Spring, wonderful spring...the official start of vacation season. Vacation means many things, including letting someone else do the cooking. I understand the appeal of seeking a reprieve from packing hundreds of mundane lunches and trying to think of something - anything - to cook for dinner night after night. However, before you pack the car or book a flight, I have an alternate plan. Don't wreck the budget with a long sojourn to an expensive out-of-state resort offering pricey restaurants. Instead, look no further than our own Gulf Coast.
I often receive emails from readers asking for restaurant recommendations for our state’s crown jewel. Just as one email isn’t long enough to list all my favorites, I’ll spread the list of my top culinary picks over a couple of columns.
But before diving into the culinary scene, deciding how and when to go, along with what to do when you get there, must be decided. The Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau website contains a wealth of information on lodging, RV parks and campgrounds. Also included is a list of things to do, including attending weekly festivals, many centered around local cuisine. At least one, sometime more, are held each weekend until the end of the year. Find out more at www.gulfcoast.org.
Besides festival-going, beach walking, shopping, casino hopping, sightseeing, and shopping – the #1 reason to head south is to sample authentic Coast restaurants. Trust me, it's more than enough reason for me when I'm homesick for the sight of the natural beauty of our shoreline, fresh salty breezes and palm trees, and the best shrimp po'boy in the world downed with a Barq's root beer. Since Barq's was first bottled in Biloxi, I try to pay homage to this fact as often as I can.
My food picks range from elaborate fine-dining establishments to local family-owned restaurants and bakeries to downright dives. Without further ado, here are a few eateries that never failed to serve up a delicious meal. Before going, make sure to call to check seasonal hours.
If you’re coming in to the Coast via Highway 49 before noon, stop by Triplett-Day, a real-live drugstore hearkening back to a bygone era with a small restaurant in the back. They serve regular breakfast items like biscuits, bacon and eggs, but it’s the beignets that are the real star.
Once you arrive at the beach, take a left on U.S. 90 and choose from among several restaurants on or near the beach. One of my favorites is Shaggy’s. Don't let the brightly-covered exterior fool you. Shaggy's serves up surprisingly good seafood, sandwiches, burgers, and pasta dishes. An outdoor patio overlooking the water is an added bonus.
A new waterfront addition to Biloxi is The Blind Tiger, a Bay St. Louis favorite since 2013. Located on the south lawn of Harrah’s, the kitschy, come-as-you-are restaurant offers great food with a panoramic view of Deer Island, shrimpers, and majestic sunsets.
No trip to the Coast is complete without a stop by the Beau Rivage. Even if you’re not an overnight guest, walking through the Beau is a treat. Filled with thousands of flowers, unique shopping opportunities, and a range of dining spots, the Beau is always on my itinerary. The daily buffet, Coast Seafood, and Roasted Bean never disappoint. However, if your budget allows, schedule a special dinner at BR Prime. It’s a bit pricey, but the charming restaurant's outstanding steaks, seafood, and ambiance are worth every penny.
If you’re craving barbecue, head over the Biloxi Bridge to Ocean Springs and drop into The Shed Barbecue & Blues Joint. It’s a loud, rustic place, but The Shed smoked ribs and brisket more than compensate for the noise level.
Other favorite spots are Mary Mahoney’s, a Biloxi stalwart for decades; Ole Biloxi Fillin’ Station, and Cork and Cleaver in downtown Gulfport.
In a future column, I’ll share my all-time favorite Coast “dive” and food finds over the Bay Bridge in Hancock County.
Just thinking about the area’s food treasures made me crave an old school, classic Coast dish - shrimp spaghetti. Using shrimp instead of a heavier meat sauce and creating a low-fat tomato cream sauce makes this a lighter dish than traditional spaghetti and meat sauce. Just like our Coast; it put a needed spring in my step.
Lightened-Up Shrimp Spaghetti
1 pound of medium shrimp (I used a bag of frozen, defrosted)
1 pound of tubular pasta (I used rigatoni)
2-3 teaspoons of olive oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 (14-ounce) cans of crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon each: dried basil, oregano and parsley
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup low-fat milk
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
Boil pasta in lightly salted water. While pasta is boiling, add olive oil to a large skillet or Dutch oven and sauté shrimp for a few minutes until pink (don’t overcook). Move shrimp to a nearby dish and add a little more olive oil to the skillet, along with minced garlic. Sauté over low heat, then add tomatoes, herbs and salt. Stir together, bring to a boil, then lower heat to medium and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
In a separate bowl, whisk together milk and flour and add to tomato mixture, stirring well over low heat.
Add shrimp to the skillet, stir to combine well, then add pasta to the mixture. (If skillet is not large enough for pasta, serve pasta on individual plates and top with tomato and shrimp sauce.) Stir everything together well, then add cheese and stir to melt. Serve hot.