Before starting my second installment of “Top Reasons to Visit the MS Gulf Coast for a day or weekend trip,” I’m proud to announce thousands of voters around the U.S. agree with one of my picks from two weeks ago. The Ole’ Biloxi Fillin’ Station’s burger was named “Coast’s best burger.” The restaurant was also named favorite local hangout and venue that best represents the Coast’s attitude. Speaking of B’s, it’s time to discuss one of my favorite places on earth, Bay St. Louis.
Drive over the mammoth Bay Bridge from beautiful Pass Christian and your blood pressure plummets as you view the sweepings vistas of the bay on either side. The sight of the sunlight dancing on the bay is truly breathtaking.
Destroyed in Katrina, the bridge was rebuilt hurricane-proof at 85 feet about the bay at its highest point. If you’re feeling adventuresome, park your car at either end, put on your athletic shoes and trek across the bridge in the enclosed walking/cycling trail. You’ll get 360-degree views of the area and be energized by cool bay breezes.
When it’s time to eat, take a left off the bridge onto Beach Boulevard. On one side of the quaint street is the glistening bay fronted with a new harbor. On the other are family-owned restaurants serving fresh seafood and other creative dishes.
One of my favorites is Trapani’s, a favorite of locals before it was destroyed in Katrina. I was excited to visit when it reopened a few years ago. I wasn’t disappointed in the new version. Everything is delicious, but my favorite menu item is the overflowing shrimp po’boy. More on that in a minute.
Marinated Crab Claws at 200 North Beach in Bay St. Louis
Next door is 200 North Beach. It’s a cozy space offering pasta dishes, steaks and seafood. Across the street is the original The Blind Tiger, a less formal local hangout on the waterfront with an amazing view of the bay and the bridge.
Walk off a delicious meal by wandering one street over to Main Street, filled with quaint shops. If you’re still hungry, drop by Lulu’s on Main, a charming eatery offering innovative dishes inside an art gallery.
No trip to The Bay would be complete without a stop by the Angel Tree. It’s located on the beach side near the new harbor. If you visit, don’t forget your camera and tissues. From Coast residents to cynical Canadians, I've witnessed emotional responses to the oak tree carved into the likeness of angels, complete with hovering wings and piercing eyes.
This is a food column, but this story bears telling. When Katrina’s eye passed over Bay St. Louis, three people and a small Scottish terrier dog were riding out the storm in the beachfront Bay Town Inn. As the storm surge increased, they fled from the building and climbed an oak tree behind the Inn, hanging on for dear life.
The centuries-old oak served as the group's lifeline for four hours as the wind and water flattened the inn and most of The Bay's structures. Thanks to the tree’s sturdy branches, they were unharmed when the water subsided. Sadly, like many of the Coast’s beautiful oaks, the tree withstood the storm only to die afterwards.
The remains of the oak were moved to the beachfront and secured in concrete just a few hundred feet from where it saved the lives of three people and a dog. A chainsaw artist created beauty from ashes, expertly carving an angel and large birds keeping watch on the limbs.
Stop by the Angel Tree for a photo, prayer or just a glimpse of a life-saving tree. It's an experience you’ll never forget.
There are many more reasons for a trip to the Bay, but in the interest of space, I’ll end with my #1 pick for an authentic, old-Coast experience. It may not be in Hancock County, but it’s close enough.
Drive back over the bridge and once you see the scenic oaks fronting Pass Christian, take a left one block from U.S. Hwy. 90 to 208 Menge Ave. There you’ll find Pirate’s Cove. The rustic building holds the key to a quintessential Coast meal.
As you drive in, don’t let the exterior fool you. Inside you’ll find some of, if not the best, po’boys on the Coast. I’ve sampled the roast beef, but I always go back to the shrimp.
Sitting outside at the picnic table, it takes two hands to hold the thick New Orleans-style po’boy bun filled with crispy fried shrimp topped with tangy sauce. With a cold Barq’s root beer to wash it all down and if I’m lucky, cool breezes from the nearby beach wafting over me, life simply doesn’t get much better.
So, get in the car, drive down to the Coast and sample the best The Bay has to offer. Last, take a side trip to Pirate’s Cove. The memories of the shimmering bay, piercing eyes of the Angel Tree and most of all, delicious meals, will keep you coming back, just as they did me.
I’ll leave seafood recipes to the Coast’s creative chefs and instead, pass on one given to me by a Coast friend. Just like the area, it’s wonderful and satisfying with a touch of heat.
Coast-Style Marinated Grilled Chicken
4 chicken breasts, skinned and boned
1/4cup white wine (for a non-alcoholic substitution, use an equal amount of chicken broth, apple cider or juice or white grape juice. To cut the sweetness, add a teaspoon of vinegar)
2 tablespooons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon garlic, pressed or juice
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1 stick of butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Wash chicken and pat dry. With the tip of a sharp knife, make small slices from end to end on each breast. Place in a marinade container or large Ziploc bag.
In a food processor (use a whisk if you don’t have one) place white wine or substitute, Worcestershire sauce, garlic and Tabasco. Process for 30 seconds or whisk for 1 minute. Pour mixture over chicken breasts. Turn breasts to coat well, making sure chicken is completely covered. Place in the refrigerator several hours, preferably overnight.
To grill chicken, heat a large skillet and melt the stick of butter. Remove chicken breasts and allow excess marinade to drip off. Place breasts into skillet with melted butter, sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook on high heat until white begins to show through the middle of chicken and exterior is browned.
Flip breasts over with a spatula and cook until brown on other side. The process should take about 4-6 minutes on either side, but be careful not to let chicken burn; adjust heat down as needed.