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Taranto's Took Me Back To 'Old School Gulf Coast'

Thinking about the hundreds of family-owned, neighborhood seafood joints and diners destroyed in Hurricanes Camille and Katrina makes me sad. Regrettably, there are very few left. I was intrigued when a local friend told me about Taranto’s. It’s an out-of-the-way neighborhood place that in recent years was named the Coast’s best po’boy restaurant. I couldn’t wait to visit, especially when I learned it’s in Biloxi’s Woolmarket community. Take it from me, if you’ve never been to Woolmarket, you’ll want to find it. The restaurant is cozy and quaint, but the food is the real star.

Taranto’s was a neighborhood seafood market when Katrina hit, destroying the family’s homes and delaying owner Arnie Taranto’s plans to open a restaurant the following month. He has since passed on, but son and daughter-in-law Anthony and Gindy are carrying on the family tradition in a way that would undoubtedly make “Mr. Arnie” proud.

The day of my visit, the small dining room was packed with locals and a few tourists. A group of motorcyclists occupied the back room. If you like spacious dining spaces with fancy accoutrements, Taranto’s may not be your kind of place. Tables and booths are set close together, providing a friendly atmosphere and a great view of the overflowing plates of seafood, poboys and steaks delivered to neighboring tables.

And if, like I was, you’re nostalgic for the old-school seafood restaurants of the past and desire a genuine Gulf Coast dining experience, set your GPS for Woolmarket, and get ready for a memorable meal.

Taranto’s is known for its poboys, but I wanted to sample additional items. My first stop was the appetizer section filled with everything from gumbo to crawfish tails.

I’m always intrigued by any dish with the restaurant’s name attached; therefore, I couldn’t resist ordering Taranto’s fries ($6.99). I was expecting a basket of around a dozen or so fries. Instead, I received an overflowing dinner plate filled with enough fries for two, possibly three, people. Topped with an enormous mound of sliced roast beef and gravy and cheese (I asked them to hold the jalapenos), it was large enough to qualify as an entrée.

I’m already dreaming of my next trip and the appetizers I want to try, including gumbo ($4.99-$8.29), shrimp and crawfish bisque ($4.99-$8.29), fried pickles and peppers ($4.99 each), Buffalo shrimp ($8.99), Buffalo chicken ($7.99), swamp fries topped with shrimp and crawfish bisque ($7.99), loaded fries ($6.99), and sides of seafood that include shrimp and crawfish tails ($4.99) and fried oysters (market price).

One of the longest lists of poboy I’ve ever seen made choosing just one almost impossible. I couldn’t resist my go-to, fried shrimp. I’ve tasted many shrimp poboys in my life, but this was one of the best and here’s why.

Many times, an excessive amount of batter and frying makes holding, not to mention eating, a shrimp poboy an arduous task. Lumpy shrimp fall out…sauce ends up everywhere except on the shrimp and often times, poboy bun is too crispy to enjoy. Not so with Taranto’s version.

The shrimp were delicately battered and lightly fried. No overpowering seasonings or taste of oil was evident in any bite. Lightly-seasoned, tangy remoulade sauce was the perfect topping, along with lettuce and tomatoes that all fit perfectly into the perfectly-crisp bun. All in all, it was one of the best shrimp poboys I’ve ever tasted.

I chose a 6-inch version ($6.99), but a 12-inch ($13.99) is also available. Others in the same price range include catfish, crab, oyster, crawfish, chicken, barbecue pork, and hamburger.

Taranto’s was included in my “best steaks of south Mississippi” list based on my friend’s recommendation. So, I couldn’t leave without placing a to-go order for a ribeye poboy ($12.99-half/$25.89-whole). After surviving the trip home and a night in the refrigerator, the steak was still tender, juicy, and flavorful the following day. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it may just replace shrimp as my favorite poboy of all time.

Speaking of steaks, Taranto’s has an entire menu section devoted to them. There’s the 8 and 12-ounce ribeye ($14.99-$19.99) and 8 and 12-ounce surf and turf ($17.99-$22.99). Each dinner comes with a salad, fries and toast.

But if seafood is your choice, Taranto’s has plenty of platters on the menu. Choose from among the shrimp ($14.99), catfish ($16.99), crab ($14.99), fried crawfish ($14.99) oyster (market), chicken strip ($9.99) and seafood ($21.99) filled with shrimp, oysters, crab cake and fish.

Daily specials with rotating poboys and seafood baskets are available Tuesday through Friday. Each special comes with a side and a drink. The menu also includes seafood and chicken salads, burgers, and extra sides ranging from onion rings to crab cakes.

I’m happy to have discovered this old school Coast restaurant in Woolmarket, where the ambiance is comforting, portions are hearty and shrimp and ribeye poboys exceed my very high expectations.

Taranto’s is located at 12404 John Lee Road in Biloxi (not far from Interstate 10). Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Tuesday – Saturday. The restaurant is closed on Sunday and Monday. Call 228-392-0990 for more information.

After tasting Taranto’s delicious remoulade sauce, I created my own version to use as a salad dressing and dipping sauce.

Copycat Remoulade or Comeback Sauce

1 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup ketchup

1/4 cup chili sauce

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon garlic powder

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce

1/4 cup olive oil

juice of one lemon

Mix all ingredients together in a glass jar or other sealed container, shake well, and store in refrigerator overnight or several hours before serving.

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