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Dinner In a Bank Vault? It's Possible at The Vault in Magee

It’s Saturday night, time to let someone else do the cooking. How does dining in an actual bank vault sound? Yes, that room –the one with the heavy steel door and armed guards. Unbelievably, you can enjoy a meal in the room where millions of dollars were once stored. Or, reserve the bank president's glass corner office for a memorable meal. Both of these culinary feats can be accomplished at The Vault Eatery and Drinkery, located in a former Trustmark bank building in Magee.

Located in the heart of the city's picturesque downtown district a few blocks from highway 49, transforming the bank building into a restaurant was the brain child of Nona and Jean-Philippe Cook. The Cooks saw the growing need for more locally owned restaurants in the small city between Jackson and Hattiesburg. They channeled their love of downtown preservation, decorating, and food into their latest project.

Maintaining the architectural details of the bank, including the steel vault and the glass executive office, while incorporating cozier accouterments like exposed brick walls, mahogany beams, and leather booths, resulted in a warm, cocoon-like space that bears no resemblance to the sterile, fluorescent-lit bank.

At the entrance, touches of the bank are evident in the marble façade and metal door frames. But, the utilitarian glass door has been replaced with antique wood and filigreed glass, setting the stage for a true dining adventure in one of Magee’s historic buildings.

Besides the building’s unique features and novel decor, the food is reaping dividends for diners who stop in to invest in a memorable meal.

Cook’s goal in planning the décor as well as the menu was to combine “a New Orleans feel with Southern flair.” To that end, The Vault’s chefs offer fresh, modern takes on everything from chicken and waffles to smoked Gouda grits. Despite its beginnings as a local restaurant offering classic specials and sandwiches for lunch and upscale dishes in the evening, the restaurant has become known as a steakhouse that rivals comparable eateries in neighboring metropolitan areas.

“Our steaks are expertly-seasoned and grilled to specifications just minutes before serving,” said Cook. “I am very particular about the quality of meat we serve. We have numerous repeat customers who come in every weekend and say they no longer drive out of town to enjoy the best steak dinner they’ve ever tasted.”

In addition to steaks – and I add my name to the list of those who find The Vault’s grilled steaks absolutely delicious – the menu is filled with an interesting juxtaposition of casual and upscale dishes.

For starters, there is the usual lineup of small plates to be enjoyed with dinner or at the nearby bar, which serves beer and light wine.

Included are Grilled Wings with a variety of dipping sauces ($5.49 and $9.79 or $14.29 for a group); Pickle Fries with homemade ranch ($6); Crawfish Bites with homemade comeback sauce ($6.99); Vault Loaded Fries ($4.99) and Vault Shrimp, also with comeback sauce ($7.25).

The Vault offers a variety of menu choices for lunch. These include Vault Burger ($7.99); Roast Beef and Barbecue Pork Sandwich ($8.99 each); Philly Cheese Poboy ($9.99); Country Fried Steak Sandwich ($9.99) and choice of grilled or fried chicken salad ($9.99). Each lunch item comes with fries or onion rings.

After dark, the restaurant takes a more sophisticated turn. Creative homemade dishes ranging from shrimp and grits to grilled steaks, pasta, and seafood begin emerging from the kitchen. If you visit on a weekend, musical entertainment enlivens dinner as local musicians perform on the small stage adjacent to the dining room.

The Vault has also become a popular party venue, hosting weddings, receptions, and private parties. The vault – the room, not the restaurant – can be reserved for private anniversary dinners, birthdays or other special events for two or up to six people.

Ambiance and versatility aside, it’s the food that has catapulted The Vault from an interesting restaurant location to a place that serves memorable food.