It’s a disclaimer many Mississippi restaurants can’t make with any degree of honesty. Despite the lack of a deep fryer, Darwell’s Café in Long Beach serves up some of the best Creole and Cajun food in the state and possibly the South, including neighboring New Orleans just over the state line. Now there’s a small location of one of my favorite Gulf Coast restaurants in the Jackson area. But first, a little about the mothership where it all began.
I could mention Darwell’s segment on the Food Network’s Diner, Drive-Ins and Dives, or tell you it’s been named one of the top 10 restaurants in the U.S. by Forbes Magazine. Likewise, the list of local, state, and national publications that’ve sung the eclectic eatery’s praises is a mile long. But the real reason I’m encouraging you to drop into Long Beach during your next trip to the Gulf Coast or call in a take-out order at the Pearl location? It's definitely the unique, homemade, utterly-delicious food.
If you're headed to the Long Beach location, be prepared for the off-beat exterior. It’s a colorful, metal building painted in vibrant shades of green, blue, red, and every color in between. Most days, you're greeted at the door by “Papa D,” son of Darwell, the restaurant’s current owner and chef. An outgoing artist whose work graces almost every spare wall in the compact restaurant, he’ll scrawl a scarily-accurate caricature of you on a Styrofoam cup as you place your order.
Darwell’s interior is as visually stimulating as the exterior. Packed to the ceiling with memorabilia, framed reviews, and Papa D’s vibrant artwork, you won’t be bored as you wait for your food to arrive.
Photos courtesy of Darwell's Facebook
Speaking of your order, it’s placed at the front counter as you walk in. That should provide your first clue that Darwell’s is a laid-back, no-frills place. After perusing the daily specials written on the wall and getting your personalized cup, you’re free to wind your way through the small rooms or walk out to the patio filled with umbrella tables and find a seat to your liking.
On my first visit to Darwell’s, I was accompanied by Long Beach’s head football coach, a transplanted resident from neighboring Tennessee. Despite hailing from a state known for its fine cuisine, Darwell’s is on his top five favorite restaurants of all time. I soon learned why.
On that visit, the daily specials included seafood gumbo filled with shrimp and crab as the soup of the day; crab cakes as the featured appetizer; house specialty angel hair yum yum as a featured pasta; blackened and garlic shrimp as the entrée of the day and Mahi Mahi as the featured fish.
I was tempted to selected the pasta after learning it was loaded with a shrimp, crab and mushroom cream sauce. However, my friend urged me to sample the house specialty, Darwell’s self-proclaimed “award-winning” shrimp creole. Let me just say, he didn’t steer me wrong.
Jumbo shrimp are simmered in a spicy tomato sauce with the holy trinity of Cajun cooking, a sautéed mixture of onions, bell peppers and celery, then served over rice. To say it’s a heavenly dish wouldn’t be an overstatement.
Despite my love of the shrimp Creole dish, I have tried a few more on subsequent visits. I’m happy to report they’re now on my “favorites” list.
These include jumbo lump crab cakes, which can be enjoyed as an appetizer, sandwich or entrée; red beans and rice and the anticipated angel hair yum yum. The flavorful dish is filled with sautéed shrimp, pasta and the slightly-spicy secret-recipe sauce.
Also rotating on the daily list are crawfish etouffee, a decadent creole dish filled with rich crawfish sauce and topped with seasoned shrimp; yummy momma pasta, a paneed chicken breast over angel hair pasta topped with sauce; beef tips and rice or potatoes and angel hair pasta with marinara sauce and meatballs.
If you can’t make up your mind, Taste of Darwell’s makes it easy. The three-plate sampler contains crawfish etouffee, shrimp creole, and gumbo.
On the sandwich board is a long list of homemade creations that are delicious and filling without benefit of a deep fryer. Personal favorites are the spicy shrimp and smoked brisket with barbecue. Others include the crawdaddy filled with succulent crawfish and cream sauce; crab melt and prime rib au jus.
These are just a few of the reasons visiting Darwell’s Long Beach location should be on your Gulf Coast bucket list. If a trip is not imminent, there’s hope for those close to the Capital City.
Darwell’s Too-Go opened recently in Pearl with an abbreviated menu. Right now, it's take-out only; no dining in. Despite this, many of the favorite dishes from the Coats are available at the new location.
Seafood gumbo, shrimp creole, jambalaya, Shrimp Creole, crawfish etouffee, red beans and rice, angel hair yum yum and a few additional dishes and sandwiches are served up in the smaller location. In my opinion, they selected the “best of the best” for the new location. Darwell’s Too-Go is the next best thing to the original on the Coast.
Darwell’s in Long Beach is located at 127 E. 1st St. Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Contact the restaurant at (228) 868-8946.
Darwell’s Too-Go is located at 3405 Old Brandon Rd. across from Pearl Park. Hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Call (769) 235-6722 for take-out orders.