After dining at and comparing the merits of hundreds of restaurants, I’ve found that outstanding ones usually have two common denominators: a varied but not overly-crowded menu, and an above-average bread basket. Purple Parrot Café, reigning supreme on Hardy Street in Hattiesburg for over three decades, is one of our state’s culinary crown jewels in terms of sustainability, ambiance, personal service, and outstanding food. It’s the perfect “date night” or special occasion celebratory meal destination, but I’d be remiss if I relegated it to those categories. Whatever the occasion or reason for desiring a memorable meal, the staff and chefs at Purple Parrot, led by area restaurateur Robert St. John, ensure that every dining experience is perfect from beginning to end.
Purple Parrot, the first of St. John’s restaurants to be opened 32 years ago when he was only 27, has garnered an impressive array of culinary awards including multiple AAA Four Diamond Awards. Notably, Purple Parrot is one of only five restaurants in the state, as well as the only non-casino restaurant in the state and the only eatery north of the Gulf Coast, to earn the prestigious four-diamond ranking. When you consider the number of restaurants that have disappeared during the past 32 years, it’s easy to see something amazingly different is going on in the kitchen and dining room of this Grande Dame of Hattiesburg’s culinary scene.
The ambiance of the calm and well-appointed dining room highlighted by rich, wood finishes, artwork by Mississippi artist Wyatt Waters, and white-clothed tables is in stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of St. John’s adjacent establishments, including Crescent City Grill, Branch, and Mahogany Bar, along with busy Hardy Street just steps from the front door. It’s a calming oasis where diners can relax and enjoy a pre-dinner beverage and creative appetizer while perusing the menu.
I’ve visited Purple Parrot several times over the years, working my way across the succinct menu for festive lunches, special occasions, and dinners with friends. Everything I’ve sampled has been unique, fresh, and superbly prepared. And, meeting my other criteria, baskets of hot, fragrant, fluffy homemade rolls are placed on the table prior to every meal. If that’s not an indication that this restaurant knows good service and even better, great bread, I don’t know what is.
During my most recent visit on the restaurant’s 32nd anniversary, I chose an interesting starter to begin my meal. A succulent smoked duck spring roll ($11) was excellently-prepared and equally tasty. My friend chose seared sea scallops ($12) highlighted with Madeira, creamed corn, tasso, and leeks. Other appetizers include an artisan cheese plate ($12) filled with assorted cheeses and locally-grown honey; Cajun caviar remoulade ($13) composed of Louisiana caviar, fried green tomatoes and shallots and rillettes duo ($12) filled with duck confit, rillettes, and smoked salmon rillettes.
Now, on to the piece de resistance, Purple Parrot’s steaks. Learning from a local friend about the restaurant’s hidden secret, delicious steaks, was a nice surprise and diverted my attention from my usual choices. Each steak is served with a side dish of one’s choice.
The six-ounce filet is the most affordable at $34, and the cut I initially settled upon after reviewing the lineup of steaks. After watching a sizzling ribeye ($34) being delivered to a neighboring table, my friend and I decided to make the same selection. Seared to perfection and oh-so-lightly seasoned with a red wine demi glace, it was one of the best steaks I’ve ever eaten.
Other steaks on the menu are the 10-ounce filet ($42), 16-ounce prime rib ($46), and 10-ounce Wagyu flat iron ($32).
Additional entrées include blackened Gulf fish ($26) served with tasso and andouille maque choux; grilled Gulf fish ($26, $6 extra for jumbo lump crabmeat) with fall vegetables, roasted garlic, and sage Banner butter; short rib osso bucco ($28) along with roasted garlic mashed potatoes, charred carrots in a red wine demi glace; braised lamb shank ($36) along with farro risotto, root vegetables, Swiss chard, fennel, and pepper relish; duck breast ($28) that has been pan-seared with a cherry demi glace, Swiss chard, and parsnip purée; pasta fresca ($26) filled with lamb, root vegetables, and roasted mushrooms; roasted chicken ($22) with sweet potato and apple cider gratin, bacon Brussels in buerre blanc, and acorn squash ($18) stuffed with farro risotto and Swiss chard, topped with sage and roasted garlic Banner butter in a balsamic reduction.
As I’ve described, steaks and other entrées stand on their own merit, but a few well-chosen sides (in the $5-6 range) make each dinner even more memorable. One of my all-time favorites is garlic mashed potatoes. Others are charred chili carrots, maque choux, bacon Brussels sprouts, house cut fries, and roasted asparagus with béarnaise.
Additional accompaniments are Purple Parrot’s innovative soups or salads ($6-$7). Equally delicious are corn and crab bisque, seafood gumbo, gumbo ya-ya, Caesar salad, and the restaurant’s trademark sensation salad. The recipe for this tangy salad dressing has been often-imitated but never duplicated. If you have room for dessert, a serving of one of Purple Parrot’s innovative desserts is the perfect ending to a meal you’ll never forget. On the night we visited, eggnog crème brulee was on the menu, along with white chocolate bread pudding. My friend and I both selected the former. I’ve sampled quite a few dishes of this creamy dessert in my lifetime and venture to say, this version was very near the top of outstanding crème brulees served to me over the years.
Purple Parrot Café is located at 3810 Hardy St. in Hattiesburg. The restaurant is open for Sunday brunch from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.; Monday – Thursday, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. and 5:30 – 9 p.m.; and 5:30 – 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Call (601) 264-0657 for more information or to make reservations.