culture of the Gulf, with Cajun influences galore. As with all restaurants along The Secret Coast, the dress code demands casual dress while the food sets the mood for a memorable affair.
Best bets: Bayou pasta with crawfish tails, tasso ham and andouille sausage; blackened catfish in a Cajun cream sauce with creamy gouda grits that fuse flavors of the deep South with its Cajun neighbors.
Le Bakery (280 Oak St.) You may not expect to find the best bakery in Mississippi, an honor given to Le Bakery by Mississippi Magazine, along one of the city’s back roads, but it’s here you need to go and get there early to get the best selection of made-from-scratch turnovers, sweet rolls, Danishes, praline pecan rolls and other confections. Delicious breads make the sandwiches, including Vietnamese po’ boys (banh mi), a treat you’ll remember after the last crumbs are gone. Owner and baker Sue Nguyen-Torjusen, a first-generation Vietnamese-American, has done an outstanding job of marrying the flavors of Vietnam and Cajun country, bring a truly unique taste to Coastal Mississippi.
Best bets: French-Vietnamese po’ boys made to order with garlic mayonnaise and soy sauce and all of the French breads and baguettes. Get them to go or eat-in.
Online: Check le bakery out on Facebook.
White Pillars (1696 Beach Blvd.) Voted as the Best Restaurant, Best Happy Hour and Best New Chef in the state by Mississippi magazine, White Pillars executive chef Austin Sumrall, another of Biloxi’s James Beard award semi-finalists, has an incredible place along the coast that brings to the table modern Southern cuisine, with its Korean BBQ pork belly, Eggplant Josephine, collard salad and other creative dishes. Order one of the sides made for sharing, such as duck-fat fries with toasted garlic aioli or the Grit Girl grits with salsa verde. The food is fresh and fun. Just look for the old Southern mansion with its massive white columns and you’ve found White Pillars.
Best bets: The Gulf Seafood Tower with oysters, shrimp, swordfish, tilefish and paddlefish caviar; or the smoked and fried chicken served with Alabama white sauce.
Some say this small town is the epitome of Southern grace. Streets lined with ancient live oaks dripping with Spanish moss, cottage-like storefronts and a nice mix of antiques shops, galleries and, oh yeah — restaurants, Ocean Springs is a great place to sit back and enjoy an afternoon or evening in one of Mississippi’s favorite artsy coastal communities.
The Greenhouse on Porter (404 Porter Ave.) Biscuits here are as ingenious as owners Jessie Zenor and Kait Sukiennik’s idea to turn an old greenhouse into a restaurant that is now one of the most-popular breakfast/brunch spots along the coast. Biscuit offerings change daily, but you’ll always find a sweet biscuit and a savory one topped with the famous “fluff” topping the restaurant is known for. The Greenhouse is all funked out with a decor that’s perfect for this laid-back town. Wooden tables with bench seating line the old greenhouse dirt floor as well as the small dining area inside a small adjoining house where orders are placed. The pandemic has forced the eatery to offer take-out and outside dining only in the grassy side yard where tables are positioned with plenty of room for social distancing.
Best bets: A savory beet biscuit with blue cheese fluff and sunflower seeds or a sweet blueberry biscuit with sweet fluff and nutmeg sprinkles, but keep in mind you’ll never find the same biscuit today as the one you ate here yesterday.
Mosaic (1010 Government St.) Food is an art at Mosaic, a lovely restaurant on one of the town’s side streets. The patio outside is a wonderland of palms and colorful flowers that make for a beautiful backdrop for your meal of shrimp and grits, shrimp scampi, gumbo and a nice selection of quesadillas, gyros and salads. Spend a lazy weekend morning with a spicy Bloody Mary paired with a pork belly taco or a craft beer with a handmade burgers. This is a favorite place for locals and tourists and business gets busy at the height of traditional lunch and dinner hours.
Best bets: Barbecue roasted pork crostini or Mosaic’s artful version of shrimp and grits – a grits cake smothered in a creamy tomato-caper sauce and topped with local grilled shrimp.
Vestige (715 Washington Ave.) Chef Alex Perry’s farm-table-menu changes weekly to ensure freshness. Everything possible is locally sourced — meats and vegetables from local farms and seafood plucked from the Gulf. Perry, a James Beard Award semi-finalist has a creative touch that’s a pleasant surprise, with dishes such as blue crab salad with celery root, radish and pickled orange or the catch-of-the-day fish with young summer squash, eggplant and walnut romesco sauce. Even before the pandemic, Vestige was small and tables demanded reservations. Now, seating is all the more limited, so plan your meal well in advance and be willing to take whatever time you can get. You won’t be sorry.
Best bets: With a menu that changes with the tides, it’s safe to say anything on the menu is a best bet.
Bay St. Louis
Hurricane Katrina vented her anger along the entire Mississippi Gulf Coast, but nowhere more so than its eastern edge, including Bay St. Louis which was nearly wiped off the map. Now, 15 years later, it’s back in business, offering a colorful vibrant community full of flavor.
Mockingbird Cafe (110 South Second St.) Enjoy a lazy morning with a specialty coffee or crafted cocktail, along with a beautiful plate of chicken and waffles on the porch at Mockingbird. Tall trees with gnarly limbs provide some shade in the summer sun. This is a lovely little place in Old Town Bay St. Louis that makes you feel at home with its white clapboard siding and casual laid-back decor that exudes Southern charm. It’s one building that Katrina did not destroy and opened as a place where locals could come to get some food and love during Katrina’s chaotic aftermath. It remains a favorite place for locals and, now, tourists. Brunch is a specialty and it’s offered daily with homemade buttermilk biscuits, pulled pork and grits and other brunch favorites. The menu also offers sandwiches and a couple of burgers.
Best bets: A mimosa or really good cup of coffee with your breakfast burrito or fried chicken and waflles with maple butter and syrup over everything.
The Buttercup on Second St. (112 North Second St.) A picture-perfect cafe that offers sandwiches, burgers, wraps, salads and a bakery, too. Look for the cheerful yellow-frame cottage with colorful umbrellas shading outdoor tables as you tour Old Town.
Best bets: A grilled shrimp sandwish on a croissant or the Big Buttercup Breakfast with three eggs, sausage and bacon.
200 North Beach (200 North Beach Blvd.) This popular eatery has one of the liveliest bar scenes in town, so get ready for an ice-cold brew and charbroiled oysters — half price from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday — after a day on the beach. Hungry for more? Ribs, redfish, rib-eyes, salads and sandwiches should do the trick.
Best bets: For starters, crawfish cornbread with almond-honey butter followed by a dozen raw oysters slurped down with a cold beer.
There’s more to Pascagoula than meets the eye as you drive down busy Highway 90. The city has a well-maintained beach park; the Pascagoula River Audubon Center; McCoy’s River Tours with Captain Benny; and, oh yes, for you Parrotheads — the small frame house where Jimmy Buffet grew up. But it’s also home to the best po’ boy on the planet.
* Bozo’s. If there’s a synonym for po’ boy, its Bozo’s. When you walk into a restaurant and the line wraps around the dining area, you know you’ve hit upon some good eats. One look at shrimp tumbling out of the loaf of French bread and you’ll realize you’ve never had a po’ boy like this before. Worth the wait? Without a doubt. Drizzle your po’ boy with homemade cocktail sauce or some of the eatery’s famous Cajun cream sauce. This place has been a tradition on the Gulf Coast since 1956. It also serves burgers, seafood platters and fish sandwiches, but you can get those most anywhere along the place. You can’t get po’ boys like this anywhere else, though.
Best bets: The Shrimp Overload po’ boy — it doesn’t come in the half size as do all other po’ boys, only large, so bring your appetite and leave your diet at home.