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Mississippi Gulf Coast's History and Cuisine is More Intriguing Than You Thought

by Kara Kimbrough

It's hard for me to name just one place to visit on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Favorite spots are stretched from Jackson County to Hancock County, with plenty of places worthy of mention in between in sprawling Harrison County. But, I'd be remiss if I didn't share the treasures across the Bay Bridge in Waveland. Many don't realize beautiful Buccaneer State Park is located on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. Nearby, culinary delights awaits at Rum Kitchen. Noticing a pirate theme in the names? Let me explain.

Buccaneer State Park occupies a prime spot in the midst of large moss-draped oaks, marshlands and nearby sandy beaches. However, the state of Mississippi technically can't boast of its discovery. It's been a favorite place to visit since the late 1700s when French buccaneer Jean Lafitte and his followers were busy smuggling and pirating along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Lafitte set up his headquarters in the old Pirate House a short distance from today's park.

Fast forward to the 1800s, and Andrew Jackson labeled the area Jackson's Ridge after setting up a military base there during the Battle of New Orleans. Jackson was so taken with the place's natural beauty that after the war, he returned and built a house on land that is now Buccaneer State Park.

It's interesting to think of the park's fascinating history during a visit, but don't expect to see many landmarks of olden days. Hurricane Katrina obliterated most of the park's structures courtesy of its nearly 30-foot tidal surge. A major renovation project, completed in 2013, fully restored the park to its beauty and functionality.

With names like Pirate's and Treasure Coves, Jean Lafitte and Royal Cay, the park includes 206 premium campsites, 70 field campsites and primitive camping spots, many overlooking the water. There's also Buccaneer Bay, a 4-and-a-half-acre waterpark, Pirate's Alley Nature Trail, Jackson's Ridge disc golf, a regular pool and pavilions. Even if camping is not your forte, the park is the perfect place to stop and enjoy a picnic, savor cool breezes and take in amazing views during a day trip.

One of Waveland's most popular restaurants, Rum Kitchen, includes an ode to the area's early pirate residents in its name. Even better, diners can sample cuisine from ne of the area's most esteemed restaurateurs.

After Katrina, I was saddened to learn Long Beach's Chappy's restaurant was destroyed and, as a result, didn't reopen. My sadness was short-lived when I found out John Chapman and his wife, Starr, had opened Rum Kitchen in The Bay. Even more exciting, classic Chappy's dishes like blackened redfish, grilled barbecue steak, crab cakes with remoulade sauce and fried green tomatoes with crab and crawfish were just added to the post-COVID menu.

For starters, Rum Kitchen's appetizers are fresh, innovative and substantial enough to serve as a light meal. In the $10 to $14 range are Gulf shrimp cocktail, jumbo lump crabmeat cocktail, fried mahi mahi fingers with sauce, seared Ahi tuna and the aforementioned crab cakes and fried green tomatoes.

It's hard to select just one entree since each one is so enticing. Selections include sesame crusted grilled Ahi tuna steak with wasabi cream, fried or grilled shrimp, seafood platter, fried oyster platter, grilled red snapper, fried soft shell crab topped with jumbo lump crabmeat, trout Almondine or Lafayette and Chappy's legends, blacked redfish and grilled ribeye. Entrees are served with two sides and are reasonably priced between $20 and $30.

Poboys and sandwiches are perfect for lunch or a light dinner and include fried or grilled shrimp, fried oyster, soft shell crab, fried or grilled mahi mahi and fried or grilled chicken ($14 to $16).

Or, choose from among several burgers (($12 to $16), including cheeseburger, pepper jack mushroom, The Beast with pulled pork, rock the guac and veggie.

Salads can be enhanced with seafood or chicken and include a wedge, grilled chicken, house and Caesar ($10 to $16).

Don't leave Rum Kitchen without sampling dessert. Not surprisingly, coconut rum cake is on the menu, along with bread pudding with praline sauce, chocolate lava cake and key lime pie.

If You Go:

What: Rum Kitchen

Where: 324 Highway 90, Waveland

When: Closed on Monday and Tuesday; open 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4:30 to 9 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday.

Contact: 228.467.9099. Hours are subject to change, so call before dining in.

What: Buccaneer State Park

Where: 1150 S. Beach Boulevard, Waveland

Contact: 228.467.3822

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