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.
To borrow a banking term, The Vault’s steaks are creating its highest rate of customer return. Steaks range from the mammoth 26-ounce Cowboy Ribeye ($34.99, pictured left) to an 8-ounce Filet Mignon ($32.99). For a happy medium, there are three sizes of grilled ribeye ($19.99 for an 8-ounce; $24.99 for 12-ounce; $28.99 for 16 ounce).
I’m not a steak aficionado, but a personal recommendation for the 8-ounce Grilled Ribeye is warranted. They’re that good. Besides its perfect size, it was one of the best steaks I’ve ever eaten. Picture a backyard cookout with a sizzling steak on the grill, expertly flipped by a grill-meister that knows how to cook a steak. The sizzling steak placed before me, complete with the aroma of backyard barbecue smoke, conjured up delightful memories that were further enhanced after I tasted a bite of the tender steak.
Another noteworthy fact about the steak dinner: instead of the same boring baked potato, I received a delicious loaded potato filled with melted cheese, bacon, and green onions. A side of smoked Gouda grits was far superior to the regular lineup of steamed vegetables that accompany most steaks. If these aren’t to your liking, don’t worry. A total of 13 homemade side dishes are on the menu.
A new addition to the steak menu is surf and turf, a tried-and-true combination of grilled ribeye and grilled shrimp with The Vault’s creative touches An 8-ounce ribeye with six shrimp is $27.99, while a 12-ounce is $32.99 and 16-ounce is $36.99.
Additional seafood dishes include Shrimp and Grits ($16) featuring those delicious smoked Gouda grits topped with grilled shrimp and a creamy creole garlic butter sauce. Others on the menu are Crawfish and Grits ($16) with a side of sausage; Shrimp Alfredo ($12) and Grilled Shrimp ($14).
The lighter side of the dinner menu includes a lineup of burgers and sandwiches similar to the lunch menu and salads ($9.99) topped with your choice of grilled or fried chicken, steak, and shrimp.
The Vault is also open for lunch on Sunday. Southern classics like fried chicken, chicken potpie, and hamburger steak with a variety of vegetables, cornbread, and desserts like Butterfinger cake and banana Foster cheesecake rotate on the menu each week.
If you’re travelling near Magee, take the short drive to downtown, stop by The Vault to enjoy the ambiance, dine in an actual bank vault, and, most importantly, partake of “New Orleans with a Southern flair” food.
If You Go:
What: The Vault Eatery and Drinkery
Where: 101 Main Avenue S, Magee, MS
When: Open for lunch Wednesday – Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Open for dinner Wednesday – Saturday, 5 to 9 p.m.
Open for Sunday lunch, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.
To reserve the bank vault for a special dinner (4-6 can be seated), it’s best to call ahead. The president’s office seats up to 10 and is open or can be reserved in advance for private meals.
Contact: (601) 439-7242