I recently mentioned my reticence at playing favorites among restaurants. The same sentiment holds true for barbecue places. They’re all different and wonderful in their own special way. And, it’s rare for me to find anything wrong with barbecue, which, in my opinion, should be a separate food group. However, Murky Water Blues and BBQ restaurants – I use the plural because its found in Gulfport, Ocean Springs, and, most recently, Hattiesburg – are near the top of my favorite barbecue restaurants. After you sample their self-proclaimed “famous wings,” mouth-watering ribs and brisket and even the restaurant’s popular “burnt ends,” (their description, not mine), I think you’ll agree with my assessment.
Brandon Atwell, Frankie Penn, and Thomas Young, a trio of twenty-something Coast natives opened the first Murky Water BBQ in a spacious, historic downtown Gulfport building in 2013. They might have been young for the cut-throat restaurant business, but obviously knew how to smoke, season, and serve fine barbecue. If you’re riding through downtown Gulfport during peak hours, you’ll catch a whiff of the tantalizing barbecue getting ready to be served to a line of hungry patrons.
A second location opened the following year in Ocean Springs, and, in 2017, Hattiesburg received its own Murky Waters on Hardy Street. All three restaurants are booming, which tells you a lot about the service, atmosphere, and the deliciousness of the barbecue served to a growing number of fans.
Even though I’m a self-professed barbecue lover, I don’t enjoy the bitter taste of the sauce used by some restaurants. Ditto for flaming hot sauces loaded with peppers and other mouth-burning ingredients. When I first tasted Murky Waters’ sauce, I knew I’d found a sauce that met my taste requirements. It has sweet, mellow undertones without overloading one’s taste buds. In short, it’s perfect accompaniment to the smoked meat without overpowering it.
Speaking of the meat, it’s every bit as good – or better – than the sauce. First, for appetizers, you have to try the barbecue nachos ($11.95). It’s almost a meal unto itself, filled as it is with piles of smoky pulled pork covered in barbecue sauce, cheese sauce, and jalapenos on fresh chips.
Another can’t-miss app is the sausage and cheese platter ($8.95). Smoky slices of sausage are paired with cubes of cheddar and pepper jack cheese. To enhance it further, add an order of crispy, homemade onion rings or “tanglers,” ($6.95) to create a combination tray full of golden goodness.
There’s also the barbecue sampler ($14.95) filled with smaller servings of brisket, pulled pork, chicken, and ribs; side dish sampler ($8.95) offering four small portions of 10 delicious sides, including fried okra, coleslaw, potato salad, and others; pulled pork quesadilla ($6.95) loaded waffle fries ($9.95), and smoked tuna dip ($9.95).
I’m heading straight to the “Smoker” section of the menu, because I know you really want to know about the barbecue. Served with two sides and grilled toast, menu items include quarter or half chicken ($9.95/$12.95), varying sizes of smoked ribs ($12.95-$22.95), sliced brisket ($15.95), smoked sausage ($12.95), pulled pork ($12.95) and finally, those famous “burnt ends” for $18.95.
According to owner Brandon Atwell, burnt ends made from smoked beef brisket and are a crowd favorite. I wouldn’t call them “burnt to a crisp,” but if you don’t like well-done meat, you may want to make another selection. However, I can attest they’re perfectly-smoked, crispy and delicious.
My favorite thing to order at Murky Waters is the combination meat plate. That way, I can sample a generous portion of either two ($15.95), three ($18.95) or four ($21.95) meats. On my first visit, I had almost decided on pulled pork and ribs, but the menu’s description of “famous smoked wings” caught my eye. I couldn’t resist pairing them with ribs and I wasn’t disappointed.
Both the wings and ribs are smoked to perfection and coated with just enough seasoning and sauce that the smokiness is not overpowered. A drizzle of the sweet barbecue sauce, along with baked beans filled with chunks of smoked meat and sauce and baked potato salad, created a near-perfect barbecue meal.
Speaking of the wings, you can focus solely on them by ordering a meal of six ($7.95) up to 24 ($22.95).
Salads like the savory smokehouse ($10.95), chopped steak ($9.95) and chopped brisket ($11.95) are also on the menu, along with a variety of sandwiches and burgers.
These include the Murky Waters barbecue sandwich ($12.95), a double-decker of pulled pork and chicken; BBQ king burger ($12.95), a beef patty topped with pulled pork and sauce as well sausage, catfish, and shrimp po’boys ($8.95-$11.95).
Murky Water is located at 1320 27th Avenue in Gulfport; 1212 Government Street in Ocean Springs and 1605 Hardy Street in Hattiesburg across from the zoo. The restaurant opens for lunch at 11 a.m., seven days a week. The restaurants' evening hours vary according to location. Check specific location hours at www.murkywaterbbq.com.